Sport on TV: Croft is no soft touch among those who fell through the net
Sunday 28 June 2009
It was "Gruntwatch" this week on Today at Wimbledon (BBC2, Wednesday), with a fake David Attenborough delving into the jungles of SW19 to observe the exotic creatures with their "elegant plumage and a truly distinctive cry". In the outer reaches of Court 12 Francesca Schiavone "sounds like a wounded animal", while in the rooftop "studio" the bald eagle McEnroe soared and swooped down on a clucking Henman. But one charming bird, the lesser spotted Croft, has been spotted less often than usual.
Annabel Croft, who seems to have slipped down the BBC pecking order, really was out in the wilderness, taking part in Famous, Rich and Homeless (BBC1, Wednesday and Thursday), in which five celebrities experienced the life of the homeless for 10 days.
Flying her nest in suburban Surrey, she was dumped in Soho with only a sleeping bag and no money. For someone who seemed so vulnerable – she still seems like she's at St Trinians – she coped very well. She headed off to Bond Street to sleep in the doorway of Dolce & Gabbana, where she seemed right at home.
Mercifully, and perhaps because she simply couldn't bring herself to do it, she refused to beg like the others did. This may all have been in the name of enlightenment, but the BBC making celebrities extort cash from an unwitting public seemed all too familiar.
After three nights going solo they were paired off with real homeless people. Croft went with the son of an advertising executive and a model who had been thrown out aged 14 when they split up and had drifted into two decades of drinking. It was an appropriate match; "Drax" had retained his cut-glass accent to go with his empty bottle of a life.
Drax was confronted by a WPC who wanted him to find help for his alcohol abuse. Croft leapt on the bandwagon but Drax, a long way off the wagon, was not happy at the interference and nor was John Bird, founder of 'The Big Issue' who had been responsible for sending the famous five out into the freezing alleyways.
When Bird confronted her about her missionary zeal, he contemptuously described her as "Florence Nightingale". Croft retorted "He's being irritating", whereupon Bird erupted: "You are fucking irritating!" Perhaps only then, back in the warmth, did she realise the gulf between her and those who live, or in Bird's case once lived, on the street.
Sportsmen and women are wrapped in cotton wool, but this is not least because their careers can be all too short. Form and fitness are fickle, and many end up with financial and addiction issues, while a lucky few settle back into the comfortable pundits' chairs. And tennis, immersed as it is in middle-class mores, provided an ideal backdrop for this sobering exposé.
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