TV faces up to the Great Celebrity Con

Now, Edinburgh International Television Festival hears, anybody can be famous. And they do mean anyone
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The Independent Online

Reality TV turns nobodies into stars. Spoof internet music videos garner millions of viewers. Television executives and programme-makers faced up to an uncomfortable truth yesterday at the Edinburgh International Television Festival: in the age of interactive television and user-generated online content, just about anyone can be - and has been - a star.

The phenomenon is especially to the fore in Britain, where the fiercely competitive tabloid press requires a constant supply of stars - A-list, B-list, C-list and beyond. "We don't really care how they became

famous," said Boyd Hilton, the television editor of Heat, the country's top celebrity magazine.

The rise of the instant star and the increasingly ephemeral nature of celebrity pose a challenge to television's traditional measures of talent. So it's no surprise that one of the most popular sessions at the Edinburgh Festival was a panel discussion entitled "Don't You Know Who I Am?"

This looked at the changing nature of celebrity. Hundreds of producers and programmers from around the world, from Danish TV to Disney to the BBC, packed the auditorium to hear panellists, including Rebecca Loos - a "celebrity" famous for her alleged affair with soccer star David Beckham - and "Lotto Lout" Michael Carroll, a multi-million-pound winner with big tattoos and a criminal record.

The fame of Loos and Carroll clearly irked some "traditional" celebrities, who resented the success of people with no discernible talent. "I think I got known to the public for having a talent," said the actress and singer Michelle Gayle, another panellist. "The things celebrities are doing are not the things I want to do." Ms Gayle said she despaired "when you're speaking to kids and their ambition is to be a footballer's wife".

Loos, who garnered headlines and a small fortune when she sold the story of her romance with the married Beckham, was unrepentant. "My view is: you take from it what you can," said Loos, who has been on several reality TV shows, and says she is developing her own TV projects. "It has given me opportunities, certain doors that are interesting. You have to take the good and the bad," she said.

Marisa Peer, a psychologist, said there had been a fundamental change in the nature of celebrity. "The public used to like iconic celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor that they could never be like. People now like celebrities who are like them," she said.

The panellist Jeremy Beadle, a once-ubiquitous British gameshow host now rarely seen on TV, had a warning for aspiring celebs: fame is fleeting. "I don't think the people who chase fame understand what it really is, because they will be crucified," he said. This programme should really be called 'Don't You Know Who I Was?' "

An even greater challenge to TV and its notions of celebrity may come from technology. Video-sharing sites such as YouTube and Google Video mean that homemade clips can be seen by millions, creating instant - and usually short-lived - global phenomena.

"In this type of world everyone is a celebrity," Marissa Mayer, Google 's vice-president of search products and user experience, told delegates on Saturday. "You can thank us for it or not, but it does cause things like a David Hasselhoff video to be the biggest video in the world."