Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Define 'reality'

After yesterday's rather serious (and lengthy) political post, here's something a little lighter, although no less significant. The world of celebrity has been rocked by the news that last weekend's big A-list wedding may not have been as legitimate as we were led to believe.

Meet Khloe, one of the stars of Keeping Up With the Kardashians - a reality TV show following the adventures of the children of Robert Kardashian. Don't know the name? Well, Robert was one of OJ Simpson's defence attorneys, and his time in the spotlight was sufficient to warrant prolonged media interest in his family (Robert died of cancer in 2003).

The three oldest Kardashian girls (whose names all begin with K, whether they're spelt that way or not) seem to be the stars of the show, and have delighted easily-pleased viewers with such adventures as posing for Playboy, attend acting classes and buying Bentleys. All gripping stuff, I'm sure you'll agree.

With Kim the glamourpuss of the family, and Kourtney (this is NOT a typo) devouring the column inches with her 'surprise' pregnancy, Khloe needed to do something to redress the publicity imbalance. Which is why, after just thirty days of dating, Khloe walked down the aisle with her new boyfriend, NBA Los Angeles Lakers star Lamar Odom.

Despite the fact that 250 guests attended the wedding, and the bride wore a Vera Wang dress, some bitter old cynics have suggested that the whole thing was a sham. Tragically, it has been alleged that the marriage is not legally binding, although the happy groom has claimed “Anybody that was there will tell you that it was a beautiful event and it was real.”

Adding to the newlywed's woes, are the reports that the whole affair was scripted and meticulously stage-managed by the show's producers. Reporting the story with the breathless intrigue of a Watergate-style cover-up, the usually reliable Huffington Post declares:
"In the audio... the producers are heard debating a line from the wedding script, specifically when during the festivities Khloe should tell her stepdad Bruce Jenner that she considers him her real dad."
And they said investigative journalism was dead.

Regular viewers of 'reality' TV shows know what's what. They may have a tolerance for trash that other mere mortals find hard to comprehend, but they're not idiots. We all know that 30-day romances and an ever-present camera crew don't make for genuine wedded bliss. So it should hardly come as a shock that these events were staged for the cameras. I think the more depressing insight from all this is that somewhere, there's a roomful of writers, dreaming of Pulitzers and Peabodies, who have to earn a living putting words into Khloe Kardashian's mouth.

As for the viewers, they know that reality TV is no longer a serialised documentary format. It's simply taken the place of the soap operas we used to watch for all our salacious behaviour and vicarious thrills.

After all, we've now reached a point where soap opera actors threaten to quit when asked to portray their characters in an unappealing light. Is it any wonder we look to Khloe, Kourtney and Kim, who have no such qualms?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Revenge of the Stupid White Men

You've got to hand it to Michael Moore - whether you like his style or not, the guy knows how to open a movie. According to box office reports, his new film Capitalism: A Love Story, made $306,000 in its first five days.

That sounds like peanuts, until you discover that this was on a 'limited release' of just four screens. Apparently, that sets a record for the highest per-screen average of the year. Given that this is a low budget documentary about the financial crisis, those are some pretty impressive statistics.

Of course, not everyone's happy about that. As is always the case with any new Michael Moore film, his critics are falling over themselves to castigate the thick-set agitator for daring to criticise capitalism, whilst turning a profit at the same time. Sadly, in doing so, they continue to reveal just how greatly the point has been missed.

A whole cottage industry of nitpickery has sprung up in Michael's considerable wake, with people spending weeks detailing every un-crossed T and un-dotted I in his research. One staggeringly fastidious site, Fifty-nine Deceits in Fahrenheit 9/11, catalogues every manipulated statistic and 'half-truth' in Moore's phenomenally successful critique of Bush's war on terror.

The problem is, half of the points made on the site are ridiculously facetious, my favourite example being:
"He claims that protestors 'pelted Bush's limo with eggs.' Actually, it was just one egg, according to the BBC."
For those who want to get caught up in the moob-for-tat debate, Moore also helpfully provided a full breakdown of every line in the movie on his website, addressing every statement and attributing it to a source.

But the trouble with these critiques of Moore's admittedly broad-stroke approach, is that they never actually address the key points he is making. Why concern yourself with the mis-handling of Bush's election, when you can quibble about which easily manipulated news network called the result first?

Unfortunately, the critics of Capitalism: A Love Story are similarly focused on the trees, and haven't yet realised they're deep in the woods.

Writing in the New York Post, Kyle Smith takes Moore to task for showing that large corporations buy life insurance for groups of employees, naming themselves as the beneficiaries:
"Moore interviews a Wal-Mart employee who is grieving for her dead husband when she discovers that his employer insured the deceased, paid all the premiums, and can therefore now cash in."

Smith's angle is that the companies are doing nothing wrong, and besides, Moore's last film 'Sicko' portrayed insurance companies as the villains. In Smith's eyes, this inconsistency in choosing his villains is Moore's fatal flaw.

But as anyone who has ever read a James Patterson novel knows, there's always more than one villain. The real issue here, which Moore makes quite clear, is that the lawyers call this distasteful practice "dead peasant insurance."

Since Moore's objective is to portray the heartless, venal side of uncontrolled capitalism, proving that some people are worth more dead than alive to their employees, is a point well made.

Also struggling to comprehend the issues is Michael Wilson, a man who owes his entire career (such as it is) to Michael Moore. Wilson was so-incensed by Moore's blockbuster Fahrenheit 9/11, that he made his own 'documentary' entitled 'Michael Moore Hates America' which gives you some insight into the level of political rhetoric on offer here.

On the subject of big business and health insurance companies, Wilson blogged yesterday about Will Ferrell's new spoof ad about 'the real victims'.

In an indignant post that simply serves to underline the point that Ferrell and friends were making, Wilson wonders aloud about the audacity of
'limousine liberals' who "decide to pick on the rich executives".

Wilson's reasoning? Rather than overhaul a broken system that sees forty million people without medical coverage, Wilson thinks these multi-millionaire bleeding-hearts should foot the bill for complete strangers' healthcare. Because that makes a lot more sense than national insurance contributions.

Ironically, Wilson neglects to mention that his ridiculous alternative to a fair and equitable insurance programme, was once trialled by his nemesis. While he was busy putting the finishing touches to Sicko, Moore found out that the wife of Jim Kenefick (who had been running liberal-baiting website Moorewatch.com for several years) was seriously ill, and Kenefick was struggling to find adequate medical coverage.

Playing the part of anonymous benefactor, and sensing the opportunity to make his point about the inadequacies of healthcare coverage, Moore anonymously donated $12,000 to pay for the first year of her treatment. The ever-gracious Kenefick cashed the cheque, paid for the treatment and wrote on his website:
"I knew he was using me, Moore is going to try to make me into one of his little puppets. I'm not an idiot... What kind of moron turns down a free 12 grand?"

Michael Moore knows that most of the time, he's preaching to the choir. But he asks difficult questions and understands that often there are no easy answers. Sadly, for people who see the world in black and white, that's never going to be good enough. But it's a real shame, for anyone who enjoys political debate on either side of the divide, that Moore's critics seem incapable of coming up with any counter-point stronger than "He's so fat..."

