DROP THE CELEBRITY
Freddie Starr threw knives at me. Noel Edmonds dragged up as Teri Hatcher to "gotcha" me – a memory that is far more mentally scarring.
But the only time I was ever genuinely terrified on a TV show was when I signed up for ITV's Drop The Celebrity. Well I say signed up. Essentially I was conned into it. My agent Tony Clayman – terrible man, looks like Penfold in Dangermouse – just rang up and asked: "How do you fancy a big jump with Linda Lusardi?" I had no idea what kind of ordeal I was letting myself in for.
Drop The Celebrity turned out to be Disaster cunningly disguised as Opportunity. "It's prime time Saturday night ITV," said Clayman. "What could go wrong? Sign up and suck the cheque." What could go wrong indeed! How about everything?
If they don't like you on Big Brother, you get sent home. We were getting slung out off a Hercules at 12,000 feet.
There were six of us: me, Lusardi, Cheryl Baker, Bobby Davro, Lady Victoria Harvey and Ricardo from C4's The Salon – so five minor celebs and a hair-dresser. We were taken to a West Country airline hanger and briefed by a parachute crew. We would exit the plane, they said, strapped to an expert, plummeting towards the earth at 120mph. Gulp. That's faster than Clarkson in a temper.
I didn't like the sound of that. Nor the fact that in word association "plummet" always seems inextricably linked to "splat".
All we had to remember was to raise our knees for impact. Sounded fine. In theory. But the reality was far worse. For starters, the flight was loud and cramped, and there was no food – so it was just like flying easyjet. And there was none of that Mile High club stuff going on either (though Lusardi did ask). The tight sods didn't even come round with the drinks trolley.
When the tailgate went down for the first eviction all we could see was light streaming in – just like the moment before the aliens come on the TV sci-fi show Taken. At that point there wasn't one of us whose years didn't flash before our eyes. I was convinced I had all the life expectancy of a turkey on Christmas Eve. The only way it could have been scarier was if ITV had booked Maureen Rees to fly the plane. To cap it all Cheryl forget to raise her knees and broke her ankle. This show made I'm A Celebrity look like Wish You Were Here. And the only thing that dropped faster than we did was ITV's viewing figures. It was a ratings disaster.
What did we go through? Clouds, mostly. Why did we do it? Fun, money, exposure, charity – people had different reasons. Our job apart from jumping was to convince the voting crowd below which of us was the biggest celebrity. And this was where Lusardi came into her own, shamelessly name-dropping people she'd never even met as best mates. Had host Mark Durbrain-Smith asked any tough questions, the whole rich stitching of her fake life would have unraveled like a love-rat politician's alibi. But alas he didn't. And so although I made the final three, Linda Lusardi beat me (four words I like to savor). Yes gentle reader, I wuz robbed. LWT's sour-faced warm-up man pleaded with the crowd to boot me off, where's the justice? And the votes were clearly counted in Florida. But the jump was exhilarating. What an experience. As soon as I'd finished I wanted to do it again (insert your own Lusardi joke here).
LWT wanted to raise serious "post-modern" points about the nature of celebrity too, and in a roundabout way they did. Fame, once a by-product of talent, has now become an end in itself. Ricardo claimed he was "born a celebrity". He cut hair on The Salon! No wonder he was the first out. The guy was lost in showbiz without ever being in it. Our throw-away culture has produced a glut of people who are recognizable but talent-free. We put everyday folk in a house and complain when they don't entertain us. We create instant pop groups who have one manufactured hit and vanish. In our hearts we know they're a poor substitute for the real thing.
Modern celebrity may be about being seen in the right places and dropping the right names. But that's not proper stardom. One Paul O'Grady is worth fifty Ricardos, One Brucie is worth a hundred Davinas, and one Dolly Parton equals a thousand Victoria Beckhams.
* After the show I got a phone call of commiseration from Frank Carson: "It could have been worse," he said. "In the Irish version the pilot got voted off first."