Addicted to celebrity

'A sufferer will get a hit of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson one day, a buzz of Ronan Keating the next – nothing that we can't deal with'
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The Independent Online

It has been a busy week in the life of Dr Jamie McFadden, whose pioneering work in the field of Personality Dependency Syndrome (PDS) has been in the headlines recently. When I visit him at his clinic in Islington, the waiting-room is full and his receptionist is busy answering the telephone. Fortunately, the doctor operates a press-interview-before-patients policy and I am able to make my way straight into his surgery.

"I hope this isn't a bad time," I murmur politely.

Dr McFadden fixes me with the smile that is now familiar to millions of daytime TV viewers. "For some unlucky people, it is always a bad time," he says.

"Yes, I suppose stress levels must be high right now, what with the security warnings, the threat of war, Saddam, Osama and..."

The doctor laughs in a sharp, oddly unsympathetic way. "My patients are only interested in the war if it's on a screen with Tom Cruise starring in it. Until Osama and Saddam have been interviewed in OK! magazine, they'll hardly be aware of their existence."

He settles back in his leather chair. "Personality Dependency Syndrome is a highly contemporary disorder," he says. "Those suffering from it have become convinced that only events concerning a small number of famous people in the entertainment industry are, in fact, real. So war, terror or strikes only have relevance to them if they impinge on the lives of Carol Vorderman, Hugh Grant or Kylie Minogue."

"This is the work of the tabloids, I suppose?"

"Many journalists are in the grip of PDS themselves. They spread the disease through their pages."

"So why is there a particular crisis right now?"

"Normally PDS is a condition that can be kept more or less under control. A sufferer will get a hit of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson one day, a buzz of Ronan Keating the next – nothing that we can't deal with. But over the past few weeks, the whole celebrity scene has become more complicated."

"The Ulrika thing?"

"That was the way it started. Ulrika and Sven – TV, football and sex are always a dangerous mix for the vulnerable. But then it got worse. PDS sufferers believe in a sort of parallel world, entirely separate yet attached to our own, which is populated exclusively by the famous. In that world, celebrities meet in the green room of TV studios, plan films and documentaries together, share recreational drugs and go to bed together where they have fantastic celebrity sex."

"And your job is to wean them off that idea."

"Exactly. But what has happened recently is that the fantasy has begun to seem like fact. The most unlikely personalities, all capable of causing chronic PDS problems, have become caught up in the same story – Princess Diana, Michael Barrymore, the Duke of Edinburgh, Paul Burrell and heaven knows who else. Add the ingredients of the story – sex, royalty, cross-dressing, money-scams and show-business – and you have the makings of a mental-health crisis."

"Yes, all you need is Ulrika, Sven, Angus and Jordan to join in and you'd have a full house."

"It's beyond joking. Some of my patients have become so over-stimulated that they have literally been having an orgasm for a week." The doctor shakes his head. "This clinic can help with the symptoms but it is the disease that needs addressing. The problem is that the media don't care if the feeble-minded are deluded. Relationships not recorded on camera or in print become meaningless for them, everyday life is pointless if it is not the subject of a TV makeover."

When, tentatively, I suggest to the doctor that the obsession with fame has reached saturation point, he picks up a sheet of paper from his desk. "I've just received a hand-out from the TV production company announcing its forthcoming projects." He hands it over to me.

I glance through it, and I have to admit that the doctor had a point. Among the projects are Celebrity Blind Date, in which a "TV Romeo" has to guess which of three guests he has not slept with. Then there is a response to the backlash against cookery programmes, Lose It! The search for the Celebrity Bulimic of the Year. Rolf Harris seems to be involved with a follow-up to his pet programme called Celebrity Rescue in which he tries to help a personality whose personal life is in trouble.

The clamour outside McFadden's surgery is growing. "One last question," I say. "How is it that you are receiving celebrity press releases?"

The doctor gives me the full TV smile. "We're doing a little fly-on-the-wall series for Channel 4 called The Fame Clinic," he says. "I think my public deserve that, don't you?"