Monday, 28 September 2009

The gayest show on Earth


Suspension of disbelief - it's the cornerstone of most modern entertainment. And yet most people have an annoyingly inconsistent way of applying it. They'll happily embrace a movie about giant alien robots engaged in a centuries-old battle for galactic supremacy. They'll even sit through a legal thriller that expects them to accept that people will pay thousands of dollars for a whore who looks like Barbra Streisand. But give them a movie where characters sporadically break into song to vocalise their innermost thoughts, and they'll go running out the door.

To many people, the musical is like kryptonite. It's a genre that constantly smashes through the fourth wall like the Incredible Hulk trying to find his car keys. Although Shakespeare often applied the device of the soliloquy to articulate characters' feelings to an audience, these days most people's only familiarity with the technique involves Ferris Bueller and a shower-head.

Despite many people's resistance to the genre, the musical has staged something of a remarkable comeback in recent years. Baz Luhrmann bravely leapt into the unknown when he delivered his masterpiece Moulin Rouge. Although the film itself was rather like eating a giant bag of sweets on an out-of-control carousel, audiences were even happy to embrace Jim Broadbent writhing around and singing Like A Virgin. When Moulin Rouge turned a tidy profit, not to mention a few stomachs, Hollywood's producers suddenly started reaching for their checkbooks and stumping up the cash for anything with a songbook attached.

Phantom of the Opera, Chicago and Hairspray took some of Broadway's biggest shows and channelled them into box-office smashes, in the process treating us to such mouthwatering treats as Renee Zellwegger's singing and John Travolta in a female fat-suit. But the inarguable proof of the musical genre's remarkable comeback came from a low-budget TV movie staring a bunch of shiny orange nobodies, that carried all the dramatic weight of a episode of Balamory.

Kids didn't seem to care that the characters communicated with each other through close harmonies and co-ordinated dance routines - if anything it added to their appeal. The songs were little more than jingles with a couple of extra verses, but young viewers snapped up the soundtrack, the remixed soundtrack and even the karaoke soundtrack. High School Musical was followed by two sequels (with a third in the works), and became a veritable cottage industry for Disney which saw hundreds of millions of dollars in return for its original meagre investment.

Although High School Musical was made for TV, the networks have traditionally avoided he jazz-hands genre when it comes to weekly shows. The one notable exception to this rule came in 1990, when Steven Bochco (the creator of LA Law and NYPD Blue) failed miserably in attempting to fuse gritty police drama with the world of song-and-dance. Cop Rock was such a bad idea it made Eldorado look like a smart investment, with its audience-alienating combination of police procedural and showtunes.

The biggest problem with a weekly musical is actually the issue of budget. On top of all the usual pressures, there are also the additional considerations of music composition, rights management, choreography and extra rehearsal time. As a consequence, musical shows can cost several million dollars per episode - with no guarantee that the audience will tune in.

With all this in mind, it should come as great news that Fox has just announced a full pick-up for hot new show Glee, which means that a full season order has been placed. The show follows the fortunes of a visionary teacher who takes on the running of his school's glee club (that's a mixed-sex choir for the uninitiated), which comprises all the customary high school underdog archetypes.

Following in the tap-steps of Moulin Rouge, Glee uses modern pop songs rearranged to suit the needs of the show, rather than original compositions - meaning it's easier for the audience to singalong. Thankfully, most music artists have offered up the use of their songs for free, understanding that it's the easiest way to get their music in front of 10 million potential listeners. The fact that the show's producers have already lined up several soundtrack volumes already may have helped sweeten the deal.

Musical elements aside, Glee seems to be finding an accepting audience thanks to its dark humour, effervescent energy and exceptional casting. Just have a look at the extended trailer here and try not to smile...

Friday, 25 September 2009

X-treme makeovers

As the X-Factor hopefuls prepare for the nerve-shredding terror of boot-camp, press attention is once again returning to the judges. But aside from the usual questions of who hates who, and who's got which category, most of the articles published in the last week or so seem particularly obsessed with the judges' ever-changing appearances.

For a start there's Cheryl Cole, who in the space of 15 months has transformed herself from scrappy Geordie battleaxe into national feminine treasure (which admittedly makes her sound like a gold-plated tampon).

She's been talking up the importance of good hair, which makes sense, given that hers constitutes a good 40 percent of her body weight. Cheryl considers her hair a 'safety blanket' although, given the amount she displays every weekend, there's probably enough for a mattress and a couple of pillows too.

Dannii Minogue, who's changed her appearance so much she must struggle to pick herself out in a group photo, has decided this year to finally ditch the Botox needle. In previous years, her face has been as immobile as a hotwired BMW, but she must have grown tired of having to express her emotions with hand gestures.

Given that she's only had one expression for the last three years - the glare of horrified surprise as modeled by Lee Remick in The Omen - it must be a blessed relief to finally be able to do 'jaunty'.

But the biggest shocker this year is Louis Walsh, who has finally given in to Simon's malignant influence and subjected himself to a little nip and tuck. Thanks to a dose of Botox and some surgery on his eye-bags, the little Irish pixie is looking a million percent (copyright Louis Walsh) better than he did last year.

Admittedly, Louis Walsh having surgery is a little like pasting go-faster stripes on a tortoise, but one has to applaud the effort. At least now, Louis can look in the mirror and recycle his favourite line again: "Louis, you look like a diva, you sound like a diva."

Stop right now, thank you very much

George Santayana famously said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As a philosopher and poet, he was most likely speaking about war or the subjugation of human rights. But his powerful words are just as prescient when applied to the horrifying threat of another imminent Spice Girls reunion.

If you're feeling a sense of deja vu, in addition to creeping pernicious dread, it's probably because we've been here before. Only two years ago (although it feels like much, much longer) the rowdy fivesome congregated at the 02 arena to bellow their plans to reconquer the world all over again, having buried the hatchet once and for all.

They maintained that any animosity was just water under the bridge, and they were as tight as they'd been when they first started out, looking like a bunch of badly-styled ASBO-dodgers on their way to a hen night in Chigwell.

Proving that people are willing to buy the same old shit if it comes in nicer packaging, one million people tried to get hold of tickets for the official comeback concert, which sold out in 38 seconds. Having successfully thrown the chum into the waters and inspired a feeding frenzy, the cartoonish coven released tickets for an entire world tour and announced their plans for a big comeback single.

Unfortunately, the single was a bit of a flop, with record shops lumbered with crates of unsold copies of 'Headlines'. Likewise, backstage backstabbing led to the 'girls' (a term currently being investigated under the trades descriptions act) taking an early bath.

Officially, they claimed that family commitments were the reason for them cancelling dates in Australia, China, South Africa and Argentina, but the press reported that relations between the quarrelsome quintet were about as cordial as the Sugababes Christmas party. Gigs were scrapped, tickets refunded and fans royally pissed off. By this point, the entire world was hoping that the girls would limp off into the sunset like a mortally wounded animal in cheap leopard-print.

So it's with a palpable sense of dread that we now find ourselves contemplating the possibility of a second Spice Girls reunion. The reason for such a counter-intuitive occurrence is unclear, except to say that all five must be pretty bored now.

