D-list is for danger – 'structured reality' TV meets real-life violence
Stars of shows such as Towie face vicious backlash
Saturday 18 February 2012
This week on The Only Way is Essex, Chloe Sims covered her half-naked body in sushi, James Argent struggled to come to terms with his break-up with Lydia and Joey Essex penned a love song to his imaginary girlfriend. Oh – and Lauren Goodger's shop got petrol bombed.
The attack on the beauty shop, Lauren's Way in the town of Buckhurst Hill, happened just hours after it opened on Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of the flats above. "I'm devastated that individuals could vandalise my new shop," she said. "I'm just glad that no one was in the shop at the time as the attack could have been a lot worse." Essex Police have launched an arson investigation.
The attack is the latest example of a public vendetta against the stars of so-called "structured reality" shows, who are now subject to increasingly extreme acts of verbal and physical violence. In October last year, sisters Sam and Billie Faiers were attacked at a London nightclub where Billie was "dragged around like a rag doll" and robbed of her handbag. Lured to a park, Sam was beaten so badly by a gang of girls that she needed a brain scan.
The cast of E4's Desperate Scousewives, a similar programme set in Liverpool, have also been abused. Jaiden Michael, the show's self-styled bitchy blogger, alleged that one of the young girls suffered burns after having a burger shoved in her face, while Layla, a shop assistant, had been spat at and is "always getting racist abuse".
Unlike people who become stars through more traditional routes, many reality personalities do not have multi-million pound incomes. The cast of Towie earn just £50 each per day of filming, and bolster their salaries with personal appearances. As such, they can't afford the bodyguards and security that Simon Cowell or Lady Gaga might employ.
Jonathan Shalit, showbiz manager to the likes of Kelly Brook and The X Factor's Tulisa Contostavlos, said that in cases where the celebrity was unable to protect themselves, their representatives should step in. "If a business entity or a TV station or a record label is in partnership with someone and they make a lot of money [from that person], they have a responsibility to ensure their safety. When you are new to the game or new to celebrity, you don't understand the consequences of that," he said.
A spokesperson for Lime Pictures, the producer of Towie and the Newcastle-based Geordie Shore, said Lime ensured its stars were "properly taken care of" at awards ceremonies and company-organised events. But of course, it was out in the real world that thugs allegedly destroyed Goodger's shop.
Not all structured reality stars appear subject to the same harassment, although other shows draw less than half of Towie's 1 million regular viewers. On Geordie Shore, it appears to be certain members of the cast who incite the violence, with one female spending a night in the cells after being sick in a taxi and punching the driver. There are few horror stories about the affluent cast of Made in Chelsea.
Shalit claims this new kind of fame is challenging to manage, both in terms of the star's public profile and their personal safety.
"In a period of economic strife, you will get members of society who resent those who 'have', and some of those people who are slightly mentally unhinged take their jealousy into illegal actions," he said. "When people watch them on TV, some see it as an inspiration or a motivation, but for some it causes resentment."
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