Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Bitches of Beastwick 1/24/12

Dear Lord, please save us from Karissa and Kristina Shannon, the ex-Playboy mansion twins currently contaminating our TV screens in the UK.

The pair – well, both pairs, courtesy of Hugh Hefner’s compulsory plastic surgery for his girlfriends – are appearing in Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother, an entertainment show that brings “celebrities” (D-Listers – no one in the UK has ever heard of the twins) under one roof for three weeks and subjects them to all sorts of humiliations.

The twins are no strangers to reality TV and know what to do to get camera time. They have flaunted their bodies since day one, wandering around in skimpy outfits and bikinis, extolling their own beauty, and believing that every blonde and, indeed, every woman in the world, is jealous of them.

The reality is that they have revealed themselves to be spiteful, bitchy, stupid and, yes, gullible, when they were fooled into thinking they had become big stars in Japan. Their interview with the fake Oriental TV host will (one hopes) be on YouTube for decades to come.

This week, Karissa blew a gasket when Denise Welch, a terrific actor and one of the wilder women in the entertainment industry, pulled at her trousers during a “Girls Night Out” session in the house.

Initially, there was no reaction, but then you could see the “Ker-ching!” on Karissa’s face, and off she stormed to the diary room, where housemates receive not only instructions but vent their grievances, to declare that she wanted to leave.

She claimed that she was the classiest woman in the house and felt disrespected. Really? The social network was immediately awash with pictures of the twins, happily bearing their backsides for the world, and, presumably, getting paid handsomely for it.

There is a bit of a debate going on about the incident, the pro-Karissa lobby (albeit a very small lobby that you could fit in an eye bath and still have room for a multi-storey car-park) having one line of argument: just because you take your clothes off for a living, that doesn’t give anyone the right to show your private bits on national TV, is the general gist of it.

I get the point.

But anyone with any savvy (and, let’s face it, the twins’ management presumably has it by the bucket-load – or so the girls never tire of telling us, anyway) will have checked out the show and seen that nudity, drunkenness and lack of respect for anyone’s personal space are at the heart of the format.

The twins have used Denise’s behaviour to “up” what is, to me, bullying of the older woman. Denise is 53 and should, said the twins, act her age. I suspect they never said the same to their octogenarian boyfriend who funded their lavish lifestyle and made them the ghastly stars they have become.

No, taking your clothes off for a living does not make you fair game for every grope and lewd comment, any more than being a prostitute makes you fair game to be raped. But the twins have put up with far worse on the other side of the Atlantic; the only difference in the UK is that they are in an uncontrolled environment that, quite frankly, their management should have checked out more thoroughly beforehand.

Ex-Page 3 girl Nicola McLean has joined the twins in their bullying of Denise, and it is playground behaviour of the worst sort. Nicola’s attempts to manipulate the voting by getting the twins onside - and they have done the same with her – has turned this threesome into The Bitches of Beastwick. Yes, Denise drinks and, under the heat of TV lights, the effects of alcohol are heightened – as is the pressure.

The twins’ ageism also extends to Frankie Cocozza, a young singer who was recently thrown off The X Factor after going off the rails. The twins attack him for what they call sexual harassment but, just days ago, thought he was just like any 18 year-old kid.

Again, they changed tack and decided to go down the “We’re going to sue” route. Now, they attack him even for opening his mouth but, well done to him, he ignored their bullying on Monday and went off to comfort Denise.

In that one action, he revealed himself to have more maturity than those two airheads could ever conjure up on their deathbeds.

Here’s news, girls: you are not, as you think, going to win this. You are the very worst Los Angeles has to offer and, in the three years I lived there, trust me, I am placing you right down there with the worst of them.

You are not beautiful; you are not clever, funny, talented or interesting. You have ridden on the back (literally or metaphorically, who knows) of an old man who has financed your very dubious stardom.

You may be able to fool LA but it doesn’t wash in the UK, where the concept of fun (which is clearly anathema to you – get your management to look that word up) rules, in what is essentially a game show.

Come Wednesday, I hope that the British public, who are voting for the winner (what a waste of time your nomination scheming has been – Duh!), get your tight-arsed personalities out of the house.

