Grace Dent on TV: Celebrity Big Brother, Channel 5
I'm staying at my Aunty Wendy's, said Abz. And with that, all pretence of celebrity was gone
As Abz from recently reformed boy band 5ive climbed the steps to Celebrity Big Brother – inmates including Ron Atkinson, Carole McGiffin, Louie Spence and Sophie Anderton have been in the house over a week now – he shepherded in a new raffish level of celebrity humility. “How are you Abz!” chirped Emma Willis at the earnest thirtysomething who kept us entertained last autumn with his emotional journey on ITV2 during The Big Reunion. Abz enjoyed and endured enormous fame in the 1990s. He had the type of fame that Harry Styles and the One Direction pop gonks are enjoying now until the bubble burst – and let's be straight, the bubble always bursts. Then after some years in the wilderness a reality show led to his stock rising again. By Christmas 2012 he was playing large venues again. I watched him at the Hammersmith Odeon rapping and leaping and spinning on his back while thousands of nostalgia junkies old enough to know better, myself included, screamed.
“I'm good, coping very well I think,” Abz replied. “And, um, why are you doing Celebrity Big Brother?” Emma asked, because Abz, right now, due to “exposure”, timing and the ebb and flow of British celebrity status, is again actually rather famous. He's famous in a “can't walk down the street in Halifax without a van driver shouting ”OI! RITCHIE FROM FIVE!!! at him“ way. He's famous in a ”might be asked to rise at 2am to do a two-minute interview on Daybreak“ sort of sense. Why would Abz do Celebrity Big Brother? ”To be honest,“ Abz replied, before hitting us with the sort of high-octane honesty which causes Twitter to rupture: ”I need the money, I'm still a bit broke. I need somewhere to stay too. I'm staying at my Aunty Wendy's house, in one room, with four dogs so I could do with somewhere to stay for three weeks. I need to be a big man and find my own place.“ At one point, about a decade ago, celebrities entered reality shows waxing lyrical about ”taking time to learn about themselves“ or always having been ”a really big fan of the show“.
Around five years ago I noticed a shift to them discussing on camera how quickly they could leave the house, the jungle, the ice-rink while still fulfilling the contract which would clear January's tax demand. By 2013 celebrities don't mind if you know they're in deeper dire straits than your worst-case scenario.
In fairness, I quite like the sound of Aunty Wendy's. Sleeping in a bed with a Chihuahua pillow and a border collie as a hot water bottle, having my tea cooked by a matriarchal sort who might switch the immersion heater on, run me a bath and let me read her Closer magazines, to me, sounds preferable to living in a confined space with fellow celebrity Charlotte Crosby from Geordie Shore. At least the dogs will have surely been trained to crap outdoors, unlike Charlotte, who proudly informs housemates she regularly soils herself when drunk. And not just toilet mishaps! She vomits on camera and has sex too!
Charlotte, who is also enormously famous right now in a “would cause a rumpus at Yates's Wine Lodge Blackpool if she did a PA” way, is a pretty strong example of one of the worst human beings on Earth. Charlotte is 22 but revels in possessing the social graces and intellectual prowess of a sugar-fuelled 19-month-old toddler. Charlotte's cluelessness about how to function in polite society – one of her star turns is talking loudly about defecating or urinating or menstruating or her fellatio technique – is quite depressing to observe. Geordie Shore on MTV cajoled teenagers to act like fake-tanned chimpanzees and broadcast the shagging and staggering about in glorious detail.
Charlotte represents an entirely new level of pointless, self-destructive fame which makes one pine fondly for lovely, dim but relatively wholesome Jade Goody with one hand over her kebab, not understanding East Anglia. The Celebrity Big Brother house, now more than ever, is a place where the broken, adrift and addicted to attention, however nefarious, come to check in.
I rather love Courtney Stodden, an American 18-year-old infamous only for marrying a fiftysomething actor when she was 16 and having unfeasibly huge breast implants attached to her skeletal frame. For the past two years Courtney has appeared on internet gossip columns two or three times a week, out walking or shopping in 140mm perspex stripper heels, hot pants and a string bikini top. Courtney's husband Doug, who resembles one of the Cenobites from Hellraiser, is usually by her side. Of late his expression seems less cocksure and more of a man clinging on for dear life.
Lauren Harries – formerly the child antiques prodigy James Harries – possibly deserves to win due to her sheer determination to enter the house, which dates back to 2001 when her audition VT was in circulation on E4 during the daytime when they filled dead-air time with the pleading videos of hopefuls. Lauren nowadays seems calmer, wiser, almost exhausted by a lifetime of painful fame. Big Brother often claims to be a journey, but she had completed several journeys before she got to Borehamwood.
I hope Harries wins, or at least gets invited for a stay with Aunty Wendy where there's dogs and a place to rest your head with no one to perform for. Compared to life for a lot of these people, Wendy's seems a magical place.
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