Friday, February 1, 2013

Fly Like An Eagle

Fly like an Eagle

I’m sure that many around the world hoped that the London 2012 Olympics and Para Olympics would leave one legacy and that would be for us to celebrate people doing  things well, overcoming adversity, competing for the  joy of competing, losing with the knowledge of having given the best you had to give.

That was exactly six months ago. But we are still obsessed with reality TV. The glamour model Jordan has got married again after knowing her stripper husband for five weeks. Primary school girls look up to her as a role model.  When asked what they want to be, 62% of nine years old said ‘a celebrity.’

Now if I may digress, there are some words that annoy me when they are said together. Friendly fire, British summer time, act naturally.  ‘Microsoft Works’ is one combination I struggle with.  I also have severe issues with the word ‘star’ following the words reality TV.

But there was a moment of TV magic last week when the Olympic spirit flexed its biceps and punched celebrity right in the face.  Quiet middle aged men all over England, put down their cuppas and the crossword, cleaned their specs, and nodded in appreciation.

The protagonists were (in the celebrity corner) – A ‘star’ who goes from reality TV show to reality TV show. I shall call him Mr Bobblehead. I read that he wears his watch on his ankle because it is easier to see.  And that he was once asked on a quiz show what country borders Wales. He said Russia.  He is waxed, plucked and buffed.  His fake tan is the colour of Irn Bru.  His teeth are too perfect and a colour of white not found in nature. He never has a hair out of place.  He seems to have the IQ of a cushion and all the personality of a poached egg. He came to fame in a structured unscripted reality TV show. I have no idea what that means either. "Real people in modified situations, saying unscripted lines but in a structured way," was the definition I managed to find but that leaves me none the wiser but it does sound like a meeting between me and my accountant.

Victoria Wood always says there are two kinds of men – men who could shift a piano if you asked them and those who couldn’t.  The ‘those who could’ are the Sean Connerys, Sean Beans, Hugh Jackmans, Dan Waddells ...  that kind of man. Then there’s the Brad Pitt, Harry Styles, Russell Brand lot who could not.  Mr Bobblehead couldn’t shift a kipper with a shovel if you gave him the instruction manual.   

And in the Olympic corner – Michael Edwards. Who? Indeed... Recall the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988. Team GB is not really good at snow. Ice we can do, but not snow. Anytime the snow in Scotland is good enough to ski on, the same snow blocks all the roads so nobody can get to the slopes. But Mr Edwards, a short, stocky plasterer, was the first skier to represent GB in ski jumping. He had to wear six layers of socks to make the boots fit and he tied his specs round his helmet as he was so short sighted. He then jumped ‘blind’ as his glasses got so steamed up. He jumped a British record of 73.5 m.  That was about 23m behind the guy who was second last but pretty good as Great Britain does not have any ski jumps for him to practice on. Eddie the Eagle was born.
The worse he did, the more popular he became. His popularity resulted in the Eddie the Eagle rule. To be an Olympian now you have to be in the top 30 percent or the top 50 competitors, whichever is fewer.

On retiring from sport he was unemployed, he turned to ‘celebrity’ work and went bankrupt when money disappeared from his trust fund. Skint, he then qualified as a lawyer in an attempt to understand what went wrong and tried legally to get his money back.

Fast forward to 2013 and ITV run a reality TV show called Splash where celebrities get taught to dive. On a live broadcast on a Saturday they plummet into a pool in various states of limb confusion and get marked by the GB Olympic dive coach, a gold medallist diver and Jo Brand.  The celebrity mentor is that nugget of smiley charisma Tom Daley, bronze medallist. While I hate that sort of TV I do like diving, so I watch it on fast forward and skip the talking bits.  I treat a lot of divers- they are tough people. They have  stress fractures of the spine, dislocated a/c joints, water forced into the sinuses that presents as horrible headaches, wrist and thumb dislocations. The human body is not built to hit the water at 40 mph.
 6 million people a week are now tuning in to see this weekly torture.
The celebs lined up, the usual suspects. There is always one who has been on a ‘journey’, usually an addiction. They will tend to use the phrases, “I owned that dive”/”overcome my demons”/ “I did it for myself”.   And the appearance fee.
One is being brave and fighting horrific injury e.g. broken toe/split ends/bruised ego. The ex supermodel will wear a bikini which is ill advised when hitting water at that speed.
One will be doing it for a dead relative/ budgie/ career (tick as appropriate).  They will cry at one point.  Not enough to shift the mascara though.
One will be conquering their fear of heights/water/getting wet/the dole queue/ another panto season at Southend.
There will be one bit of teen eye candy. In ‘Splash’ two stars got into a fight as to who got to wear the skimpiest shorts. They were both blokes.
So the celebs launched themselves from the 1 metre board, the 3, the 7.5.  They got up the steps in a sparkly costume and jumped..... limbs windmilling, spinning like sycamore seeds in a gale before smacking into the water. The audience covered their eyes, we could feel their pain. And often heard it.
Mr Bobblehead got up and made his way through the air into the water in a downward flight path. (I refuse to use the word ‘diving’ in that context.) The crowd of teeny screamers went nuts but he looked like a grouse plummeting out the air after being shot. He climbed out of the water and on live TV he asked the presenter if his hair was OK. Then the panel criticised him, constructively I thought. ‘So can you do better?’ he asked. ‘Err yes,’ said the judge, the Olympic gold medallist. ‘Because that’s what I do.’  Jo Brand gave him points because she liked his trunks – now that says a lot about his ‘diving’. 
Then wee baldy potbellied figure of Eddie the eagle climbed the steps. He stood there hairy, white, flabby. His eyes screwed up to see where the edge of the board was– the ten metre board.  Then he jumped a 1.5 somersault in a full pike with perfect form, 90 degree entry to the water.

There was silence. The teeny screamers went quiet. The judges all looked at each other.  What had they witnessed? Baldy men watching everywhere sucked in their beer bellies.
The Calgary Herald in Canada picked up on the story saying what a dude!  Eddie the eagle was flying again at the age of 51. They recalled his Olympic experience. ‘We laughed, but we also cheered. His squinty grin and boyish enthusiasm seemed to embody all that was best about amateur, underdog Britain. He was Frank Spencer on skis and was welcomed home as a hero.’

I would like to say that his great dive made front page news but one of his fellow divers still looked half decent in a tiny bikini at the age of 51 so she was on the front page instead. Mr Bobblehead also made the front page by getting the back of his head shaved clean.

Just to annoy them Eddie came back the following week, put another rotation in his dive and scored a perfect ten.   The men of middle England can stand up proud in their vest and slippers to applaud. You have your hero. You too can shift a piano.

Caro (Friday 1st Feb)


  1. Sounds like reality TV right up Jack Higgins' alley. I can hear it now, the announcer describing a Churchillian-size Eagle (in a bikini for the ratings, of course) double tucking it into a perfect water landing, "The Eagle..."

  2. I just don't get (un)reality shows! Except perhaps as grist for the mill of comics such as Caro! Great blog.

  3. "Friendly fire" has a matching one: "Military intelligence".

  4. Of course, Jeff, Stan, Michael and Leighton move pianos...!

  5. Thanks, Cara, but speaking for myself, these days I only move pianos with the help of a chainsaw.