Victoria Beckham occasionally oils herself up to pose for Armani, Mel B has been living in a council house with a camera crew, and Geri Halliwell must have realised that Ugenia Lavender books only take up half an hour of your time, especially when you have a willing ghost-writer at your beck and call.

With Girls Aloud, The Saturdays and Girls Can't Catch currently restoring some essential credibility to the much maligned girl-group genre, maybe it's appropriate for the the grand-dames of girl-pop to give it one last go and remind them all how it's done. Because let's face it, if you're going to bicker, bitch and claw each other's eyes out, you want to be sure you're doing it like a pro.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Father knows best?

It's clear that distasteful revelations are all the rage in the world of celebrity - if you want to be talked about, you need to make sure you've got something shocking to fuel the conversation.

So ten celebrity points go to troubled Mackenzie Phillips, whose revelations this week put an unpleasant spin on 'keeping it in the family'. Sending housewives' jaws plummeting into the tufted shag, Mackenzie told Oprah Winfrey that she had a sexual relationship with her father, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, for ten years.

In a no-holds-barred interview, the former child star also opened up about her crippling drug habit which, coincidentally enough can also be traced back to her father. According to her autobiography, she first tried cocaine at the age of eleven, a time when most young girls are getting their first crush, playing with dolls or bringing the fashion industry to its knees. Later on, John kindly showed her how to roll joints and inject her class A's, whereas most kids have to settle for the occasional ill-tempered driving lesson.

But John's finest parenting moment came the night before Mackenzie's wedding to Jeff Sessler, one of the Rolling Stones' entourage. As a concerned parent, he felt that she was doing the wrong thing by rushing into marriage, so he did what any good father would do, waiting until she blacked out from all the pills she'd taken and then raping her.

According to Mackenzie, their sexual relationship ultimately became consensual and lasted over a decade, finally coming to an end when she terminated a pregnancy that John may have fathered. Speaking about their grim pairing, Mackenzie claims: "One night Dad said, 'We could just run away to a country where no one would look down on us. There are countries where this is an accepted practice. Maybe Fiji.' He was completely delusional." I imagine the Fijian tourist board will be delighted to hear about that glowing celebrity endorsement.

Given these shocking revelations about many people's favourite sixties harmony group, it's hard not to see an unpleasantly ironic thread running through many of the song titles on their greatest hits. Tracks like I Saw Her Again, Go Where You Wanna Go, My Girl and Glad To Be Unhappy now have a troubling ulterior significance.

The good news, if anything in this tawdry tale can be considered at all positive, is that Mackenzie has been clean for 18 months, and has decided to use her past to give a public face to consensual incest, in the hope that it will help other victims to come forward.

Sadly, this particularly ugly side of human nature is all too familiar, thanks to modern-day bogeymen like Josef Fritzl and Fred West. We roll our eyes and struggle to comprehend how anyone could abuse the role of parent to such a degree. They're monsters and dwell exclusively in the darkest recesses of our memory.

But what are we supposed to do when the perpetrator of such a horrendous crime has left their other legacy in our music collection? How should we feel the next time we find ourselves sharing in the evocative memories of the leaves turning brown and the sky becoming grey? We can throw out the CDs and vow never to listen to the Mamas and the Papas ever again, or we can try to take solace in the fact that even the ugliest souls are capable of creating something of beauty.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Small but perfectly informed

Anna Wintour, fearsome editor of Vogue magazine, should be looking nervously over her shoulder right now. Because there's a thirteen year-old girl creeping up behind her, and she's not here to sell girl scout cookies.

This gawky, weird-looking 13 year-old is currently being touted as this season's fashion must-have, thanks to her hugely successful fashion blog 'Style Rookie'. While most of her contemporaries are still writing odes to their teddy bears and colour-coding the contents of their pencil case, Tavi Gevinson is sharing her opinions on what's hot and what's not. And the fashion world, never the easiest clique to penetrate, is sitting up and taking notice.

Looking like the dorky best friend in the flashback scenes of your standard chick flick, this curiously self-possessed tween has been spending the last few days gracing the front row of New York Fashion Week. It doesn't seem to matter that her bold fashion ensembles remind most people of a child raiding her mother's closet while her parents are out, she's scoring over 1.5 million hits a month and counting.

Although some of her posts show an awareness beyond her years, not all of them are well composed thought-pieces. Her review of Marc Jacobs' Monday night show read:

MAAAAAAARRRRRRRCCCCCCCC
What. an. insane. night.
Like I said before, the real review in which I articulate will be at my Pop blog, but for now?
KJWRHGAROIGREIYT598YTUREIGJFVKDSNVLKFDSNVKJFDHKDFNBLKFD

Similarly, much of the extensive photography that features on her blog resembles the kind of images usually captured when the lens cap is accidentally left off and the camera gets sat on.

Nonetheless, she's bold, confident and successful, even if she still needs to ask for a grown-up's help when using scissors. And I can't help but have a grudging respect for any teenager willing to leave the house looking like an Amish child with a pair of superhero's underpants stuck to her head.

If anyone's going to lead the way in fashion industry, it may as well be a pencil-thin 13 year-old. After all, she's one of the few people left who'd be able to fit into any of the fashion houses' increasingly unrealistic samples.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Daily Heil does it again

If the newspapers are to believed (and God help us if they are) the biggest story currently gripping the nation is the change to the judging line-up on Strictly Come Dancing. Since the original announcement was made, the BBC has been beset with accusations of agism and attempting to fix something that wasn't broke, by replacing Arlene Phillips with series five winner Alesha Dixon.

This weekend the show returned to much fanfare, despite a line-up of celebrities so inauspicious they'd be hard pressed to muster a gig opening a supermarket between them. But all eyes were on new judge Alesha - was she up to the job, or was she just there to look pretty?

It's safe to say that Alesha didn't exactly burn up the screen with incisive commentary or catty put-downs. But she empathised well with the plight of the performers and gave constructive notes where she could. But this was not good enough for some people, with fans taking to the messageboards in their thousands to decry the BBC's decision and demand that the pretty singer be instantly axed.

Smelling the chance to roll around in some mindless cruelty, bitter Australian hack Amanda Platell sharpened her quill, dipped it in blood and wrote yet another staggeringly pointless article for the Daily Mail. As a regular talking head on those dreadful compilation chart shows that clog up the schedules whenever CSI Nantucket isn't on, it's a shame that Amanda misses the irony in condemning Alesha's for 'scaling new heights of inanity' and making 'asinine comments'.

Platell even manages to throw in some ad hominem attacks on Cheryl Cole, star of ITV's rival show X-Factor. Comparing Alesha to Cheryl, Platell concludes that they're both as vacuous as each other and have limited facial impressions, but Cheryl wins the day by having a saccharine sweetness and the ability to turn on the tears. Then again, we can hardly expect a cast-iron bitch like Amanda Platell to understand the nuances of human emotion. And given that her own face is about as warmly expressive as an angry scribble on a sandwich bag, the specifics of her critique seem particularly inappropriate.

But Amanda's not here to make friends, which is probably for the best, given her track record for upsetting people with her hateful columns and ill-concealed prejudices. Rather tellingly, Amanda uses an unfortunate turn-of-phrase in her character assassination of Alesha that indicates just how ugly some of her views are: "...we want a critical, intelligent, well-informed assessment of the performances, not the judging equivalent of being licked by a chocolate labrador."

