Thursday, January 14, 2016

Celebrity Big Brother / Angie Bowie, David Gest and the bleakest farce

Oh, brother: a grieving Angie Bowie is comforted by John Partridge and David Gest

Celebrity Big Brother: Angie Bowie, David Gest and the bleakest farce

This year’s CBB house looked set to be the scene of some entertaining discourse but it entered a depressing new phase after the death of David Bowie

Julia Raeside
Wednesday 13 January 2016 17.53 GMT

gave up on Big Brother last year. Until January 2015 I hadn’t missed a single series, but even my high tolerance for the shrill rows and needless added drama of modern reality television had been met. Too many words spoken in anger, not enough interesting conversation about the nature of fame.

But when I heard about the diverse lineup for this year’s show, I couldn’t help but dip back in. Nancy Dell’Olio and Angie Bowie, I thought, guaranteed at least two women over 40 with a vocabulary, always essential to dilute the heavy concentration of high-pitched, high-decibel soap and reality poppets.
The conversations between David Gest and Darren Day in the first few episodes began to reveal interesting details from their position of celebrity hindsight. Gest told a drastically altered Christopher Maloney (formerly from X Factor) that surgery was a bad idea and pointed to his own mangled features as an example. Day talked sagely of former addictions with Daniella Westbrook, herself only recently emerged from a recent relapse. This stuff might not interest you, but I was genuinely drawn in by their conversations.
As the days turned to a week, it became clear that US reality person Tiffany Pollard (it comes to something when even I, dedicated consumer of popular culture, haven’t heard of a contestant) was becoming a destabilising factor among the group with her erratic behaviour and unpleasant attitude. The rows began, factions formed, and my interest waned.
Then David Bowie died. Before the first shockwaves of public reaction had even subsided, Celebrity Big Brother producers chose their course of action. They trailed Tuesday’s episode, at the end of Monday night’s show, offering viewers a clip of Angie Bowie, the singer’s first wife, breaking down in tears in the diary room shortly after she has been told the news off camera by her agent. She decided to stay on the show and even at one point said that at least she was safe there, away from the questions of the press.
Using her ex-husband’s death was unpleasant but perhaps expected; sending her back into the house in a state of high emotion proved to be much worse. The tinderbox that is Tiffany misheard Angie as she confided her news: “David’s dead!” The younger woman assumed the elder meant fellow contestant, David Gest, asleep in the bedroom next door, and erupted into hysterical screams.
I lost the thread after that as the whole thing descended into the bleakest farce. Tiffany ran from Angie, without waiting for further explanation, into the garden to announce Gest’s death to her confused colleagues. This sent a group of them scurrying to the bedroom to check the sleeping Gest’s pulse, much to his confusion. I suppose I could find it funny if it weren’t so utterly awful.

The fallout from Tiffany’s hysteria was a group intervention suggesting she leave. I don’t even pretend to follow the logic behind this. Meanwhile, Angie cried alone in the diary room. Even if she hasn’t seen Bowie for 30-plus years, a TV show is not the place to deal with death. How much must you need the spotlight to stay on in such circumstances?
Meanwhile, the Ofcom complaints line began to ring as viewers protested about what they saw as the bullying of Tiffany. Some even suggested that John Partridge (EastEnders) intended a racial slur when he suggested Tiffany was only offering reconciliation because she wanted to eat the chicken they were cooking for dinner. Chicken is now a racially specific meal, apparently. Others complained about Angie’s on-camera grief on the grounds of poor taste. I’m inclined to agree with them. 
In Tuesday’s episode, any semblance of calm disintegrated and with it, my interest in watching another second of this cracked, depressing, enervating refuse. What happens when you gather a group of differently broken, attention-seeking people in a small space and then dramatically burst the reality bubble in which they’re living? They break some more, and your cameras catch it all. I’m out.

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