Belfast Telegraph

Should we send stars to rehab? No! no! no!

By Frances A. Burscough

What do Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Kate Moss all have in common? Apart from loadsamoney and an omnipresence on the front cover of Heat magazine, that is?

They have all had 'open letters' written to them recently by celebrity lifestyle commentators.

The latest recipient, Amy 'Wino' Winehouse has had a bit of bovver this week after an apparent accidental drugs overdose and now the papers and web blogs are full of advice from 'concerned' correspondents pertaining to represent her legion of loyal fans.

Here's an extract from a fine example of the genre which appeared on MSN Entertainment earlier this week:

"Dear Amy ? we're concerned that your unquestionable talents for singing, writing, performing and hair-styling are being overshadowed by your appetite for self-destruction and all the bad-girl antics that you get up to when you're, erm, not quite in your most sober state of mind."

And it's not just a trend in the great Nanny State of Britain.

Across the pond the much-maligned Britney Spears has been subjected to countless newsprint nags since her spectacular fall from grace last autumn.

The New York Post, for example, helpfully published this one earlier this month written by a Jewish Rabbi columnist:

"Once you become a parent, Britney, life gets really serious ... We can all pretend that life is one big party devoid of responsibility. And rarely being home, or coming home drunk, or letting your kids see you in a degraded state ... it's just not good ... Cover up ... Limit the visits to the nightclubs. I know you can get your life together, Britney ... Please try! God bless you."

Now, I'm sure you all agree that celebrities whose fame and fortune has generated mainly from lurching in and out of the headlines and in front of the paparazzi are fair game for a bit of close - nay, even microscopic - scrutiny.

But do any of us really care what damage they are doing to themselves or the fact that they seem Hell-bent on self-destruction?

Isn't that what sells their magazines in the first place?

On behalf of all those women (and some gay men) who love ogling at the lurid headlines and gawping at the pictures of drunken debauchery while queuing up at an Asda checkout, here is my response:

An Open Letter to the People Who Write Open Letters to Disgraced Celebrities:

"Dear Concerned Commentator, Haven't you ever heard the phrase Sex'n'Drugs'n'Rock'n'Roll? It's what celebrities do and, quite frankly, we wouldn't expect or hope for anything less. Kate's binges and Li-Lo's benders are what help us mere mortals pass the time in the dentist's waiting room or in the reception at KwikFit.

Not only that, but thanks to celebs like Michael Jackson who dangle newborn babies from third floor balconies and Britney Spears who drives down the freeway with a kid sitting on her knee, we all feel like wonderful parents in comparison.

So please, get with the programme - stop attempting to interfere in their lunatic lives and just let them get on with it.

Besides, if they all get a grip, I'll have nothing to write about each week."

So, who does a girl turn to for advice?

I once went out briefly with a guy who had recently lost his father. He was an only child and on the day his dad was dying, he was called in to the hospital ward to pay his last respects.

The old fella was very weak and beckoned for him to move closer, indicating that he had something important to say. He duly leaned down, not wanting to miss a syllable of these touching last few words:

"Son ... when you mow the lawn ... for your mum ... always ... set the cutting gauge to one inch."

With that, he expired.

My friend roared with laughter as he told this story because it was apparently so typical of the old man, going out on a word of unrequited advice.

My mum was just the same - a compulsive advice-giver. She dispensed wisdom, whether you wanted to hear it or not, with almost every exchange.

Some old chestnuts had been gleaned from her own mum, who died aged 85 after raising 14 children; others were simply what she had learned herself after graduating with a PhD from the University of Life.

In general these either began with " always" or "never".

"... always wave back at the empty house when you are going out, so that would-be burglars think there is someone at home ... always put a piece of tin foil inside an envelope if you're sending money - this stops the metal strip in notes showing through to potential thieves ... never allow kids to blow up balloons, because they're a choking hazard ..."

Whatever the situation, mum had a tip. It used to annoy the hell out of me when I was a teenager, as she would appear to meddle in everything I attempted to achieve on my own, from making a simple cup of tea to learning to drive.

Later on, though, I accepted it readily as an invaluable part of my lifelong learning curve and came to rely on her with alarming frequency.

As Mark Twain famously wrote: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.

But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

But now my mum has gone, I wish I had listened more carefully and taken more notice, because my own kids are constantly asking questions and assume I know everything.

What they don't realise is that when I was in doubt about anything - which was often - I used to phone mum.

But at last it seems like help is on the horizon.

Or at least within Googling distance of my trusty laptop.

I have recently discovered a new website which is like a cyber-library of priceless tips from thousands of mums to thousands of daughters and, like the only advice ever worth having, it's completely free. covers almost every conceivable eventuality, from a sticky situation with chewing gum stuck in a child's hair and stretching a tight pair of shoes to warding-off the unwanted advances of an unattractive suitor.

The way it works is that when you visit the site, for whatever mountain or molehill of a problem, you are asked to contribute your own tried-and-tested tips before you sign out. As a result, the site which was launched only a few weeks ago has now around 10,000 active members worldwide and almost as many handy household hints.

I reckon one of the reasons it is proving such a popular forum is the legion of frustrated busybodies out there who don't have anyone available or willing to be coached with clever-dickery. When you have posted your own gem of wisdom, there isn't a single cynical teenager or huffing husband to contradict you. It is simply reproduced verbatim online, leaving you with the satisfaction of someone who knows, or thinks they know, best.

Here are today's top five tips, courtesy of assorted well-meaning know-it-alls from across the world:

1. To stop an annoying dripping tap: tie dental floss around the bottom of the faucet and let the floss tail hang into the basin of the sink. Water will travel down the floss into the basin rather than dropping from the faucet and the dripping noise will stop.

2. For cut pine foliage in an arrangement, or to preserve Christmas trees: Add a table spoon of honey to the water that you feed to it. This mimics the sap of the tree and ensures that the needles don't drop.

3. When a metal zip jams: rub a candle on either side and it should run smoothly again. For a nylon zip, use a lead pencil.

4. To stop silver jewellery or cutlery from tarnishing: keep a stick of white chalk in the same drawer.

5. How to get a full suitcase to close easily: leave the contents in place and untouched overnight. They will settle and flatten naturally with gravity, allowing you to close the suitcase with little force.

And mum, if you're reading this up there, I know you told me all that 30-odd years ago: I just wasn't paying enough attention.

Dawn of French's final days

Everyone's favourite fatty, Dawn French, is about to die. Or at least she thinks she is.

Actually, there is nothing wrong with her. She is, indeed, "as fit as a fiddle", but accordiing to a premonition she had when she was six, she will die round about the age of 50.

Consequently, as she is to reach that landmark birthday this October, she's been busy getting her affairs in order.

These include completing her memoirs, buying and restoring an old mansion which will be her final resting place, writing letters to all her loved ones and planning a 'Farewell Tour' with her lifelong comedy side-kick, Jennifer Saunders.

How's that for a mid-life crisis?

In many ways, I hope her wish comes true. As much as I love her, imagine how embarrassed she will be if she's still clinging on to dear life in 30 years time ...

Elvis alive and selling

Elvis may have left the building but we're going to be seeing an awful lot of him over the next wee while.

Today is the 30th anniversary of his untimely death by toilet and his millions of fans will be getting all shook up with emotion and feeling particularly lonesome tonight. Expect lots of tributes on the telly from Elvis loyalists dressed in white satin capes, open-chested catsuits and dark glasses; the full portfolio of movie memorabilia and a few re-released old classics hitting the charts.

The King is dead: Long live the King.

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