Debate is currently raging as to whether Platell was making a racist remark in comparing half-Jamaican Alesha to a 'chocolate labrador'. Many people are arguing that it was simply an unfortunate slip of the keyboard, and an entirely innocent remark. However, I can't help but wonder. Kittens, puppies, labradors - all would have made for suitable similies. So why bring the colour of the dog into it? Especially when describing the first person of colour to join what has historically been an all-white judging panel.

Casual racism aside, Platell simply doesn't like Alesha because she's nice. Her article gives the impression that she would only be happy with a format change if it meant that each week's loser was hanged from the studio ceiling with their throat slit. After all, human sacrifices and supernatural pacts are the only logical explanation for how she manages to stay gainfully employed as a writer.

Flash in the pan

Imagine the horror. You're at an event, you need the bathroom and you decide to use the conveniences. With a rudimentary understanding of toilet stall etiquette, you give each door a nudge to see if the lock is engaged. Finally, you find a door that's unlocked, it swings open and you're confronted with an image so nightmarish that it could see you living out the rest of your days with your arms tied behind your back taking your liquified food through a straw.

Courtney Love, a woman who seems to spend most of her time looking like an early make-up test for Heath Ledger's Joker, is sitting on the toilet, with her skirt around her ankles. Your eyes meet, and before you have a chance to apologise or run screaming from the room clawing at your face, she launches herself at you like a screaming banshee.

For pharmacist Sebastian Karnaby, this traumatic incident was no hypothetical scenario. He found himself face-to-sort-of-face with the one-time Mrs Cobain as he was trying to leave a party at the Standard Hotel in New York. Although Love has, in the past, been quite happy spending time in bathroom stalls with pharmacists, this was clearly a step too far, and she attacked Karnaby screaming, "I am going to get you thrown out!"

Reflecting on his brush with fame, the clearly traumatised Karnaby spoke for the entire world when he told reporters "I never wanted to see Courtney Love on the toilet. It wasn't a pretty sight."

Perhaps next time he's in a public bathroom, he'll be safer if he just calls Candyman's name five times in the mirror.

All change. Again

Well boys and girls, I bet no-one saw that coming did they?

The Sugababes have just released an official statement confirming two-thirds of what we already knew. One of the girls is leaving the battle-weary band, and Eurovision toothpick Jade Ewen is joining them to take their place.

But in a shocking twist worthy of a Melrose Place cliff-hanger, it's founding member Keisha Buchanan who's thrown in the refreshing moist towelette in order to pursue a solo career.

In the US, Puerto Rican boyband Menudo lasted over 30 years by regularly evolving its line-up, making it more like a college fraternity than a conventional band. Maybe Sugababes will follow a similar template - it's a surefire way to make sure they outlast Girls Aloud, the Saturdays and all the other pretenders to their crown.

And if Keisha's solo career follows in the footsteps of ex-bandmate Mutya, at least she can always find work as a Rihanna bobblehead doll.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Bigger is better, apparently

It's all kicking off at London Fashion Week, as a row has erupted over the size of models used in one of the shows.

The world of fashion is no stranger to body image controversy, as the debate has been raging for years over the industry's irresponsible use of underweight models. In 2006 Madrid Fashion Week banned size zero models from its catwalks, over concerns that models with a Body Mass Index of less than 18 were in serious danger.

Of course, not everyone agreed with this judgement - all of them more concerned with lost revenue than people's health and wellbeing. For instance, Cathy Gould of New York's Elite modelling agency claimed that the fashion industry was just a scapegoat. Gould maintained that she was standing up for 'gazelle-like' models who would face unnecessary discrimination in light of these industry changes. Sadly she missed the point that all these waifs would need to do to overcome any discrimination was stop eating toilet paper and maybe try a pie instead.

Something clearly needed to be done, following the tragic deaths of Luisel Ramos, Ana Carolina Reston, and Eliana Ramos who all suffered from chronic eating disorders.

Unfortunately, three years later very little has changed. In June of this year, Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman sent a letter to the major fashion houses, critising them for supplying clothes for photoshoots in increasingly tiny sizes and forcing magazines to use models who weigh little more than their own shadow. In reply, the designers blamed the magazines, model agencies and stylists for not booking bigger models. If any of them had half-a-brain between them, they'd know that this is what chess players call a stalemate.

Thankfully, this week it looked like the industry was finally ready to turn a corner, as designer Mark Fast decided to go first and use 'larger' models to showcase his new knitwear designs. Obviously 'larger' is a comparative term - it's not like he was wrapping Beth Ditto in a woollen dress. The models he chose were size 12 and 14, and to the untrained eye simply looked like healthy, attractive women, rather than the visitors from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But not everyone saw it that way.

Repulsed at the sight of actual human hips rather than a jutting pelvis, Fast's stylist quit and stormed out the day before the show, citing the age-old excuse 'creative differences'. Thankfully, with the help of a freelance stylist who stepped in at the last minute, the show did indeed go on and by all accounts was a huge success.

So what happens now? It's doubtful that Donatella will be programming Dawn French's number into her speed-dial. But if we all cross our pudgy fingers and hope for the best, the most influential trend to emerge from this year's fashion week might be the advent of human-shaped models, rather than the coat-hangers with hair that we're used to.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Catfights and spotlights

Since the dawn of time mankind has been troubled by certain unanswerable questions - why does toast always fall butter-side down, if a tree falls in the forest when no-one's around does it make a sound, and does Boris Johnson own a mirror?

But the one true mystery which continues to elude our smartest thinkers, is why do women hate each other so much? The internet is littered with psychology articles attempting to deduce why sisters are happier doing it for themselves, rather than with each other. But although many of them propose a number of hypotheses, none of them have come close to solving this age-old conundrum. Perhaps what's needed is a case study that can be observed closely, and I can't think of a better bunch of lab-rats than the Sugababes.

When they launched onto the music scene in 2000, they were a breath of fresh air to an increasingly stale pop music industry and an antidote to the manufactured girl bands that were clogging the charts like hair in a drain. The Spice Girls and B*Witched were thankfully on their way out, whilst the recently formed Atomic Kitten were providing the soundtrack to a million Lambrini-fuelled hen nights with their disco trash.

In contrast, the Sugagbabes were gritty, urban and unusual - having formed the band themselves at the precocious age of 13. When their debut album One Touch was released in November of 2000, the music critics were delighted to have finally discovered a girl band that it was OK to like. Fusing R&B and soul, the album produced several singles and won rave reviews, but didn't sell particularly well, partly because it had a cover so ugly that it looked as though it had simply been left to steep in a pot of tea, rather than art directed.

But the music industry is a business, and critical acclaim only gets you so far. So no-one was too surprised when the girls were dropped by London Records. To make matters worse, they not only had to find a new record label, they also needed to find a new 'babe, following the sudden departure of Siobhán Donaghy during a Japanese promotional tour. It soon emerged that Donaghy was suffering from clinical depression as a result of bullying and in-fighting within the group.

