Every parent's worst nightmare

By the time Ken Pinder knew that his daughter was on 'Big Brother' she was a national hate figure. <i><b>Terry Kirby</b></i> meets the distressed father of TV's most notorious lesbian
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By the time Ken Pinder knew that his daughter was on 'Big Brother' she was a national hate figure. Terry Kirby meets the distressed father of TV's most notorious lesbian

Ken Pinder had been out late last Friday night, at a regular jazz evening in his local Café Rouge in St Albans, and did not realise there were two messages on his telephone answering machine until Saturday morning. It was as he listened to them that his life went into turmoil.

One was from Ben, a friend of his daughter, Kathryn, asking him to call back immediately. The other was from an acquaintance of his, asking, somewhat incredulously, if that really was Kathryn, or Kat, as she is known to friends and family, appearing in front of millions on Big Brother last night?

Indeed it was the same lank-haired Kat, who, calling herself Kitten, had swaggered aggressively down the entrance ramp in a sailor suit, broken away from minders to snog her girlfriend live on television and delivered a sneer and a V-sign to the cameras before, to the sound of boos and catcalls, becoming the first contestant to enter the house without the normal cheers.

"We put two and two together and made some phone calls and it, well, it all emerged then,'' said Mr Pinder, who, until that point, had not only been indifferent to the charms of Big Brother but also totally unaware that his 24-year-old only child had been selected to appear on the show.

Mr Pinder, 57, a local authority housing development official, was shocked. "I was surprised, possibly even pleased in some fashion, but also became very concerned at what might happen to my daughter," he said. But just as he was adjusting, Kat's deliberately provocative entrance and description as a "lesbian vegetarian, human and animal rights activist ... opposed to sexism, racism and George Bush" was attracting the attention of the tabloids.

The first red-tops were knocking on the door of the home in Yorkshire of his wife, Ann, an accounts clerk, from whom he is separated, by lunchtime that Saturday. She, like her husband, had gone to bed unaware of events, but had been woken by Ben's mother telephoning to alert her to Kat's appearance on television; she endured a sleepless night.

By now, Kat/Kitten had repeatedly threatened rebellion against Big Brother's rules, telling housemates she was "struggling with the power hanging over our heads" and urging collective rebellion. The others responded by voting her the one least deserving to keep her luggage, to which she blithely responded: "I don't give a shit."

Far worse was to come. On Saturday evening, Mr Pinder and his partner Janet Willoughby watched, jaws dropping, as Kat/Kitten claimed on live television that she had been a teenage prostitute. She told one of the other contestants that, aged 16, she had lived in a squat in east London, where she had worked as a prostitute and been exploited by a pimp. "It was the worst year of my life, but I had nowhere else to go,'' she said. "Lesbian Kit: I've sold my body to men'' shrieked the following morning's News of the World, which was among several newspapers to follow up on her comment. As the editions dropped on doormats, Kat/Kitten was shown live on television, drinking a bottle of beer for breakfast.

Within hours, the media were at Mr Pinder's door and on his telephone, demanding more information on the young woman whose behaviour was rapidly making her the full-on hate figure of " BB", as fans call it ­ and, in particular, asking what they knew of her life as a homeless teenage prostitute.

What her parents did know was that, when 16, Kat had been at a £12,000-a-year girls' boarding school in Staffordshire, before attending sixth-form college and then university in Hull.

"I was flabbergasted,'' said Mr Pinder, shaking his head in despair. "There's not a shred of evidence to support it. Nothing that happened to Kat fits in with that at all. She visited London, but never stayed there.'' This did not stop the tabloids from taking her story as the truth, which angers the Pinders. Mr Pinder believes his daughter's comments were made when she was stressed, trying to gain attention in an artificial environment.

While he recognises that his daughter is taking part in the reality programme both as an adult and of her own free will, he believes that the media should act with more responsibility. "It came in the middle of a couple of minutes of idle talk. A sort of chat-up line. But certain newspapers would have you believe it was a sworn affidavit ... these media outlets were, in my opinion, guilty of an act of recklessness bordering on the criminal.''

Mr Pinder does not have many problems closing the door on the tabloids, but what concerns him is the effect on some elderly members of the close-knit family. "Even if there is not a shred of truth in what had been said, why should they be confronted with this when, by now, it is well known throughout the family that the girl has succeeded in getting a good degree and the chance of a career?'' He added: "Having this visited upon them is dreadful. I feel very, very upset for them, it is alien to their existence.''

Mr Pinder believes Big Brother should be banned. "I think the programme has caused immense harm to my family and I cannot imagine that it has not caused similar harm to other families who may be as disgusted as I am over the way they exploit people. There are low lives, and there are people below contempt ­ and the production team at Big Brother are below all that." He rejected an invitation to appear on the show, since it would be seen as perpetuating the very comment he was unhappy about.

The couple also believe the broadcasting authorities should introduce tighter rules to govern what is said and done on such reality programmes; currently only potentially obscene or libellous comments are edited out. They are considering whether a complaint can be lodged with the media regulator Ofcom.

As the week wore on and with the media on their doorstep, the Pinders watched with mounting alarm as their daughter has continued her one-woman, headline-grabbing activities, perfecting a persona that is part rebellious teenager and part tabloid stereotype of a humourless, politically correct, lesbian, vegetarian activist. As well as incurring Big Brother's wrath for putting the garden statue in the diary room and trying to pick the lock on the fridge, she has proposed to her girlfriend on camera, harangued the others over asylum-seekers and sexism and sulkily refused to acknowledge the consequences of her actions.

