Trevor Laffan: Spoilt celebs need a dose of the real world

Twelve celebrities playing games and having fun in a castle in the company of Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly can't really be considered work, can it? So asks Trevor Laffan in his weekly column
Trevor Laffan: Spoilt celebs need a dose of the real world

WELL COMPENSATED: Some of the people who took part in the recent series of I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

I’M going to sound like a TV critic here, but I saw something recently while watching an episode of I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! that got me thinking about the divide that exists between those living in the world of celebrity and us ordinary mortals living in the real world. It’s considerable.

Everyone knows what this show is about by now, so I won’t bother explaining it. It’s been running since 2002, and it’s usually recorded in Australia, but because of Covid-19, they filmed it in a castle somewhere in Wales this year.

It was different, but in fairness to the producers they did well under difficult circumstances.

The contestants consisted mostly of actors, singers and showbiz people. The fact that they were referred to as celebrities suggests we should know them, but I had never heard of some of the names.

They all had their reasons for being in the camp. Some said they took part in the show because they wanted to challenge themselves while others wanted to conquer their fears.

It also presented an opportunity for some to bolster a flagging career or to reinvent themselves, but the money must have been a consideration too because the fees were substantial.

For a three week stay in the castle, it was reported that Sir Mo Farah, a very successful athlete, picked up £300,000. Vernon Kay of Family Fortunes fame reportedly received £250,000 and the lowest earners were rumoured to have collected £50,000 each. Nice work if you can get it.

I’m not sure if it even qualifies as work though. Twelve celebrities playing games and having fun in a castle in the company of Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly on one of the most successful television programmes in recent times could easily be described as a great holiday experience.

OK, so they were without their families for a bit, but they were well compensated so it shouldn’t have been a problem. But it was for some.

Gwrych Castle, Abergele, North Wales, where the celebrities stayed and filmed the series.
Gwrych Castle, Abergele, North Wales, where the celebrities stayed and filmed the series.

One of the contestants I had never heard of got very upset when one of the other contestants was voted out. They had only been together as a group for five or six days but by then they had become friends and losing this camp mate was too much for her. She was distraught.

She cried her eyes out and had to be consoled by the others. The poor girl looked as if she had just discovered her entire family had been sucked up by a tornado and were last seen disappearing over Scotland.

It made me wonder how she would cope with a proper tragedy beyond the castle moat in the real world. Her reaction was in sharp contrast to what I heard the following day on the radio.

I was making the dinner during Liveline, so I missed the start of it. Joe Duffy was interviewing a guy called Ger Smith and if you haven’t heard it, I recommend you check it out on the RTÉ player. It would do you good.

He had an amazing story to tell. He is 30 years old now but when he was only 13, his mother was taken into care by the HSE because she was suffering from schizophrenia, and she has been in care since then.

Back then, Ger was living in a flat on the top of a tower block in Ballymun and shared it with his twin brother, another brother who was a year older, and a younger sister. When the mother left home, the little girl went into foster care, but the three lads remained in the flat. Relatives kept an eye on them as best they could and eventually they got a home help.

Ann Thomas was a regular caller to their flat and became part of his family. According to Ger, she was more than a home help, she was more like a second mother and he spoke very lovingly about her. He described her as a phenomenal person.

Years later, they discovered that Ann was actually a nun who did some work with Sofia Housing for disadvantaged people in the community. She deliberately dressed down because she didn’t want the children to treat her any differently to anyone else in the complex.

According to Ger, she was a saint, but the most striking aspect of his conversation with Joe Duffy was how positive he was.

I don’t know anything about the guy, whether he’s a saint or a sinner, but listening to him was inspirational. He’s had a tough upbringing. His mother was taken from them at 13 and they were practically raised by this nun. He thought the world of her, and she obviously had a major influence on him until she died last October.

All Ger wants now is to give something back and to have his mother transferred to a nursing home closer to him where they can spend more time together and be a family again. That looks as if it’s about to happen.

He wasn’t complaining, even though he had plenty to complain about. On the contrary, he was incredibly grateful for the values that were instilled in him by his mother while she lived with them and by Ann. He is very thankful to all the staff who have looked after his mother down through the years and all he wants now is to spend more time with his mam because he says time is very important to them.

There were no tears and God knows, he was entitled to shed a few, but I got the impression that Ger isn’t a guy who spends too much time feeling sorry for himself… unlike some of those I saw in a castle in Wales.

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