There they were, solemnly introducing themselves to the camera. There was Kate, who had her head eaten by a lion. And Caroline, who had orgasms so loud she got an Asbo. And Sue (eaten alive by her pet snake), and Sadie (made to poo in a bucket by her evil stepdad) and Derek (snogged a swan) and Paul (impaled on a broomstick). They are all over the place, apparently, these circus freaks, happy to stand up and tell their bizarre stories to anyone who will listen – or pay. Except, of course, that they're not circus freaks at all. Most of them are pretty normal. It's just their "true life" (as opposed to true) personas that have become the circus freaks. Derek didn't really snog a swan – he resuscitated it. And Kate clearly didn't have her head eaten – because there it sits, intact atop her neck.
In My Daughter Grew Another Head and Other True Life Stories, we followed the journalists behind these tales, and got to see the consequences their reporting could have. We met Natasha Courtenay-Smith, who – smartly – has established a website where people can send in their stories for her to sell. "If you're the first in the UK to do anything, it's a story," she observed. Consequently, Henry, the first man in Britain to have bum implants, has become big business. Natasha sold his story for him a while ago, but last night he was back, having his implants adjusted. With every tweak there is a new story, and with it, more money, which in turns prompts more surgery, and again more money... and so, somehow, his gluteus maximus has become a kind of word-generating, money-spinning enterprise, where everybody – the magazines, Natasha, himself – wins.
Unless, of course, Henry wakes up one day and regrets all those hours in the operating theatre. Which is where the down side of true life comes in. The unwritten moral code that would deter many journalists from particular stories is not much at play in the true-life world. Hannah Duguid (now a regular byline in this paper) became disenchanted after doing true-life journalism for four years: with the level of creative licence employed, and the vulnerability of the people involved, she began to feel like the exploiter: "It's someone who'd already had a terrible experience was having it made worse. Once you're churning it out you become detached – everything becomes a story."
Of course, such experiences are far from exclusive to the true-life market. Another journalist, Karen Pasquali Jones makes a convincing(ish) defence of the industry with her theory that these tales are a print embodiment of women's coffee-time chats; and that social disdain of them is more a symptom of snobbery than anything else. "We don't talk about things that men think we do. We share constantly." I'm not sure I agree; though it's an interesting idea. And certainly, many a newspaper journalist will be familiar with the unhappy experience of a disgruntled interviewee. But I have a hunch it happens rather more often in the true-life market. A case in point was Rachel, who had planned to give her story – about maintaining a relationship in spite of her sex change – to a broadsheet, but (somehow) stumbled across Full House! instead. She hadn't seen the end result until the camera crew handed it over. When she did she broke down. "I expected it to be more true!"
And so to Country House Rescue (or "I spent all my money on refurbishment and now I'm on telly"). The former hotelier Ruth Watson is back, bossing the eccentric owners of English country piles into submission – or, if not submission, then reluctant acceptance of her enterprising, organised ways. Judging from last night's episode, this series is unlikely to diverge from the last's tried-and-trusted formula: Ruth arrives, her ways are met with resistance, she prevails, everyone's happy.
Not that I'm complaining, when there are houses as nice as Plas Teg, an enormous Jacobean pile in Wales, and owners as enchanting as Cornelia, a former Notting Hill antiques dealer. She stumbled across Plas Teg a quarter of a century ago. At the time it had no floors, no plumbing and few walls, and since she has poured all her resources into restoring it. She has done an excellent job, though somewhere along the line, practicality has gone right out the window. She doesn't like people, so rarely has any help around the house. A long-lost boyfriend pays her bills; her parrots have to be fed walnuts because they like them, she sweetly explained, and the reason the hob is running is because it's cheaper to heat the house that way.
Ruth, naturally, was having none of this and hastily organised a raft of money-making schemes: photo shoots, a costume sale and – horror of horrors – a party to recruit "friends of Plas Teg". Cornelia vanished for much of the latter, emerging only at the end to find out that people aren't really as bad as she had thought. Two months down the line, she was sold on Ruth's plans, and maintaining Plas Teg was beginning to look a lot more feasible. Who would have thought, eh?Reuse content