Deborah Orr: Michael Carroll, King of the Chavs and living embodiment of a modern dilemma

He has purchased around 80 cars since his luck came in, for example, many of which appear to have been crashed and left piled up in his garden. His favourite at present, in which he arrived at court, is a black Mercedes van emblazoned with the title "Chav King" and sporting the licence plate L11OUT. It was from this vehicle that he shot the ball-bearings around his local high street that delivered him to court, and the Asbo that some newspapers report he has welcomed as a "badge of pride".

Unsurprisingly, Mr Carroll does not have many admirers in his neighbourhood. More surprisingly, he does have one or two passionate advocates. Workers at a Norfolk project for disadvantaged youth say that "he approached us and said he was very depressed, he said he wanted to get involved in something..." Mr Carroll became involved in the building of a youth club, and was "always on time, always last to leave, polite, trustworthy and popular with the children".

There can be no doubt, given the huge polarisation in his behaviour, that Mr Carroll is a troubled young man, confused about whether he wants to use his wealth to change his life and the lives of others, or to remain defiantly, proudly, yobbish and delinquent, as he was before he became rich (when he won, he was a persistent offender).

As such, even though his own case is extreme, I think he embodies something of a modern dilemma, that we see played out all the time. As post-war Britain became less class-bound, a shift came about whereby the old signs of poshness, that once people displayed as proof of what they saw as their innate superiority, began to be viewed as an encumbrance.

Guy Ritchie, who made his name directing movies about dodgy diamond geezers, is a prime example. But plenty of others like to play down such uncool background details as happy childhoods, to hint instead that they are in fact from the ghetto and proud of it.

The trend is dominant in popular culture, so much so that it is becoming unhealthy. What started out looking like a liberation for ordinary people, has instead become a trap for them. Look at Johnny Vegas, who hides his cleverness by declaring himself to be "18 stone of idiot". You're not fooling anyone, Johnny.

Wanting to get on in the world, conversely, is viewed as pretentious and snobbish, unless it's via some supposedly credible career such as lap-dancing or performing hit songs about how very, very ordinary/deprived you are.

It is a very odd phenomenon. The privileged once looked down on the disadvantaged, justifying their good fortune by telling themselves that the plebs deserved no better. Now, they have no need to because the least advantaged seem happy to celebrate their fabulous ability to "keep it real" and ashamed that they might be caught out doing something as vulgar as excelling.

Cheers for fat old sex symbols

Kirstie Alley, who first found fame as Rebecca in Cheers, discovered that as middle-aged spread caught up with her, she stopped getting any work. So, rather than hitting the gym, calling the surgeon, and going on hunger strike, she created her own show, Fat Actress. It has now become a huge hit in the States, and she is being lauded as the first actress to manage to maintain a sexpot image in Hollywood while weighing around 13 stone.

These clever tactics have also ensured that no one has even noticed that she's 54, and so much too old to even have a vagina any more, let alone be a sex symbol. The good news is that Alley may have to carry on reinventing herself for some years to come, as it turns out that instead of being good for your health, going on a diet actually appears to shorten your life a little.

Again, though, there's good news, as researchers have found that skinny women are not considered attractive. Instead "curvy people" such as Kate Winslet or Jodie Kidd have the body mass index that is most "bodily attractive" at 20.8. Wow. Let it all hang out, ladies.

Just to let you know how enormous that must make them: I'm nine stone, six pounds, at five foot four and a half, which gives me a BMI of 22.3, and a dress size 10-12. So I only have to lose a little over half a stone to be as fat a porker as Jodie.

Hurrah!

Make water work

Warnings of a water shortage as bad as the drought of 1976 seem to have simply repeated advice from then on saving water. Showering rather than bathing, flushing less often and leaving the garden parched all feature. Which is fair enough. But surely it's dishwashers and washing machines that have contributed most to the rise in water use? If we start washing by hand, then chucking the dirty water out on the garden, no blade ofgrass need die, and we'll save loads of water.

* The great day has arrived, and just a couple of miles from my home the most significant music event the world has ever seen is about to unfold.

I still can't decide whether I really will be helping to save African children by watching it on the telly all day, or whether I should consider the electricity I'd be using and just pretend in future that I really was there, in my living room, as it happened, live.

The latter, on balance, is probably slightly more environmentally friendly.

But the former will see me embroiled in a communal experience of awareness-raising as yet unseen on the planet. Not as intimately embroiled as the 15,000 VIP guests who will be allowed to drink beer and sip tea served by Gwyneth Paltrow in their generously proportioned enclosure, but embroiled nonetheless.

It must be ever so nice to be so glamorous and iconic that the decision to be a good and moral person is a total no-brainer.

Not for the first time, I find myself idly wishing I was Kate Moss. Which is hardly entering the spirit of the event. All more complex than it might appear, I feel.

Comments