Friday, June 12, 2009

When will this end?

Who would want to be in Big Brother these days... My piece from the Indo today:

By Susan Daly

Friday June 12 2009

What is a nice Catholic daughter of a missionary doing in a place like Big Brother? On paper, Noirin Kelly, Ireland's only representative in the tenth series of the reality show, should be a fish out of water.

Since the late Jade Goody stripped down to her 'kebab' seven years ago, the erstwhile TV social experiment has gained notoriety as a hideout for freaks, fame-seekers and, occasionally, very troubled souls.

Noirin's family in Cabinteely would be appalled to think that their pretty 25-year-old girl could in any way fit that bill. Her parents met when Noirin's Irish father Peter was a missionary in Kenya; he brought his wife Jacinta home to Dublin where they raised a good Catholic brood of two girls and five boys, now aged from 27 down to seven.

"She'll keep out of trouble," said Peter, on hearing the news that his second eldest had entered the Big Brother house. "She'd be religious enough. We all have our faith." Noirin's mother Jacinta praised her daughter as "the girl who would walk out and find gold".

It is clear Noirin comes from a tightly-knit family, not lacking in love nor morals. Her parents' faith in her is heartening -- one hopes it won't be betrayed by her stint on Big Brother.

The stringently secret nature of the show forced Noirin to tell her mum she was going to London to meet a friend when she was in fact attending the show auditions. The family were shocked when she popped up on TV last week --they thought she was in America.

And as sure as rocks have creepy-crawlies under them, a 'friend' has already handed over pictures of Noirin posing in scanty undies to a tabloid.

It was revealed that Noirin had previously featured on a high-profile reality show, The Real World in Australia, which saw her frolicking topless in a hot tub.

Noirin's mum has hinted that she is not naïve about the possibility that her daughter might play to the cameras. Jacinta said she will watch the show for now, but may have to look away if Noirin does anything "silly".

Noirin's hunger for attention in the belief that fame and fortune will also be in attendance is no longer a novelty among BB applicants. It was a different story when the first-ever Irish contestant, Anna Nolan, entered the house in its first season in 2000. She believed no-one would even watch it.

One night shortly before the launch of the show, she told her plans to friends in the pub. "One of them said, 'Why on earth would anyone want to watch that?' and we changed the subject," she said.

After series five, it became clear that the programme-makers were casting ever more eccentric characters in a bid to keep viewer attention alive.

George Lamb, host of spin-off show Big Brother's Little Brother, is puzzled by the characters he interviews when they emerge from the house. "It's weird what drives someone to go and be a part of it," he said.

The fact that contestants will literally do anything to get on TV is fully exploited by the programme makers.

This year, the contestants had to submit to bizarre tests on the show before they became "fully fledged" housemates.

Two contestants, a posh boy called Freddie Fisher and a glamour model called Sophie Reade, had to change their names by deed poll to Halfwit and Dogface respectively. Two others, single mother Saffia Corden and former Mr Gay UK contestant Charlie Drummond, were ordered to walk over broken glass -- not realising that it was safe sugar glass, the kind which is used in movie stunt scenes.

Noirin agreed to have her eyebrows shaved off by another contestant, and glasses and a moustache drawn on her face in permanent marker.

Noirin Kelly is not a talentless desperado by any means -- she's a former athletics star, and a manager for Dunnes Stores -- but the clarion call of potential fame is strong enough for her to allow her face to be... well, defaced... for public consumption.

The debasement and humiliation could well be for naught. Dermot O'Leary, former host of Big Brother's Little Brother, remarked: "When I first started on Big Brother (in 2001) people never really wanted to be famous. It was just a by-product of what happens when you're on that show . . . I don't think people should go on Big Brother thinking 'I really want to be famous' with any longevity."

Those few who do not sink without trace have found that Big Brother fame is not without its complications. Although the last days of Jade Goody have barely faded from our TV screens, the current batch of BB hopefuls don't appear to view her as a cautionary tale.

True, Jade's notoriety allowed her to create a trust fund for her two sons by allowing cameras to follow her as she died of cervical cancer. But that pay day was bitterly earned over seven years in which public perception of her character was created through the prism of her first innocent turn on Big Brother in 2002, and four years later on Celebrity Big Brother.

Her first appearance branded her ignorant, childlike and unsophisticated; and she emerged from the latter with the labels of bully and racist.

Her third Big Brother appearance -- on the Indian version to offer reparation for her attacks on Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty -- ended abruptly with her being informed on camera that she had cancer.

While audiences for reality TV are in decline overall, Noirin, an evidently bright girl with a head for business, might have been better off applying to The Apprentice if she wanted maximum exposure.

Despite showing on a traditionally low-rating weekday night, The Alan Sugar-fronted show increased its audience to a record high of 8.1 million at the start of the 2009 series.

In any case, wannabes don't need BB anymore when they recreate the experience with the help of a home camera and a video-sharing website like YouTube or Vimeo. And guess what -- Noirin Kelly is already featured on a video on Youtube, having a dance-off with a male friend in someone's front room. Why, she's famous already.

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