Sport on tv: Too much Hill's angel, too little devilish Damon

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The Independent Online
As a rule, the only way to stay reasonably sane while watching This Is Your Life (BBC1) is to imagine how it would be if they invited the people who really know the subject. "Do you remember this voice?" Michael Aspel would ask. "You should. He was your best friend at school, but you haven't seen him since you ran off with his wife four years ago. Since then he's hit the bottle and lost his house, but tonight he's come all the way from his detox unit in Cornwall, just to administer the knee to the groin that you so richly deserve."

They could reasonably call it "This Is Your Beatification", were it not for the complete lack of a Devil's Advocate, and the possibility that after 30-odd years of the big red book, heaven itself must be running out of places to put them all. Yet this week, just for once, it felt as if the long stream of tribute-payers might be telling it as it is. Damon Hill does seem to be, as Murray Walker put it, "a really super bloke".

This did not, admittedly, make for significantly better television than the average edition of This is Your Life, although the revelation that he used to sing in a punk band called the Hormones under the nom-de-gob of Gene Steroid was worth hearing. But it did offer an interesting commentary on the nature of modern sporting celebrity, since as any tap-room philosopher worth his pint will assure you, Damon is as dull as they come.

When people claim that the last Sports Personality of the Year who actually had a personality was Paul Gascoigne, it is Hill - along, perhaps, with Jonathan Edwards - they are thinking about. But what they really mean is that unless someone gets drunk and into trouble on a weekly basis, or cheats on or thumps his wife, or spends his loot as conspicuously as Ivana Trump, they are somehow failing in their duties as a modern sportsman.

Damon does not do any of those things, nor does he get shirty with reporters, or forget about those who helped him on his way to the top. One of the guests on Monday was a young man who, as a 17-year-old, used to go to Silverstone simply to watch Hill practise, and waved a little flag every time his hero came past. Hill not only noticed him, but "thought he deserved an award", and arranged for him to travel to Suzuka for the title-clinching race in 1996. And this in an era when many footballers seem to think that being asked for an autograph is a shocking imposition. Hill is also, as his win at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa last year proved, a far better driver than anyone gave him credit for, even in his championship season. And yet if you asked 100 average fathers whether they would prefer their sons to grow up to be Damon Hill or David Beckham, a majority would probably plump for Beckham. Or rather, they would have done a week ago.

The sportswoman who was the focus of Boxing Babes (C4) will never receive a visit from Michael Aspel, but in her way, she emerged with as much credit as Damon. "Cheesy" - you can only hope that her surname is not Nibbles - was preparing to represent Wales in an amateur boxing match, and the cameras followed her progress as if she was about to do nothing more dangerous than pluck her eyebrows.

It was an interesting approach, for while the programme makers managed to avoid the obvious moral quicksand, the viewer could not. Since Cheesy seemed so keen to get into the ring, it was difficult to see why she should not - until the moment when she was thumped squarely on the nose in slow- motion. But that simply made you wonder why anyone, male or female, would ever want to box, particularly when they are not getting paid for it.

Nor was it clear why anyone would want to watch. Cheesy, it has to be said, was a hopeless boxer, who went into the ring without any real idea of how to defend herself. Nor did she take it all too seriously. Having been told by her coach that she needed to lose four pounds before her fight, she set off for a night at the disco. She burned off a few calories on the dance floor, but put hundreds back on again with every sip of Hooch.

But she was still brave enough to climb through the ropes and have a go, which is more than most of us could ever manage. Yet still the question remained of why, exactly, she felt the need to do so. The most depressing answer, and perhaps the most truthful, would be that in Cheesy's little patch of Wales, there is precious little else.

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