Belfast Telegraph

John Laverty: Cruel way for Darren to lose his X factor

Okay, I admit it. I'm an X Factor fan. Having paid only lip service to the first couple of series, the third one managed to hook me.

What a great final it was on Saturday night - and what a great winner it produced.

Leona Lewis is, undoubtedly, the best contestant ever to emerge from a talent show, on either side of the Atlantic.

The girl has everything. Stunning looks, a modest, endearing personality and - most importantly of course - a voice that is brilliance personified.

Leona is so good, she makes the likes of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion sound like ... well, average Leona wannabes.

I don't think it's a coincidence that none of the so-called "musical legends" guesting on the show throughout the series were women; you know what I'm saying?

Those of you who haven't watched the X Factor will be seeing a lot of Leona in the next few weeks as she belts out her nailed-on Christmas number one single.

Having said that, there was no guarantee the 21-year old east Londoner would triumph over miniature Herman Munster lookalike Ray Quinn on Saturday's show.

Yes, she was obviously a heavy favourite but there was a palpable sense of tension in the ITV studio that, somehow, the fickle British public would end up siding with Liverpudlian crooner Ray and making the result the biggest travesty of justice in talent show history.

Her worried mentor Simon Cowell even suggested midway through the final that finger-clicking Ray had emerged as the favourite.

(Roughly translated, that means: "for heavens' sake, don't take Leona's victory for granted and start dialling her bloody number...")

But all's well that ends well, and ultimately the voting public got it spot on.

Which is more than can be said for a week earlier when our boy Darren Clarke missed out on the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year award despite, like Leona, being the overwhelming favourite.

Darren's performances in the Ryder Cup - the world's third biggest sporting event - were simply sensational.

The Dungannon man was a linchpin in Europe's awesome victory over the fancied Americans at the K Club.

And all that from someone who, prior to the tournament, was understandably out of form and still grieving the recent loss of his wife Heather to cancer.

Dazza's displays, under such emotive circumstances, certainly captured the public's imagination then.

So why on earth did they vote for Zara Phillips instead?

Now, I'm not for a moment downgrading this engaging young member of the Royal Family's successes - and to end the year as both world and European eventing champion is an undeniably awesome achievement.

But let's be honest here; how many of you out there were rapt in conversation about it at the time?

Did you overhear people waxing lyrical about the equestrian star on buses, in bars, in coffee shops?

Did you rush down to the bookies to put your money and your faith on Zara - who, at one stage was a FOUR HUNDRED to ONE outsider?

No, of course you didn't.

But then again, you weren't talking either about Darren's "new girlfriend" until a Sunday tabloid revelation on the very day of the awards.

It was articulated almost as a scandal; I mean, how could a grieving widower take up with someone else so soon after the tragic death of the love of his life?

And, to be fair, Darren didn't exactly do himself any favours by leaving out this development during his myriad of media interviews while promoting his new book a couple of weeks earlier.

So he lost the sympathy vote, and the chance to become the first Ulster winner of the big award since Mary Peters back in 1972.

Ironically, our Mary received that award from the previous year's winner - the Princess Royal, and the future mother of one Zara Phillips.

Another irony is that Zara herself had been mourning an Ulsterwoman's tragic death - that of her good friend Sherelle Duke in a showjumping accident back in August.

Darren of course had made it clear that he didn't want a sympathy vote, but I don't think it was ever going to be that.

The British public love a triumph over adversity story, and Clarke's was indeed a classic one, and one which should have carried him to victory.

But although there was absolutely nothing wrong in a bereaved spouse seeking comfort in a close friend, and in that relationship blossoming into something else, it somehow destroyed the mystique in many peoples' subjective eyes.

You see, us fickle folk remember the moment in Kildare when Darren wept uncontrollably, and we want that moment to linger indefinitely.

We want him still to be grieving, still to be inconsolable, still desperately trying to come to terms with the loss of a loved one.

And we don't want that to change because it makes us feel better, and palpaply glad that it wasn't us in the first place.

That Darren didn't win that award is petty and pathetic, and says a lot more about the "voting public" than it does about him.

Perhaps the biggest irony of the lot however is that, over here, we were more annoyed about Darren being pipped for the big prize than he was.

And after what the big man has been though this year, I'm really glad about that.

Belfast Telegraph


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