Teenagers beguiled by false dreams of instant fame on reality TV

Sarah Cassidy,Education Correspondent
Friday 13 January 2006 01:00 GMT

The lure of celebrity is so great among teenagers that almost one in 10 would abandon their education if they had the chance to appear on television.

Although the odds of hitting the big time through reality television are 30 million to one- greater than those for winning the Lottery - about 16 per cent of teenagers believe they will find success through celebrity.

Richard Branson, J K Rowling and David Beckham were among the teenagers' role models. The poll of nearly 800 youngsters in the 16 to 19 age group, commissioned by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), found that money and success were their main motivating factors.

The LSC said official statistics show that leaving education or training without a basic set of qualifications will leave young people more likely to be unemployed or stuck in low-paid jobs.

Ruth Bullen, of the LSC, said the findings should encourage young people to stay on in education or training. "For many young people, trying to be famous through reality television can be tempting, particularly if they are unsure of the direction they want their lives to take," she said.

"The truth is that the majority will not achieve fame, so it is essential that they gain a minimum set of qualifications, such as five GCSEs at grades A* to C or the equivalents. If making money is the reason a young person wants to be famous, by staying on in education or training they can increase their future earning power by gaining these essential qualifications."

Despite the odds, 9 per cent of teenagers believed that becoming famous was a great way to become wealthy without skills or qualifications. An additional 11 per cent said that they were "waiting to be discovered".

The survey, conducted by YouGov, also found that young people wanted to follow in the footsteps of respected celebrities. Four per cent would like to be Tony Blair, while almost 8 per cent aspire to be like the author J K Rowling. John Simpson, Stephen Hawking and David Attenborough also featured as people that teenagers would like to emulate.

Mark Borkowski, a PR expert, worked with 12-year-old Barney Clark, who played the title role in the film Oliver Twist, and believes that no one should swap an education for fame.

Unlike Fame Academy and X Factor celebrities, who are launched into the public eye almost overnight, Barney is pursuing his studies. "He needs as normal life as possible in his formative years, because this is the most precious time of life and so important to your personality," Mr Borkowski said. "The littered bones of child stars are around for everyone to see. Barney's parents want the best for him as a normal child."

Mr Borkowski believes the rise of reality television and "karaoke television" is creating more and more casualties who want to be famous. "People look at these programmes and think, 'me too'. This is not about being the best, but about being the most instant and photogenic. It is so upsetting to see something like this. People are desperate to do anything to be famous - they are the new addicts."

He believes that the appeal of instant fame is saddening, and the only way that this instant celebrity appeal is going to disappear is when the first "x-list suicide" occurs. "People do not recognise the support you need around you to survive when they read glossy teenage magazines," Mr Borkowski said.

Daryll Rose, 16: 'Everything is easy if you're famous'

Daryll Rose is confident that he will become rich and famous - ideally as a footballer but if not then as a model or an actor.

Daryll, whose heroes are Thierry Henry and Denzel Washington, says he would happily drop out of school if he was offered the chance to go on a television show that would further his dreams.

"I would love to be rich," he said. "I know that when you are famous you get all the nice girls and you always look nice. Everything seems easy when you are famous. I think I am going to be famous. I have got a lot of ambition and I work hard."

Daryll, who is studying for 10 GCSEs and is predicted to achieve a mixture of C and D grades at Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough, accepts that education is important but does not believe that education and a steady career will ever provide him with the lifestyle that he dreams of. "I think education is important but for me I do not think a nine-to-five job would be good enough. I would not like to go to the same job every day. I do not think you can become really rich with a normal job - I think you can be comfortable. When you are really rich you can do whatever you want. Being comfortable is not the same thing."

Teen idols

The top 10 role models for people aged 16 to 19:

1. Richard Branson

2. JK Rowling

3. David Beckham

4. Andrew Flintoff

5. Tony Blair

6. David Attenborough

7. Frank Lampard

8. Stephen Hawking

9. Ms Dynamite

10. Sir Alan Sugar

A total of 777 young people were questioned for the YouGov survey

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