And while we’re on the subject, Karissa . . . My arse is SOOOOO much better than yours.

And I’m 53.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hollywood Goes to Frankie 1/7/12

A small slice of Hollywood has turned up in the Celebrity Big Brother House on Channel 5 in the UK.

Reservoir Dogs actor Michael Madsen is in there, along with the famous twins who once shared Hugh Hefner’s bed – and they’re all looking a bit baffled.

Unbeknown to Madsen, who was second in, the first housemate - actor Natalie Cassidy - had been given secret tasks, one of which was to tell Madsen that she was his greatest fan and loved him in the movie Free Willy. He looked as if he had been hit over the head with . . . well, a wet fish.

Later, she had to go to the twins and speak with an American accent and then tell them she had done a lot of modelling. Lovely and talented as she is, Natalie is no Playmate bunny, and the twins could not hide their incredulity. It was hilarious.

As the show was being broadcast, the whole country of Wales was in shock, too. Grown men sobbed. They shook their heads in disbelief. They clutched their foreheads and held on to each other as if clinging for the last moments of life on a sinking ship.

What could possibly have happened? Who had died? Which national hero had passed away, who might be capable of eliciting such outpourings of grief?

The reason for the national tragedy quickly became apparent: Gareth Thomas – the Welsh international rugby player who came out as being gay in 2009 - had entered the house.

For those not in the know, the Channel 5 show (bought from Channel 4, who dropped it last year) returned on Thursday night and introduced us to the 13 celebrities who will spend the next three weeks holed up together. As each one mounted the fateful steps, Twitter went into overdrive as people began the predictable round of complaints.

These were B list celebrities, Channel 5 is awful, why do people humiliate themselves like this – on and on and on. My voice was a very small one in the wilderness of criticism because, quite simply, I think this series promises to be brilliant, and Gareth Thomas is 100% right to be there.

From the outset, it was inspired, and Cassidy just got funnier and funnier as she completed each task with seemingly relative ease – and none of them were easy, as they had to be performed “immediately”.

She even managed to kiss sacked X Factor contestant Frankie Cocozza on the lips - twice (poor Frankie was totally intimidated throughout and reduced to a rare humility in the presence of Madsen). By the time she completed the last – getting everyone to join hands, delivering a motivational speech and subsequently crying – I was helpless with laughter.

It was an award-winning performance and I suspect her agent is already inundated with offers for when she returns to real life.

The decision for anyone to participate in a reality show is one not to be taken lightly. I criticised Welsh rugby international Gavin Henson for taking part in The Bachelor because he did so at a time when all his energies should have been directed at training for the Rugby World Cup. The Bachelor – a US format - is a desperately tacky show that requires great acting, a fantastic personality and an ironic wit to carry off the central role successfully – and Gav . . . Well, bless him.

Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing on Ice in the UK are shows that are almost foolproof in their ability to resurrect celebrities’ careers, because they have self-improvement at the heart of their formats. Similarly, I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here! which reveals quite astonishing levels of endurance in the most unexpected individuals.

Celebrity Big Brother is a tougher nut to crack because, in the essential task of “just being”, the housemates’ weaknesses are more exposed.

Gareth will do brilliantly. I have no doubt. He has overcome the biggest obstacle he will ever face – having the guts to come out in the macho rugby world.

Having endured an embarrassing interview by ruthless TV commentator Eddie Butler on TV, he subsequently declared his homosexuality (although I am not suggesting that Eddie has hidden powers as an outer of gays) and transformed himself overnight. Suddenly, here was an articulate, witty, immensely likable person and a fantastic role model.

His performance on the Ellen de Generes show in the US was breathtaking and brought him immense support on that side of the pond – no mean feat for any personality. There is a film, starring Mickey Rourke, being made of his life. And he will never be short of shoes, having impressed Christian Louboutin so much, he was given a pair of slip-ons embroidered with his tattoos.

"Alfie", as he is known in Wales, is being spectacularly managed and his arrival in the Big Brother house should be greeted not with derision but with encouragement and praise (and please get behind him to win by joining my Facebook page, “Alfie to Win Big Brother 2012”).

