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CELEBRITY STOCKS AND SHARES

21-11-2008

The furore over John Sergeant's popularity on Strictly Come Dancing - despite the fact that he's got two left feet - has Lynne Hawthorne questioning why we vote on celebrity issues.

In times past, it was traditional for wrong-doers and criminals to be put in the village stocks and pelted with rotten fruit and veg. Today, we tend to think that we’re more civilised and so see it as ‘quaint’ and replicate the process in a less harmful way at fetes and fundraisers by throwing wet sponges at the obliging head teacher, local dignitary, sports star, etc.

But are we really more civilised? If the furore surrounding the withdrawal of former BBC political correspondent John Sergeant from Strictly Come Dancing is anything to go by, the answer is clearly ‘no’.

There were howls of protest when he withdrew because he was so ‘popular’ and media types joined the man-in-the-street and backed him to stay. But what were the motives of those people who voted for him week after week?

Yes, he’s witty, has charm and exudes a cuddly, avuncular air, but is he a dancer? Anyone who has watched knows that, although he has tried hard, he is not performing as well as his competitors. So are viewers keeping him in the competition because of his winning personality, or is it merely for the opportunity of seeing him fail? If it’s the latter, then this is the modern version of the stocks.

Why do people tune in in their millions to watch the first few weeks of ITV’s X Factor? Is it to meet the new contestants? Is it to view the talent on display? No, it’s simply to ridicule and poke fun at the bewildered and deluded souls who genuinely believe that they have what it takes and most definitely haven’t.

We’ve had a whole raft of pointless reality ‘challenges’ (can someone please contact the World Wildlife Fund to save the misery in the Australian jungle currently being inflicted? No creature on Earth deserves to be stuck with the latest lot of D-listers trying to claw back a career) wilfully manipulated to ensure ‘conflict’.

Sadly, - and I say this as a die-hard fan for 6 series - Strictly Come Dancing seems to be no different. Every series has had its no hoper. Poor old Jimmy Tarbuck was nearly finished off after only a few weeks of rehearsal. If it really is a dancing competition, then the contestants need to be selected more carefully, even auditioned beforehand, to ensure greater parity.

John Sergeant is 64, overweight and unfit. How can he possibly compete with a nubile comparative youngster like Rachel Stevens, for example, without running the risk of a coronary? At 56, Cherie Lunghi was exceptional but her relative success has not been mirrored by other contestants in her age bracket.

I’m sad that John Sergeant has withdrawn, but not surprised, as he has endured levels of abuse that had started to become pointed and personal, and anybody would find that difficult. I’m disappointed that he hasn’t seen it through and that his withdrawal has now put another, better dancer out a week earlier. I feel sorry for those voters who selected him for genuine reasons, such as his being a champion of the over 60’s, and I feel sorry that the BBC invited him in the first place, as he was set up to fail.

All this tosh being talked about ‘Britain loves an underdog’ is simply covering up the fact that we have become a nation which takes delight in taking the p--- out of misguided people who leave themselves wide open for abuse. These reality programmes are deliberately set up to foist upon us people who will never be famous, except for being bad at singing or whatever or people who are already in the spotlight and should know better.

If we truly love the underdog, we need to turn our attention away from the TV screen and check out what’s going on in our local neighbourhood. We need to find and acknowledge all the unsung heroes who work tirelessly for charities and causes, giving their time – and often their own money – to support things which they feel are important and which make an enormous contribution to society.

Let’s put these people on a pedestal and worship them and actually thank them, or better still, help them to achieve their goals and targets and stop wasting our time on engineered disputes and meaningless, faked celebrity.

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