Still, the girls soldiered on, signed to Island records and returned with a new album, a new sound, and a pretty new member - one-time Atomic Kitten Heidi Range. Showing considerable bravery and determination, Range stepped into the vipers' nest and made the role her own, although the rumours of bullying continued. This was, in part, because unlike their more glamorous, eager-to-please counterparts, the Sugababes maintained a tougher, less-approachable persona. In fact, with her pierced lip, tattoos and drawn-on eyebrows, founding member Mutya Buena looked as though she'd be more at home spitting at pensioners in a bus-stop than hanging out at the Brits Awards.

By the time album four came around, it was Buena's time to leave the band citing 'personal reasons'. Given that most people, perhaps unfairly, thought that Buena was the ringleader (since she seemed to be staging a smiling boycott for political reasons) it was assumed that the girls had put their reputation for in-fighting behind them.

However, album six's title 'Catfights and Spotlights' suggested that maybe that wasn't the case. New member Amelle Berrabah may have taken to the singing and sultry poses with aplomb, but the group continued to be dogged by stories of internal friction. These rumours came to a head last week when concerns were raised that Berrabah had been kidnapped, following a fight with founding member Keisha Buchanan. After the least exhaustive police investigation of all time, it turned out that Amelle was simply hiding out at home, but it was clear that there were major problems in the group.

Today it was reported that, once again, the Sugababes are looking for a new recruit, further sealing their reputation for going through more members than Paris Hilton on a long weekend. But before the ink had even dried on the press reports, it emerged that the latest Sugababe had already been signed.

Jade Ewen, the UK's toothy representative in this year's Eurovision, is all set to stick her head in the lion's mouth and join the group, despite the fact that her big follow-up single to her turgid Euroballad is due to be released on Monday. Jade's people hastily issued a statement to say that "Due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, we regret to inform you that Jade Ewen will be taking time off from all promotional activity for the foreseeable future."

What this means for the girls' new album (due in the next couple of months) remains to be seen. But it's clear that as long as there are Sugababes, there'll be eyes to scratch out and backs to knife. It just goes to show, you can choose your friends but you can't choose your bandmates.

Friday, 18 September 2009

How Roux'd

We live in a fast moving world of instant gratification. News pages are updated by the minute, we download albums before they're even released, and sites like Twitter allows us to describe our ablutions in real-time.

The world of celebrity is equally instantaneous. For instance, 16 year-old pop tart Miley Cyrus is already putting the finishing touches to her seventh album, whilst other stars are having their autobiographies ghost-written before they even lose their milk teeth. But the most worrying example of fame's quickening pace, is the fact that some artists, whose careers have all the established maturity of skimmed milk, feel comfortable critiquing their fellow performers.

Current flavour-of-the-month (and owner of the most worrying quiff outside of a Flock of Seagulls tribute act) La Roux took an unnecessary pop at Taylor Swift this week, despite the fact that her debut album is still listed under 'New Releases' on iTunes.

Speaking to Radio 1, the humourless eighties-throwback weighed in with her thoughts on the Kanye West debacle, saying "I think you should never go and ruin someone's moment like that, whether you feel they deserve it or not." Which is all well and good, but then she decided to continue with her theme:

"I do think people should stand up more against rubbish music and people should say, 'No, sorry this isn't that good'. It's not. Taylor Swift's music isn't good, it's manufactured princess pop, we've got enough of it, let's have something else."

Unfortunately, no-one in the studio bothered to point out that such a critique was rich coming from someone whose entire 'sound' could have been fished out of Vince Clarke's garbage, circa 1983.

If Elly Jackson (La Roux's actual name) knew what she was talking about, she might have picked up on the fact that Taylor is actually an accomplished country singer-songwriter. She might also have discovered that in January of this year, Taylor became the first country artist to sell over 2 million downloads of three different songs, all of which were self-penned. When it comes to musical tastes, notions of good and bad become redundant.

The great thing about music, is that it's a broad enough field to offer something for everyone. It's like a hypothetical question with no right or wrong answers. So the moment anyone, especially an artist, closes themselves off to other genres, or criticises them as inferior, they show a lack of respect for the artform they claim to love.

She may only be 19, but Taylor Swift has shown commendable maturity and grace this week. It's just a shame that her pasty-faced (and infinitely more 'worthy') critic is incapable of doing the same.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The girl who cried wolf


OK, I swore I would never write about Katie Price again, unless she developed a cure for cancer, trained as an astronaut, or stood in-front of an oncoming tank in act of defiant soldarity with Chinese students.

Turns out, that list of exceptions wasn't exhaustive, because here I am writing once again about the world's favourite authoress, entrepreneur and bucket. Despite the fact that she now resembles a Girl's World mannequin decorated by a fingerless epileptic, Katie's gruesome mug is still in the papers every single day.

Displaying a talent for story-telling as-yet unproven in her 'writing', the fullsome fantasist has been weaving a compellingly awful tale of rape that has gripped a nation of bad soap opera-lovers. Ex-husband Peter Andre claims to be "confused" by Katie's rantings, although let's be honest, he'd need help making sense of a Little Chef menu. Nonetheless, Katie maintains she's telling the truth and that Peter knew all about it.

The story itself is a constantly changing beast (much like the one telling the tale). At first Katie's rape revelation was presented in defense of her knuckle dragging boy-friend, whose only claims to fame were having a face like a Greggs Steak Bake and his ignominious appearance in a rape-themed porn film.

Katie stated in her regular OK! magazine column that she could never be associated with someone who glorified sexual violence since she herself had been a victim in the past. Unsurprisingly, the press picked up on this dramatic announcement and began digging for details.

Katie then claimed that she was horrified by the media obsession with the story, arguing that she only ever mentioned it to defend her pugilistic paramour. She even went so far as to phone into Matthew Wright's TV talkshow to discuss the matter in more detail. For someone who didn't want to talk about it, she certainly had no problems with securing more airtime. Given Wright's notoriety for 'accidentally' announcing the name of Ulrika Johnson's alleged rapist, Katie's choice of confidant was either cunning or clueless.

Interestingly, while speaking to Matthew Wright over the phone, Katie was adamant that she would never name her attacker - "Never, never, absolutely not." But in the world of celebrity, never is an awfully long time.

Which is why no-one was particularly surprised when it emerged that within 24 hours of Katie's assertion that she'd take the rapist's name to her grave, she'd 'accidentally' named him while filming her TV show 'What Katie Did Next'.

Whether or not Katie was the victim of a sex attack is for the police to determine, and despite Katie's refusal to talk (without a camera crew present) the investigation will no doubt continue. But it's worrying that Katie seems to have a never ending supply of horrifying personal traumas to call upon, none of which made it into any of the 'warts and all' autobiographies she's published to date.

When it comes to maintaining her celebrity status, nothing is off bounds. There's always another miscarriage, secret boyfriend or sex attacker to dredge up in the name of another new magazine exclusive. But Katie is resolutely unapologetic about the whole affair, claiming that she "takes it on the chin". Sadly, there's probably a tawdry story about that too, although I can't see OK! running the pictures.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

From the headlines to the breadlines

Everyone loves a rags to riches story. You know the drill - poor boy makes good, girl from the wrong side of the tracks lands preppy boyfriend. There's a whole Hollywood sub-genre dedicated to these kinds of stories. But let's be honest - we also love those spectacular falls from grace. Because we love to wonder, how do you return to the way things were once you've had a taste of the good life?