The man inspires nothing but pride.

Wales has conquered yet another little piece of Hollywood.

Go, Alfie, go!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What A Difference A Daylight Robbery Makes 12/5/12


New Year’s Eve is my most hated day of the year. I can count on one hand the number of remotely good New Year’s Eves I have ever had, and this year looked like being another damp squib as I continued to ponder where I might go.

When I was a child, I loved waking on the first day of the New Year to find the pile of hats and whistles at the foot of my bed – the cache my parents brought back from the dance they had been to the night before.

My sleepy eyes stretching to take in pink crepe streamers dangling from the top of a shiny purple cone; red and blue plastic nursing waxed coils of inflatable whistle; jewels of sweets in a nest of tinsel – the glamour of a world I didn’t know but imagined, as I sifted through the evidence.

Sometimes, my parents had a New Year’s Eve party. Before the guests arrived, I would watch my mother prepare the food – creamed chicken in vol au vents (French food, no less! I thought Mum and Dad could speak a second language), sausage rolls and, my favourite, deep-fried fish balls. My brother and I were allowed to choose a small plate of food to take to our rooms to enjoy our own private party. And I thought I was the luckiest child in the world.

When did New Year’s Eve go so wrong? Was it when alcohol became part of the equation and aspirin replaced paper hats as the main fare of New Year’s Day? Or was it when I found myself without a date when all of my friends were sifting through a mountain of invitations? Maybe, as with most things, the shine went off it when I simply grew up.

By far my worst New Year was Millennium Eve. I had broken up with my boyfriend ten days before Christmas after I discovered he had gone off with a nurse when I was away. We were in Soho Pizzeria in London and, upon my suspicions being confirmed, I left the restaurant with great dignity. Halfway up the street, I changed my mind, ran back and gave him a “How could you do this to me!” rant in front of the whole place. Every nurse in Casualty and Holby City got a bad review from me after that. Sluts, the lot of them.

So, on the biggest New Year’s Eve in my lifetime, I was alone in front of the television, listening to bagpipes. Quite why anyone has the nerve to call that portable windbag a musical instrument is beyond me, and much as I love Scotland, the bagpipes make you understand why God chose to put the country so far away from everyone else.

As a single, older person, your New Year’s Eve choices are limited. Billboards in town are advertising late night drinking and DJs, which is a euphemism for glass in your face and a noise level that will make it impossible to phone the police and report said glassing of face.

Formal dinner dances are no fun on your own and come second in loneliness only to going away and staying in a hotel, where you then end up paying for the privilege of couples ignoring you.

We have huge expectations of New Year’s Eve, yet most people hate it. Far from feeling like a new beginning, for most of us it reinforces how little we have accomplished since the last one; and as the recession continues to bite, these days it also reinforces how much less money we have than we did a year ago.

But I still made the effort and went to the Cameo Club, which continues to be my favourite haunt in the city. Why change the habit of every other day for one night? And, at a mere £5, as a bagpipe avoidance solution, it was a snip. Shame the loud music drove me out shortly after midnight, but a small group reconvened in my house for charades.

Bring on 2012, I thought, waking with an optimistic song in my heart.


The New Year did not start well. After a very enjoyable Christmas catching up with family and friends, I was looking forward to 2012 with renewed optimism after what had been a difficult 2011 (after a difficult 2010 and 2009, come to that).

On New Year’s Day, I went to two of my local pubs to bring in the New Year with a few more people, and I returned home ready to start real life again on January 2nd (yes, a Bank Holiday, I know, but I figured I had already had enough time off).

I worked through the night in my living room, reviewing TV and contacting colleagues in LA, which I have to do during the early hours because of the time difference.

Suddenly, I became aware that the house had become very cold and went to check to see if I had left any windows or doors open. Everything appeared secure, and when I went to bed, everything seemed in order.

I awoke to a freezing house the following morning and noticed my kitchen window flung open. There were black footprints over my kitchen floor and dining room carpet. Then, I noticed footprints on the clearly destructed window.

