Lisa Markwell: Make up your mind Sally, do you want your antics noticed?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Populated almost exclusively by "celebrities" from TV shows that made them celebrities for not being celebrities to begin with, Celebrity Big Brother – just started on Channel 5 – is a singularly unattractive viewing proposition.

It's like reading a review of a restaurant whose cuisine you actively dislike, or being arachnaphobic and considering a holiday in Australia's outback.

However, if the series premiere (if that's not to give it too much stardust) had to be watched, then Sally Bercow was, for many like me, the only name that made one mildly curious. Model Bobby Sabel or actor Lucien Laviscount, someone? Anyone?

The wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons (and one-time Labour candidate) does, on the otherwise spray-tanned, slack-jawed face of it, add gravitas. There's a bit of politics, a bit of privilege (she went to Marlborough College, just like Sam Cam and Kate Middleton) and she's clearly a woman with a brain. C'mon, you didn't think she hadn't coolly calculated the "exact" effect of posing in a bed sheet in a flat overlooking Big Ben?

But then there's Bercow's feisty, "I am not my husband, I can do what I like" schtick. No doubt it's meant to sound all very 21st century, but is acting independently of one's husband – unless he's, you know, the king – really even slightly remarkable in this day and age?

It's hardly Michelle Obama saying "Sure, I dabble with crystal meth. Is that any of your business?", or Carla Bruni – to whom Sally Bercow compares herself, a pursuit I'd have thought unwise for any woman – giving an interview about her polyamorous tendencies. Political wives are welcome to do almost anything they like, if it's legal, ethical and not utterly selfish. Yes, the Daily Mail might rear up on its hind legs about the Speaker's wife mingling with Mr Paparazzi and a Big Fat Gypsy bare-knuckle fighter, but should that matter?

As far as Bercow goes, it clearly does. She even name-dropped the paper in her televised introduction to the Big Brother house. So "sticking two fingers to the establishment" is her incentive for taking part (apart from financial, which we'll come back to). "Because of who I'm married to it's not acceptable apparently," she said mock-pretentiously. "I hope [John] doesn't divorce me over it."

Make your mind up, Sally – do you want your participation in this tawdry spectacle to pass without comment because you're an independent woman, or do you want those old squares in parliament and in a famously prudish newspaper to froth at the mouth about your antics?

The clue is in Sally's spokesperson, one Max Clifford. A woman in need of a purpose in life these days must first appoint a publicist – and the silver-haired, if not quite silver-tongued, Clifford is the doyen. As reported by the BBC, Clifford said she had agreed to appear on Big Brother to raise her profile and "wants to speak to Simon Cowell about potential TV projects".

Ah, now I see.

But if she's not sure if she's a Beyoncé or a Norma, and really she's Kerry Katona with better hair and some GCSEs (ie seeking the holy grail of fame for fame's sake), there is still something commendable about Sally. She stalked down the stairs to join the rest of the cast to find them getting stuck into the free booze, the lubrication traditionally applied in reality TV shows to make the action "flow" and then announced, "I don't drink".

Boom – there's her schtick right there. What this show needs – hell, what the country needs – is a clear-headed matriarch, someone who doesn't need to guzzle Bacardi Breezers to have fun. I'm assuming, of course, that she will have fun.

"Sally Bercow for PM", as one banner toted by the studio audience declared? I think not. The political dimension of this is not terribly significant. As the marvellously catty voiceover intoned as she climbed the stairs to the house: "Sally says she's Britain's Carla Bruni. They are both married to shorter men. But one's the House of Commons speaker, not the President of France."

One could wonder, being thin-lipped without fully endorsing a red-top monstering, whether the mother of three young children might embarrass them less and support them more by being at home with them during the school summer holidays, rather than seeking tabloid fame among the barrel-scrapings on Channel 5? That's not being anti-sisterhood. That's just a reasonable expectation of a parent. And yes, I am one.

Mrs Bercow is terribly proud of donating £100,000 to Ambitious about Autism, the charity of which she is parent patron. It is noble. But let's not forget the £20,000 she is paying Max Clifford to raise her profile. Or the £30,000 she is keeping – which is not bad for a few days of mild humiliation. To be absolutely sure that Sally Bercow is maintaining her teetotal, socialist, feminism 2.0, woman-of-the-people persona, I'd need to keep watching.

Nothing and nobody will make me do that.

Don't part with your granny's ring easily

That gold is at a new record high price makes sad reading. Not because there's anything wrong with gold, you understand. I once carefully removed a sheet of gold leaf from a particularly ritzy restaurant's coffee éclair and smoothed it on to the back of my mobile phone. It looked pretty for about 30 minutes, until it rubbed off. A gilty pleasure indeed. No, the boom in gold makes me feel forlorn for all those who've found it necessary to sell their gold jewellery to brash TV-advertised companies. They all promise a fair price, but many have discovered too late that hawking granny's engagement ring brought them a mere fraction of the correct gold price – and that was before the current high. One imagines warehouses full of padded postage bags brimming with sovereign rings and wedding bands. But will these operators pass on the hike in gold prices to their luckless clients? I can hazard a guess. What's needed is someone to liberate the gold back to its rightful owners, in a Robin Hood meets The Italian Job escapade. There's a film in that.

The real thing? I don't think so

I idly mentioned to colleagues that I'd never drunk Coca-Cola. This was greeted with astonishment akin to a full-throttle HM Bateman cartoon. For anyone under about, ooh, 70 not to have drunk Coke seems unfathomable. A small, chilled can was brought before me – but not before the whole storm-in-a soft-drink-cup was charted on Twitter. "It's like discovering a friend's got a Penny Farthing in their garage" was one electronic quip. But if I felt about 102 by the time the fizzy drink was drunk – rather like cigarettes, I had tried it once, didn't like it, no biggie – I was heartened to see that there are hundreds of Coke refuseniks like me across the social networking world.