But was this the real Kat, or was Kitten a manufactured person for the cameras? It is certainly hard to find her character in that of her bookish, bearded and thoughtful father.

Mr Pinder believes he was seeing an exaggerated version of the daughter he knows ­ and he is certainly familiar with the mood swings and political tirades ­ distorted through the odd prism of Big Brother. "She was a willing victim, but a victim all the same." But he accepts the Kitten persona was not an artificial one; Kat gave her parents "a very rough ride" during a rebellious period at school. "We certainly had it worse than some parents, but perhaps not as bad as others.'' He is reluctant to expand.

Mr Pinder says the prostitute comment may have been inspired by her university anthropology studies, while earlier leaks to the tabloids suggesting one of this year's contestants was a prostitute could imply it was a deliberate tactic to convince the producers that she should be chosen.

The Kitten element came out in her teenage years. She was sent to boarding school at 14 because of her refusal to conform at her state school and her involvement with some "unsavoury" friends. It was while she was there that she told her parents that she was a lesbian, having fallen for a girl she met while on a family holiday. At 17 and studying at sixth-form college, she went to live on her own in Hull. She is, said her father, "a naturally independent" spirit. But he added that the family had hoped she had matured out of her difficult period.

None of this meant she was at odds with her family, to which many happy photographs bear witness. And while Mr Pinder is a serious-minded man, he also confesses to a period of motorcycle-riding teenage rebellion, remains a Rolling Stones fan and is learning to play the jazz guitar; his feelings do not stem from illiberal instincts, more from the natural concern of a parent.

Kat's parents accepted her sexuality, learned to cope with her volatile nature and did all the things parents of teenagers do; took her to stables when she went through a "horsey" period, and ferried her and her equipment to nightclubs when she wanted to be a DJ. When she lived in a succession of rented flats, they helped her financially, and then assisted buying her a house.

After gaining a good degree, she went to live in Brighton, where she met her partner. Until recently, she had worked helping disadvantaged young people. She got on well with Janet, her father's partner, becoming friendly with her daughter from a previous marriage who is also a lesbian. The last time Mr Pinder saw his daughter was when he drove some of her belongings down at Easter, together with an Easter egg. They had spoken since over the telephone, but not for the couple of weeks before Big Brother, when the contestants were kept incommunicado. He thought nothing of it ­ "if you don't hear anything, you tend to assume all is well".

As the week progressed, Kat/Kitten presented a real dilemma for the BB producers, who warned that she or any of the housemates could be evicted as a result of her rule-breaking. While her behaviour has given the show some of its best headlines ­ "Should Bruv's Lesbian Loony Stay or Go? Kitten: It's War" screamed The Sun's early editions yesterday ­ there has been concern about her mental state. On Wednesday she was shown sitting up in the middle of the night, wrapped in a blanket, twitching. On Thursday, she broke down. Yesterday she staged her second rooftop protest.

Since Channel 4 always insists BB "is only a game show", the question arose of how far they really wanted to go with Kitten's car-crash television. And should its pre-programme screening have not weeded out someone so prone to extremes? Or was that seen as good, after criticism of last years' bland contestants? Another problem facing Channel 4 was that Kat/Kitten is due in Brighton magistrates' court next week for non-payment of a £200 speeding fine. Last night Channel 4 took the sensible option and decided Kat/Kitten's time in the house was over ­ she became the first contestant to be evicted for rule-breaking since "Nasty Nick" in the first series.

For Ken Pinder, the priority had always been to get Kat out of the house as soon as possible because of the potential damage to his daughter. "It's not just her, it's the whole situation she was put in. She was a time bomb ticking away.'' He said last night that the entire family were "immensely relieved" that Kat was out of the house. "As long as she was there we were concerned as to what might happen to her."

So, after a week of watching his daughter implode before the watching millions, what will Mr Pinder say to the newly released Kat when they eventually meet up again? He pauses for reflection, before replying: "I don't know what I am going to say at this point, I really don't."


Day One

Kitten enters the Big Brother house in a sailor suit after being dragged away from snogging her girlfriend. "I think I made a bit of a dick of myself," she says. She is selected by co-host Dermot O'Leary as the person most likely to be voted off first. Housemates vote for her luggage to go.

Day Two

Kitten confesses she is already "struggling". "I don't want to get thrown out but if I do, I do," she warns. It is also the day of her prostitute "confession".

Day Three

Breakfast is made up of a beer. In the evening she climbs to the roof but resists a bid for freedom. "Big Sister" told her to do it, she says, adding: "Big Brother is patriarchal and sexist."

Day Four

Kitten and another housemate try to pick the lock to the alcohol fridge with a paperclip. She is ordered to the diary room but refuses and begins dragging the fridge towards the dormitory. BB issues her first official warning. She later suggests turning the house into a televised squat.

Day Five

Kitten is given her second official warning after bringing a garden statue into the house. "It'll be an ideal way to piss off BB," she says, trying to attach a phallic object to the statue's pelvic area. She later admits being homesick: "I bawled my eyes out second night." Later she adds she will "find it hard" not to break rules.

Day Six

Kitten accuses her housemates of being politically ignorant. When they begin painting walls, she smears expletives on mirrors. She is given her final warning and BB tells her someone will be evicted as a result. She later suggests that, actually, it wasn't necessarily due to her behaviour.

Day Seven

Kitten asks housemate Victor what he imagines the media will label her. "A maniac," he replies. She emerges in tears from 30 minutes in the diary room, promising to behave - then saying she'd had enough.