Heard the one about the BBC documentary? You know, the one where Lindsay Lohan goes to India to show us the social implications of consumerism- driven child labour? Yes, Lindsay Lohan. Ha! Gotcha. Happy April Fool's.
Or not. As it turns out, all those television listings claiming that the BBC would be screening a documentary in which Lindsay Lohan – yes, that one who used to be an actress once upon a time, but now tends to be known for making flashbulb-heavy nightclub appearances in which she displays her varying shade of hair dye – were true. Not, as it happens, a joke at all. To wit: Lindsay Lohan's Indian Journey, broadcast last night on BBC3.
It began sensibly enough, I suppose. Lohan drawled her introduction, unmistakably Hollywood, but not overtly naff. She maintained the diction of a (chain-smoking) schoolgirl invited to read an educational text in front of her classmates: unsophisticated but serious enough. Not, of course, that she was short of things to be serious about. Regardless of who the Beeb chose to present them, the realities of child trafficking are gut-wrenchingly awful. We visited a shelter for trafficked children, full of girls who had been tricked, or forced, or goodness knows what into lives of prostitution and abuse (one girl would be raped by 12 different men a day, propped up by medicine when she felt ill). We saw the role of families in trafficking when one little boy, Rusko, was returned to his family, only to be met with disappointment and complaints of the lost income from his mother. And we met a former child trafficker who, after years of being pursued by anti-child labour charities, claims to have finally seen the error of her ways and repented.
In fact, it would be had to argue that the BBC had produced a bad documentary here. It hadn't. It had produced a very well put-together, very thoroughly researched, and very compelling one. Who knows what their motive for choosing Lohan as their star was? To raise awareness among a demographic – supermarket-tabloid readers – who wouldn't otherwise have taken an interest? To generate publicity? To boost ratings?
It wasn't, necessarily, a terrible decision. Certainly, there's a subtle irony in Lohan's former role as child star. "Kids have this innocence – when it's taken away, it's so hard to get back," she reflected at one point, and it was hard not to conclude that she was talking about herself. And, ultimately, she didn't do a bad job with the task at hand. She didn't hold back from reflecting on her own, glitzy life (which presumably is partly what the directors' wanted when they chose her). She was very sweet and warm with the children, who seem – without exception – to adore her. And she's not overtly "Hollywood", or not on camera, at least. Her lone wobble came when she listened to one little girl, Dina, describe how her brother and sister-in-law would force her to spend every day begging in the streets only beat her if she failed to raise any money. "Oh my God," spluttered Lohan, suddenly, the tears plopping on to her famous face. "Oh my God. Sorry, I'm having a moment." The cameras were promptly turned off. At least she had the grace to look embarrassed. So, "moment" aside, definitely not a terrible choice. Just a very, very odd one. Happy April Fool's from BBC3.
I've been wondering. Ruth Watson, would you come and have a look at my flat? I'm thinking of selling it, and it could do with a bit of sprucing up. Just a touch here and there. Doesn't have to be much. Maybe we could invite the locals round for a spot of fundraising? And I promise to follow your instructions to the letter.
On second thoughts, maybe not. Goodness knows what she'd make of my living conditions. Barely five minutes after striding into the Kelly's stately home (Kelly House, a Grade I-listed West Country manor house, much nicer than my east London one-bed) in Country House Rescue, she's picking holes, pointing out cracks in the walls and rot on the roof.
Not that the Kellys don't need a few harsh words. They appear to live in a peculiar limbo, midway between activity and inactivity. Which is to say the biological members favour inactivity (father Warin, and daughter Sophia) while their spouses (mother Liz and boyfriend Chris) are left to do all the hard work. Poor Liz makes Ruth cry when she starts talking about her efforts to mend her home: after her husband never got around to securing the windows, she cemented them herself.
Anyway, once Ruth had arrived the solution was, as ever, clear. It's always the same, after all: rent out the spare flats to holiday-makers, open the house to the public, hold a fundraising party and hope for the best. She even manages to get a team of renovators in for free, by tapping the local Prince's Foundation. By gosh, she's good.