Mel B, who after a recent exercise regime seems to have morphed into Wesley Snipes in a bad weave, is currently revisiting her roots in Leeds, where she's living in a rundown terraced house. But don't worry about Scary, this isn't a result of the Spice Girls' catastrophic comeback cock-up, it's for a new reality show called 7 Days On The Breadline.

Dressed in a shabby green tracksuit with a face like thunder (so no change there), Mel has kept herself busy by visiting the laundromat and picking up benefits from the post office. Other 'celebrities' lined up to appear in the series include Trinny Woodall and Keith Allen - as if their poverty stricken neighbours haven't suffered enough already.

Sadly, not all celebrities get to finish their stint in the poorhouse then head back to their en-suites and private pools. For a select few, those miserable queues outside the Job Centre are drawing inexorably closer. And given her current state of affairs, Kerry Katona will be joining them before too long.

The latest from the world's most dysfunctional non-cartoon family is that Kerry's financial stability is hanging by a Turkey Twizzler. Of course, it doesn't help that her malignant growth of a husband has been steadily syphoning off the cash to buy flash cars and set up a string of dodgy sounding businesses. More disturbingly, Kerry now believes that Mark was even responsible for the cocaine sting that saw her ravenous drug consumption exposed on the front pages of all the tabloids.

Obviously, this level of distrust in a marriage is unhealthy, but Kerry continues to avoid relationship advice as if it was a plate of fresh vegetables. With the bailiffs now hovering, reports have alleged that Kerry has since shut herself in the attic like a latter-day Mrs Rochester.

But fear not, because hubby Mark has a plan to solve all of Kerry's financial woes. He's heard about how much money was coined in by videos of Paris Hilton and Abi Titmuss in a state of 'congress' and figures that there's a cool half-million to be made. The only flaw in his plan is that the release of Mark and Kerry sex-tape would trigger a nationwide epidemic of instantaneous blindness worthy of a Triffid invasion.

Now, is anyone else suddenly considering a whip-round to help Kerry get back on her feet?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Shut the Fox up

Back in June, before the release of this summer's most irritating (and inexplicably successful) blockbuster, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I wrote about Megan Fox's ability to speak fluent bullshit. She was talking up a storm, slating right-wingers and declaring herself a post-modern feminist, winning plaudits and putdowns in equal measure. But now, with another film to promote, her perfect pout seems to be getting her into more trouble.

Drumming up publicity for horror-comedy Jennifer's Body, from Juno writer Diablo Cody, the reigning FHM Sexiest Woman in the World decided to speak out about Transformers director Michael Bay in less than glowing terms. In an interview with Wonderland magazine, Megan compared Bay (a man who never met anything he didn't want to blow up) to some of the most notorious dictators in history.

"He’s like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is... I kind of really enjoy his personality because he’s so awkward, so hopelessly awkward. He has no social skills at all."

The editorial staff were no doubt delighted - after all, nothing drums up sales like a sensational soundbite. But not everyone was quite so happy with Megan's loose but fullsome lips.

Three anonymous members of the Transformers crew have taken the unprecedented step of writing an open letter to Ms Fox, posted on Bay's official website, labelling her as dumb as a rock. As well as talking about her sullen, petulant and ungrateful attitude, the letter ends stating "Megan really is a thankless, classless, graceless, and shall we say unfriendly bitch."

In her defence, Megan also commented during her Wonderland interview that she wonders about her own mental health, claiming: "I constantly struggle with the idea that...I'm a borderline personality, or that I have bouts of mild schizophrenia." But like everything else that comes out of her mouth, this is more uninformed nonsense, according to clinical psychiatrist Dr. Paul Dobransky.

As the war of words continues, it falls to Michael Bay to play the tactful diplomacy card. Condemning both sides, he states: "I don't condone the crew letter to Megan. And I don't condone Megan's outlandish quotes. But her crazy quips are part of her crazy charm." Hardly the temperament of an evil dictator, even if his back catalogue does constitute a crime against humanity.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Big mouth strikes again


We've all nursed sore heads after a night on the sauce, but Kanye West will have been suffering the mother of all hangovers today after his adventures at yesterday's MTV Music Video Awards. Not only did he spend most of the evening swigging from a huge bottle of Hennessy cognac and posing with his otherworldly girlfriend Amber Rose, he got a little carried away during the awards show and was unceremoniously kicked out of Radio City Music Hall where the show was being held.

Three years ago, Kanye revealed an ego so big that it emits a beeping sound when he walks backward, by jumping onstage at the MTV Europe awards to protest losing out in the Best Video category. This time however, his outrage came in the form of misguided solidarity for the most famous ass in showbusiness, Beyonce Knowles.

As the winner of Best Female Video was announced, a shocked Taylor Swift took to the stage to claim her award and give her gushing acceptance speech. The 19 year-old country star, described by the New York Times as "one of pop's finest songwriters" never got past her first couple of lines though, since she was promptly joined on-stage by a well-lubricated Kayne, who took Taylor's microphone and decided to share his thoughts about the award.

In Kanye's 'humble' opinion, Beyonce deserved the award for Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) since it was, he felt, one of the best videos ever made. Taylor stood to the side, looking like she was going to cry or throw up, then calmly took back the microphone once Kanye was done. Sitting in the audience, Beyonce just looked like she wanted to put a ring on it, and slap him with it.

Thankfully, Beyonce showed extraordinary grace when accepting her own (well deserved) award for Best Video later in the evening, and invited Taylor back on stage to have a second stab at her 'thank you' speech. Taylor may have shed some teardrops on her guitar backstage, but she was smiling through her luminous veneers when called out by her 'hero' to belatedly enjoy her moment in the spotlight.

Other music stars, happy for once to be innocent bystanders, have all weighed in on the controversy, with Katy Perry, P!nk and Kelly Clarkson all voicing their disgust. Meanwhile, Kanye issued a punctuation-heavy statement on his blog today, saying "I will apologize to Taylor 2mrw. Welcome to the real world!!! Everybody wanna boo me but I'm a fan of real pop culture! No disrespect but we watchin' the show at the crib right now cause...well you know!!! I'm still happy for Taylor!!! Boooyaaawwww!!!! You are very very talented... I'm not crazy yall, I'm just real. Sorry for that! I really feel bad for Taylor and I'm sincerely sorry!!! Much respect!!!"

In fact, the only person willing to step in and defend Kanye, was returning host Russell Brand, himself no stranger to VMA controversy after slating George Bush and the Jonas Brothers last time. Maybe he was just relieved that someone else was taking the heat this time around.

Despite Kanye's objectionable behaviour and ill-judged attempt at hogging the limelight, you have to admit that he had a point about the 'Single Ladies' film clip. After all, only truly exceptional videos can work just as well when muted. Or redubbed with a hideous novelty record...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sack the researchers

Thanks, once again, to the Mail on Sunday for yet another extraordinarily lazy piece of 'churnalism' based on blind speculation and a willingness to ignore the facts.

In today's paper they ran yet more pictures from the New York set of the forthcoming Sex and the City 2, showing Kristin Davis as permanently peppy Charlotte York, along with insinuations that the actress appears unnaturally fresh-faced.