I could not immediately see anything missing and called the police to report the break-in. But suddenly I noticed that my handbag was not in its usual place. Running hysterically through the house, I soon realised that it had been taken, along with several valuable possessions and a lot of cash and credit cards.

I never carry a lot of cash – friends’ experiences of being mugged on the streets always having been a deterrent; but this was an exception owing to the extra long holiday and the banks being shut.

The police were fantastic, from the desk officer who took the call to those who came to interview me and take forensic evidence. Likewise, the Lloyds Group insurance people I spoke to. Kind, understanding, sympathetic and helpful – I could not have asked for more.

I have returned home to find my home having been broken into when I lived in Bath, but Neighbourhood Watch were there so quickly the thieves escaped with nothing. The devastation felt by the violation of one’s personal space is, however, incalculable, and the knowledge that someone was in my home, just feet away from me, robbing me of my possessions, is something that, at present, is something from which I do not feel I will ever fully recover.

How did I not hear them? Why would they enter a house where it was clear someone was at home? Or, did they think the house was empty and, upon seeing me investigate the cold, pull the window shut and hide outside until I turned the lights off?

What if there had been no money in the bag? Would they have passed through the rest of the house and, upon finding me in the living room, coshed me over the head and helped themselves to everything they could?

The questions have been endless. The What Ifs, the Buts, the If Onlys – and, as the officer who took my statement said: hindsight is a wonderful thing.

When he handed me the statement to sign, I read through it and said it was fine – apart from the misplaced apostrophe in the possessive pronoun “its”. He asked when it was correct to use an apostrophe in the word, and, in the middle of my tears, I gave him an English punctuation lesson. It’s weird what shock does to you – and what it does not take away: namely, an obsession with language. Already, I was forming what I was going to write about the incident.

I was reminded of the story about Dorothy Parker who, at a theatre performance, laughed hysterically throughout but, in the next day’s paper, slaughtered the production. When asked by the gentleman who had listened to her guffawing throughout why there was such a disparity between her response and the review, she replied that she had not been laughing at the production, only what she was going to write about it.

The only upside of any bad experience for a writer is the knowledge that it is more material, and my grammar lesson was a tiny chink of light that reminded me that I was still me and would at some point return from what I now perceived myself to be, in just a few hours: a “victim”.

There are many situations in life capable of turning us into victims: the speed at which we shake that label off depends, for the most part, on our respective abilities to be re-active or pro-active. You can rant and rail against the hardships life throws at you for weeks, months, years; but in the end, it is only you who can change anything in your life.

There is a wonderful Maupassant short story in which one man tells another that he will ruin his life for the hardship he has dealt him. Decades later, having endured a terrible life and lost pretty much everything, the man meets the other, who had promised the wrath of terror; he congratulates him on having done exactly what he had said he would, destroying everything he held dear. Oh, that, the man shrugged; I forgot about that straight away.

The knowledge that it is we who are ultimately responsible for everything that happens to us is often a bitter pill to swallow, and it’s certainly true that there are many people – damned thieves included – who have no conscience when it comes to harming the lives of others. But it is how we respond to what is inflicted upon us – deliberately or by chance – that is the real sign of a great human being.

When the Stephen Lawrence “guilty” verdict was announced on Tuesday afternoon, it put my own burglary in perspective. Doreen and Neville Lawrence lost their wonderful young son at the hands of murderous, racist thugs; far from becoming victims, they fought for justice for 18 years, and this week, in part, they got it.

There is, indeed, evil in the world. People lie and steal and kill, and do all manner of things to defenceless human beings that it is hard to comprehend. But, when we feel at our most helpless, there are also many human beings who can surprise us with their compassion and kindness.

For me, this week, it has been the goodness shown not only by the police and insurance staff, but of so many strangers and friends on Facebook and Twitter, who offered messages of support after my ordeal. I felt alone and frightened, but was instantly surrounded by offers not only of practical help but emotional support.

It was uplifting, heartening, and transported me from the role of victim to one of survivor.

As for the people who robbed me. Enjoy the money. It won’t last. The love and support of my friends and family will.