First Night: Celebrity Big Brother, Channel 4
Friday 06 January 2006
Ten minutes into the fourth Celebrity Big Brother, Davina McCall shared the big secret with us. Almost beside herself with synthetic glee, she revealed that while 10 celebrities would be entering the house, there would actually be 11 housemates this year. The first one in would be an ordinary member of the public who - and Davina paused again to relish the sheer wild invention of it all - "has to pretend that they're famous!"
On sofas all over the country viewers turned to each other baffled. Nonentities pretending to be talented and well-known? Wasn't that exactly what we got last year - and the year before? How the hell were we supposed to tell the planted nobody from the rest of them?
Chantelle, an aggregation of fake tan, nail extensions and lip gloss from Essex, did not have long to absorb her new identity (lead singer of girl band Kandyfloss) before being joined by the first genuine celebrity - Michael Barrymore, confirming that early leaks about his inclusion in the roster were true.
There are three basic motives for taking part in Celebrity Big Brother: rehabilitation - for those who hope to convert notoriety back into a more exchangeable form of fame; resuscitation - for those who were last identifiable by the general public sometime in the Eighties; and recognition - for those who provoke at least half of the people watching to say "who the hell is he?"
Barrymore had blended a couple of these motives with a new one: repatriation. If it all went well, perhaps he'd finally be able to use the return portion of his ticket to New Zealand.
The former comedian relished the applause of the crowd with such teary-eyed emotion that it seemed quite possible he would refuse to pass through the air-lock doors. But he was eventually crowbarred into the segregation zone and after that the rest of the celebrities followed thick and fast.
Which were thick and which were fast? Well it would be invidious to single out particular individuals - suffice it to say that Chantelle and Michael were soon joined by Jodie Marsh, Faria "Ferrari" Alam (so called for her speed and cornering ability) and the Eighties cross-dressing pop star Pete Burns - who appeared to be occupying the Jacqui Stallone Chair of Reconstructive Surgery and Malpractice Litigation.
Lest anyone doubt his double credentials for tabloid fame, we were given clips of his performances with the band Dead or Alive and close-up shots of his suppurating lips oozing pus.
The rumour that an MP might be among the celebrity housemates had prompted thoughts that Charles Kennedy might finally have run for cover.
How envious he must have been as he watched George Galloway pass through the sliding door to a place where electronic communications are impossible and the howls of execration can only be dimly heard across a 20ft fence. And how thrilled the electors of Bethnal Green and Bow must be to find their new MP pursuing the cause of truth and justice on the banana-yellow sofas of the Big Brother house.
Entering to his own shouts of "Stop the war!" Galloway had the glazed half-smile of a politician entering Nirvana - a place where the camera is always on you and the microphones are never turned off.
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