The much publicised sequel to the surprise smash hit (surprising in that no-one in Hollywood realised that women watch movies too) reunites the whole gang for more sex talk, uneaten lunches and shoe porn.

One of the key scenes currently being filmed is a flashback sequence set in the 1980s, that allows all the show's lead actresses to showcase a range of 'hilariously' dated outfits, only marginally worse than most of the clobber Sarah Jessica Parker modelled in the long-running TV show. SJP herself looks like a basketball player on his way to a fancy dress party as Madonna, whereas Kim Catrall seems to be channeling a grandma who charges by the hour.

As for Charlotte, well, she just looks the same. Peppy, fresh-faced and twee, with a cashmere sweater draped around her neck. But those keen-eyed journalists have spotted a difference, pointing out telling patches between her eyes and hairline.

The Mail speculates that, despite a lifelong fear of needles, Davis may have had a big date with Mr Botox. They even go so far as to point out that she has been "praised in the past for being one of a handful of Hollywood stars who manage to maintain their looks without cosmetic surgery", thereby sealing her fate as a vain hypocrite.

The problem is, it's quite clear from the photos that the film-makers have simply fallen back on the easiest way to shave 20-plus years off anyone's appearance - using a combination of face tape and wigs. And since the Daily Mail already ran pictures of Davis appearing in the flashback scenes, they know exactly why she looks younger than usual.

In the end, it's easy to understand why the Daily Mail has such an obsession with Botox - after all, they're both just regular injections of poison designed to make people ever-more fearful of getting old.

Friday, 11 September 2009

This is (not) Big Brother

For the last two weeks p0pvulture has been coming to you from Turkey, a country with an abundance of beautiful beaches, friendly people and cheap knock-off fashions. But it seems that the 'CHANNEL of Paris' designer bed linen sets aren't the only fakes on offer.

It was reported today that nine women were recently rescued from a 'Big Brother' type reality show here in Turkey, having claimed that they were being held against their will. The problem is, the show was a fake, and rather than having their exploits broadcast on TV, they were shown on a fee-paying adult website instead.

Tasked with a variety of challenges that involved fighting or dancing with each other in very little clothing, the women were apparently unaware that the show's viewers were only tuning in for five or six minutes at a time. The website's producers have responded by stating that no crime has been committed, and the women simply got bored and wanted to avoid the penalty for breaking their contract.

Although reports seems to differ in terms of how the raid came about, Turkish military police stormed the villa and 'rescued' the women who cried with relief. One girl's mother has spoken to the press already, saying "We were not after the money but we thought our daughter could have the chance of becoming famous if she took part in the contest, but they have duped us all."

It's hard to know who to believe here. Certainly, the producers were duplicitous by casting a TV show but actually running a website. But none of the women seem too troubled by the actual content that was generated in the house. They were also told they'd be denied contact with the outside world, which is a standard stipulation of any Big Brother show. So where's the harm?

In the relentless pursuit of fame, people have to make all kinds of sacrifices and dodgy deals to get what they want. Sometimes they pay off and other times there are hidden costs to contend with. But after the disaster that was year 10 of Big Brother UK, these unwitting housemates can at least take comfort in the fact that someone was watching. Even if they were only doing it one-handed.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

She works hard for the money

Another weekday, another fame-hungry trollop kissing her dignity goodbye by appearing on Jeremy Kyle to talk about her car-wreck of a life. Only this time, it's not a velour-tracksuit wearing scrape-face trying to convince her recently paroled paramour that he's the father of her baby, it's celebrated supermodel Sophie Anderton.

Plucking her career management tips from the same well-thumbed volume that Katie Price has been perusing recently (cage fighter dating, rape inventing, ex-husband slating - looking good so far), Sophie has decided that Jeremy Kyle is the ideal platform for personal redemption.

In a special edition entitled 'Celebrities Exposed - the truth behind the headlines', the titchy televised Tourquemada grilled Sophie about her troublesome past and her long history of cocaine abuse. Sophie admitted, in a roundabout sort of way, that she 'probably' slept with men for money in order to keep herself in blow. She added: "I was very promiscuous and I did sleep with a lot of guys and not remember their names the next day. That's what drugs do to you. I really don't remember much about that time."

Of course, if she does want to jog her memory, she could always just re-read the gruesomely embarrassing transcript of the News Of The World's now-famous sting operation. Assuming she doesn't cringe so hard that she slips a vertebrae, she'd recall how she told undercover reporter Mazher Mahmood (apparently the go-to guy for any news story that needs a fake Sheik): "I'm buying a place at the moment so things are tight. I just think short term, and at the end of the day nobody gets hurt... Spanking is cool. But I'm not into any kinky shit, to be honest."

Alternatively, she may wish to revisit her 2004 diary, when she was forced to admit that she'd received £5,000 for sleeping with a client, arranged by a Florentine brothel madam. Both of these incidents are well documented, and suggest that if Sophie's going for the tell-all approach, she could maybe try being a little less evasive with the truth.

Most people find themselves forced into prostitution when all their other options dry up. In fact, just yesterday, The Sun carried a story about a WPC who went on the game to supplement her police income while on maternity leave. Sophie, on the other hand, was saving up for a three-bedroomed house in Notting Hill and managing a £1,000 a week drug habit. Hardly the desperation that drives most into the world's oldest profession.

These days there's a whole generation of attractive young women whose sole goal is to land a wealthy footballer so they can lead of life of Manolo-heeled leisure. Although they may not stipulate an hourly rate up-front, there's still a trade-off taking place. Maybe Sophie's biggest mistake was being honest about it.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The bitch is back

Batten down the hatches people - Anne Robinson's coming after you, and she's pissed off. Not that you can tell though, given that her face has been frozen in a rigor mortis smirk since she first discovered the joys of plastic surgery.

Not content with harassing innocent game show contestants and making John Noakes cry by needling him about his dead dog, the hard-faced harridan returns this month to the show where she first made her name as a broadcaster. That's right, Watchdog is back, without the insufferable Julia Bradbury and Nicky Campbell.

The show returns in a new hour-long, prime time format allowing the 'queen of mean' to bite the heads off small animals and throw molotov cocktails through the windows of passing school-buses. OK, that's not strictly true. She'll actually spend most of the time smugly interrogating ill-briefed PR people from British Gas, but the approach will be no less confrontational.

This is Anne's schtick, and it's one that's helped her amass a considerable fortune, despite having all the appeal of a backed-up sink. Anne has never actually done warmth, but at least when she fronted Watchdog in the early nineties she merely had the fearsomely flinty air of Bronte-era governess - a stern patrician with a well-concealed heart.

However, after the success of Nasty Nigel on Popstars and Simon Cowell on pretty much everything else, the world realised that it found unpleasantness to be unmissable when it came to light entertainment. And so The Weakest Link was launched, with Anne briefed to jokingly eviscerate the hapless contestants, while dressed like a cross between a menopausal headmistress and an angry crow.

The public ate it up, and the format was successfully sold to the US network NBC, where Anne continued to ply her well-practiced (and heavily scripted put-downs). The show was initially a big smash, but ultimately only lasted for a year or so, displaying all the staying power of Lindsay Lohan's work ethic.

