Belfast Telegraph

Just why are we being so toxic to poor Britney?

By Gail Walker

What has Britney Spears ever done to Britain to warrant the violence of the attitude towards her, now that she is experiencing personal difficulties? Kate Moss. Amy Winehouse. Paula Yates. They've all done their lines of cocaine, been photographed wasted, shot through and addled. Moss and Yates have been, let's say, less than model mums.

But none of them received even a fraction of the venom reserved for Britney.

In fact, gossip columnists and celebrity mags rallied to their defence. Eventually even sober-sided commentators like myself would contribute a think piece about the pressures on modern women, the dangers of their various professions, the perfidy of the men in their lives and the perils of modern fame.

But no one is rallying to Britney's cause.

Indeed, the more extreme Britney's plight becomes - and it is clear that it is extremely extreme - the more frenzied is the need to cash in quickly on what remains of her.

Maybe it's because we are farther away in Britain and aren't seeing the crash and burn up close.

Maybe it's also because Britney is also an infinitely bigger star than anything Britain could produce. No one who has come to prominence in Britain in the last 25 years could even come close to the global brand that Britney represents. Certainly, no female.

Maybe there isn't the same need to defend and protect someone who isn't likely to stumble into the same nightclub as the gossip columnists in London.

Whatever the reason the commentary is poisonous, gleeful and distasteful.

What is it about this 25-year-old mum of two that has prompted such hatred and - worse - such obvious delight in her meltdown?

Is this what we have for sport these days? Sniggering at someone whose life is at risk, like playground bullies seeing just how much more she can take.

And if it goes the full way, well, we can't be blamed. We were just hanging onto the railings, watching.

And now we're doing it again, as Britney's former bodyguard reckons the best way he can help her is by selling his story to the News of the World and the Mail on Sunday.

Under the pretext of fretting about Britney's predicament, Tony Barretto chooses to give his advice over the front pages. It's an opportunity to print more pictures of the star in distress.

And, of course, it's really all about Barretto becoming the latest person to make a fast buck out of Britney.

We know that this is what fame does. We know that celebrities are fair game when things go wrong. We know that their reputations live or die by the media. We don't expect them literally to live or die by the media.

The problem is not the coverage itself. It's the type of it and the tone of it. It's not good.

It's not good obviously for the celebrity and it's certainly not good for the reader.

We find ourselves implicated as bystanders. But it's worse than that. If this was happening to someone we loved, right in front of our eyes, we would do something.

More than that, we would be expected to do something. We would not be expected to stand back and laugh.

But that's what's happening in our newspapers.

With Moss and Winehouse and the late Yates, they had their own bevy of apologists and a sensible, humane Press.

But those are luxuries Britney doesn't seem to have.

Instead, it's open season on Poor White Trash, the type of American we in Britain have never really liked. If they're female, even less so. Every stereotype gets trundled out: the accent grates, the brash personality sets our teeth on edge, the luxury of the lifestyle confirms our view they are cheap, tawdry and stupid.

Mostly, they've never bothered to butter us up. That's what's unforgiveable. They don't realise how important it is to make the right noises about 'London, England'. They think they can get by without us.

Mostly, they can. But we make them pay for it when it all goes belly up. What was that you sang Britney? Oh yes, Hit Me Baby One More Time.

You were out of Orde-r, Sir Hugh ...

Well done Mrs Kathleen Orde for giving Sir Hugh the heave-ho. There's only so much abuse one woman can take. Six months after it was revealed PSNI Chief Constable Sir Hugh had a secret love child, it's been confirmed his wife has left their home in Crawfordsburn and moved back to England.

Recently, there's been a trend for women in the public eye to grit their teeth and support their high profile husband when an affair is exposed. They think if they refuse to believe it, then the public will too ... and that somehow the horror of it all will go away.

All tripe, of course. You can kind of understand it when a betrayed partner digs in if the dalliance is clearly a drunken one-off kerfuffle by a truly penitent and remorseful spouse. Particularly if the couple have young children.

Alas Sir Hugh's three-year affair was tantamount to a parallel relationship, complete with child. Then there was his stupidity in being photographed running marathons with his bit on the side. The exposure of the affair must have been humiliating for Kathleen Orde, who during their 22-year marriage had upped sticks to Northern Ireland to support her husband in his career. The Ordes' son is grown up, so what one good reason has Kathleen to stay?

Bolstered with a good settlement from her straying partner, she is young enough to start again. And by having the self-respect, confidence and chutzpah to leave, she's clearly got what it takes to do just that. The best of luck to her.

Bear-faced cheek of Mr Ad Man

Get your grubby paws off Paddington's fur, Marmite (aka Unilever)!

The recent ads with everyone's favourite bear switching from his trusty marmalade sandwiches to Marmite is just a step too far, Mr Ad Man.

Paddington comes from Darkest Peru, wears a duffel coat and a hat, is invariably polite and he ... eats marmalade sandwiches.

That's just the way it is.

It's even more sad that his creator Michael Bond has been bombarded with calls from outraged fans accusing him of selling out the children's favourite for 30 pieces of silver.

Bond is as outraged as they, but the rights don't belong to him any more.

Indeed, he was so outraged he penned a very stiff letter to The Times to complain about how his creation was being hawked around.

What next? Dougal from the Magic Roundabout to flog personal loans? (Certainly cuter than Carol Vorderman).

Thomas the Tank engine to tart up the image of Virgin trains?

I know it's small beer in comparison with the Middle East, law and order and Bluetongue disease but some things are ... well ... important.

And using a symbol of childhood innocence to flog a few more jars of Marmite just isn't on.

It's time to give some people a very hard stare ...

Is there anybody out there?

While the nation is in a rightful fret over the Blue Peter 'Socks the Cat' scandal, two other deceptions slipped under the tabloid radar.

BBC6 Music's Clare McDonnell Show ran a competition that attracted so few entries that the production team had to make up winners to take the bad look off it.

In the following weeks, production staff also disregarded a very small number of 'legitimate' entries because ... er ... they were from repeat winners. In other words, it was the same three or four avid listeners winning everything week after week.

But at least poor Clare had some entrants.

Tom Robinson (of 2,4,6,8 Motorway fame) in his BBC6 Music show had abolutely no entries for a competitition to give away free gig tickets. So the staff etc etc etc.

Now, the station's head of programmes has fallen on his own sword by resigning.

In truth, I don't know why the upper echelons of the BBC are so worried about deceiving the listeners - it seems that BBC6 Music, like so many of the Beeb's narrowcast stations, has few or no listeners to deceive.

Still, what's another few quid on the licence fee for more stations when there seems to be more presenters than punters?

Belfast Telegraph


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