Athletics: Modahl's Celebrity camouflages some icy cold truths

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The Independent Online

Snow creaking underfoot. A thudding impact on the back of my neck, and a cold trickling. Laughter.

I had to remind myself this week how much fun snowballing is. It didn't work.

No doubt there was once a time when I, like my son, harboured a demented urge to be in snow, to have snow on me, to mould snow, to throw snow.

But answer me this. Why are snowballs always hurled with a fixed grin? And why does snowballing so often escalate, to the point where someone gets ice rubbed in their face? It's a supposedly lighthearted convention, like custard pie throwing, that sanctions nasty, spiteful behaviour.

They don't have any of those snowy worries on the other side of the world right now.

I'm talking about the Celebrities, of course, none of whom have yet managed to get voted out of their jungle-lite TV hideaway. But the fun Down Under has the same ritualistic edge of spite as our powdery routines Up Over during the recent freeze.

That Jordan - she's toying with Peter Andre, isn't she? More humiliation for him around the corner. That Jennie Bond. Well, they've got rid of her lipstick for her now, haven't they? She's being stuck in a 6ft water-hole with rats next. That should take some of the gloss off her. It all gets nasty in the end...

You can understand what has drawn some of this year's desperate gathering to the land of the hidden camera. Jordan is an insecure noticebox. And Peter Andre - he's so over that my kids rolled their eyes at his name five years ago.

But Jennie Bond? What is she hoping the experience will open up for her - free lipstick for life?

And most of all - what is Diane Modahl doing there?

Even during her time as an athlete, Modahl was far from being big on personality. As that keen student of human nature, Tony Blackburn, has remarked this week, Diane is just too nice and too dull to get anywhere in this competition. She's 2-1 to be the first one voted out.

On what basis is she there? Is it because she was Commonwealth 800 metres champion in 1990? I hardly think so. Simon Williams was another British winner back in 1990 - in the shot putt, with a throw of 18.54 metres. But ITV weren't clamouring for him to join their jungle jaunt as far as I know.

So why is Diane Modahl, even within the degraded terms of this TV reality show, a celebrity?

Is it because she was banned for a positive drugs test? Is it because she was cleared on appeal? Is it because she then attempted, unsuccessfully, to sue the British athletics federation for half a million pounds? As that I'm A Celebrity veteran Toyah Willcox once sang, It's A Mystery.

The last time I saw Modahl was at the High Court, where I had appeared as a witness in support of her claim against the federation.

It was an unexpectedly sweaty business. For the only time in my life, as I was called to the stand, I felt my knees giving way.

Standing in that unexpectedly small, wood-panelled room I realised that nothing I had to say was going to make a material difference to the ultimate verdict in Modahl's case. The charge of bias was not proven, and she left the court requiring to make other plans for recouping the thousands of pounds she and her husband had lost in costs and potential earnings.

Of course. I see now. It all makes perfect sense.