Clearly influenced by the hunger for all things youthful that she encountered in the US, Anne returned to the UK determined to battle the aging process head-on, and subjected herself to a dramatic make-over. But whereas most women Anne's age would start with a few subtle enhancements, Anne spent £9,000 and had a complete facelift that pulled her skin so tight her face could have been used as a bongo.

Suddenly, photos of Anne needed captions to explain who was being pictured, but Anne handled the controversy with characteristic defiance. Her view was that this is what wealthy older women do, as illustrated by the comment that the work cost 'the price of one and a half Hermes handbags'.

But growing old gracefully isn't something Anne's entirely comfortable with. She believes that the TV industry is both sexist and ageist, and recently told the Radio Times that she would be out of a job if it wasn't for her "wit". So it's a shame that when faced with veteran broadcaster David Hamilton on a special edition of The Weakest Link, Anne made a variety of blatantly ageist comments directed at 'Diddy' David, such as 'Who are you broadcasting to now? Care homes?'

Hamilton's not best pleased with this, and has spoken out at his mistreatment at the hands of the freakishly ageless battle-axe. "I thought it was rather amusing that someone who's had facelifts should pick up on somebody like me, who's about the same age, because of my appearance and my age. I took it on the chin but I think a lot of people will think it a bit hypocritical."

The thing is, Anne's always given as good as she gets, and would probably take it on the chin too, if only she knew where it was.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Family values

Say hello to Jim Bob (seriously) Duggar, and his wife Michelle, owner of the most prolific non-rodent uterus in existence. This nauseatingly sanctimonious couple are household names in the States, thanks to the fact that their family needs a school bus to visit the supermarket.

In the last 21 years, Michelle has squeezed out an astonishing 18 children (although to be honest, the last five or six could have crawled out of their own accord). And it doesn't stop there, as the proud parents announced recently that Michelle is expecting a nineteenth bundle of joy, due in March of next year.

Whether you want to gawp at the ridiculousness of their situation, or simply marvel at how smug some people can be, your prayers are answered thanks to TV shows on the Discovery Health Channel and The Learning Channel. Featuring such high-points as the kids having their wisdom teeth removed, and Michelle undergoing a C-section for baby number 15, the shows have positioned the Duggars as the clean-living, scandal-free version of the Gosselins (currently undergoing a bitter divorce).

Showing a tremendous lack of creativity, the Duggar's have also chosen to give every one of their children a name beginning with the letter J. Unfortunately, this causes a number of problems - twins Jedidiah and Jeremiah sound like characters from Children of the Corn, and daughter Jinger will forever have to spell her name over the phone. More importantly, the sameness of the names means that even Michelle had trouble remembering who was who in a recent appearance on The View.

Jim Bob and Michelle are deliriously happy with their vast litter, and dedicate whole sections of their website to giving viewers the inside track on how they function as a family. Unsurprisingly, home schooling and extensive Bible study takes up the majority of the day, interspersed with regular tidy-up sessions. Here, an older child and their 'buddy' have responsibility for their jurisdiction - which is either the name of one of the other siblings or a pre-designated section of the vast 7,000 sq ft homestead.

According to the plentiful pictures on the family's website, the children lead a happy existence, with slides, playrooms and even an indoor climbing wall. But you have to wonder how effectively they're being prepared for the outside world when their education on law, science, medicine and history is based on the Wisdom Booklets of the ATIA curriculum.

Thankfully though, the family is well-provided for, thanks to Jim Bob's commercial property investments - which is good since it's doubtful the Duggars will produce any doctors, scientists or lawyers. And let's not forget the considerable sum of money that the Duggar's make from inviting the Discovery and TLC cameras into their fun-packed home.

However you feel about home-schooling or professional baby-making, you can't deny that the Duggar's seem like a happy bunch. They clearly believe that the good Lord has blessed them and they listen to his every instruction. Maybe, just maybe, if we all pray hard enough, they might also consider listening to a hairdresser. After all, miracles can happen.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Have you met Ms Jones?

If you've ever considered leaving behind the big city rat-race for a life of rural peace and tranquility, you may want to think twice about it, in light of writer Liz Jones' experiences. The Mail on Sunday columnist left North London for a quieter country life in Brushford, West Somerset, but it turns out not to have been her smartest move.

It seems that the culture clash between townie and yokel is alive and well in Somerset, and the locals are not too happy to have Ms Jones living in their midst. Despite the fact that, in her own words, Liz 'puts a lot back into the community' the people of Brushford have rejected her and instigated a campaign of intimidation to drive her out.

In an article entitled 'My terror over gun attack on my Exmoor home' the trembling writer tells about her horrifying ordeal - as her metal mailbox was peppered with pellets. Apparently, this act of merciless savagery has left her in fear for her life and seriously considering another relocation. But she gravely warns that "If I go, a lot of people will be put out of work. My gardener, my groom, the builders, everyone."

So why on Earth would this kind-hearted one-woman-Job-Centre be subjected to such Straw Dogs treatment? It may have something to do with her regular columns in the Mail, and the book she published called The Exmoor Files, detailing her attempts to assimilate into the community.

Some thin-skinned locals have taken exception to her regular commentary on the toothless men, the shelf-stackers with 'learning difficulties' and the propensity for in-breeding in the area. As a consequence, Liz is shocked that people could be so small minded as to reject her, just because she has turned her sneering judgements into a lucrative publishing venture.

But as Janet Street Porter cautions, Liz needs to try exercising a little humility and compassion if she wants to be part of the community. To put it bluntly, Liz ought to heed the old adage - don't shit on your own doorstep. Or your neighbours' for that matter.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Holly wouldn't

Model, TV star and one of the "top Hooters girls of all time", Holly Madison is still getting over her ex. Like most people who've gone through a tricky break-up, she feels that her self-esteem has taken a beating and she's finding it hard to love again.

The difference is, Holly's ex is serial bimbo-diddler and owner of the finest dressing gown collection on earth, Hugh Hefner.

In an exclusive interview with PopEater that redefines the term 'no shit Sherlock', the dopey D-cupper seems surprised that being one of seven long-term, live-in girlfriends of a heroically horny octogenarian wasn't great for her self-esteem. Even the auspicious accolade of being chosen as Hef's "#1 Girl" wasn't enough to combat her insecurities.

Perhaps it didn't help that, in Holly's own words, "I was comparing myself to the other girls... You have to look a certain way at the mansion. If you look at Hef's girlfriend now, she basically looks like a clone of me. It's kind of weird."

But when it comes to Hef, there's a whole lot of weird to work through - multiple girlfriends, age gaps that could comfortably accommodate three generations and those cheesy cameo appearances in any film or TV show that happens to shoot in the greater Los Angeles area.

Not to worry though, Holly's seen the light and is ready to turn her life around. "I wouldn't consider more surgery - unless my body implodes after I have kids!" she says, betraying a woeful ignorance of the human birthing process.

She also claims that "Beauty is truly on the inside. Looks don't define you..." - a noble sentiment indeed. But one which sounds more than a little insincere coming from someone whose entire career and identity is tied up in how they look, and the changes they had to make to get that way.