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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 7th November 2004

Couples on Wife Swap are divorced from reality


It's hard not to feel sorry for Becky Fairhurst. She's the 29-year-old mother-of-three whose life has fallen apart after she agreed to appear on Wife Swap, the Channel 4 reality show. Her husband dumped her after he spent a fortnight with another woman called Jacqui Thomas.

I've been waiting for this to happen ever since I first started watching the series last year. The reason Wife Swap is such compulsive television is because you never know how each couple is going to react. Will their marriage be strengthened by the experience? Or will it fall apart? The programme's makers do their level best to wreak as much havoc in each of the couples respective marriages--it's like some appalling psychological experiment with humans standing in for rats--and now they've finally achieved their ultimate ambition.

The plot of each episode of Wife Swap is always the same. A lazy, good-for-nothing wife and a hard-working husband swap with another couple in which the roles are reversed. In the programme broadcast last week, Becky's partner, Jason, found the experience of being paired up with a more hard-working woman so eye-opening he immediately gave Becky, whom he'd been with for 13 years, her marching orders.

Like so many of the "wives" featured on this programme--in fact, Becky and Jason aren't married--she's an uneducated, white, working class woman and the programme's makers left no stone unturned in their efforts to depict her as "council trash". She was never without a fag in one hand and a can of lager in the other, even when she was feeding one of her three feral children. As so often before, the programme was designed to appeal to the snob in all of us. Here, for all the world to see, was a prime example of that new urban species known as "the chav".

Unfortunately, after two weeks of sharing his home with a faintly more respectable woman, Jason began to share this view of his partner. He allowed Jacqui, also a mother-of-three, to redecorate their sitting room and stuff all his wives clothes in boxes. When Becky returned, she was predictably furious and the resulting row ended in a bust-up. Jason now says he wants Becky back, but she claims she wants nothing more to do with him.

I wonder how much Becky and Jason were offered to appear on Wife Swap? Whatever it was, it can't possibly have been worth it. Like so many reality show contestants, they're a couple of innocents who've been cruelly taken advantage of by a team of ruthless programme-makers.

Last year, my wife and I were asked if we wanted to appear on Celebrity Wife Swap along with Jade Goody and her partner, Jeff Brazier. Both Jade and my wife were pregnant, so it seemed like a pretty good match. They offered us £20,000 for what would have amounted to less than two weeks worth--and I had no hesitation in turning it down. Needless to say, Jade and Jeff leapt at the chance. Not surprisingly, they've subsequently broken up.

Lucien the Fraud

I don't understand why Kate Moss feels she has to fork out £5 million to buy Lucien Freud's portrait of her. She says it's to prevent the picture falling into the hands of a "dirty old man", but the notion that anyone, even the most demented pervert, could derive any sexual pleasure from this monstrosity is completely absurd.

Once again, the octogenarian painter has managed to turn a beautiful woman into a hideous crone. Looking at this portrait, could anyone believe the subject is Britain's most successful supermodel? She looks like she's been dug up from underneath a pile of corpses after some grisly rail disaster. It's more like one of those computer-generated reconstructions that show what Kate Moss would look like if she's lucky enough to live to 150.

Why do women continue to sit for this creepy old misogynist? According to a friend of Kate Moss's, "He was very good at making her feel comfortable about taking her clothes off." God knows how he managed that. The only "dirty old man" in this situation is Lucien Freud himself.

The Bite Stuff

I can't believe that the Wolseley has stolen the Ivy's crown as Restaurant of the Year. The new Viennese gastrodome on Piccadilly is quite a fun place for office parties and birthday celebrations, but when it comes to chic dining surrounded by the stars of stage and screen it can't hold a candelabra to the Ivy. If you don't believe me, just try getting a reservation at the Covent Garden mainstay. The Ivy is still, by some margin, the most exclusive restaurant in London.

The award in question was given out by the magazine Harpers & Queen and, far from reflecting a consensus of the restaurant-going public, it's just something that's been cooked up by the editor to generate a bit of publicity. This sort of thing happens all the time in the restaurant business. For instance, earlier this year the new Harden's guide ranked Jamie Oliver's Fifteen as one of the worst restaurants in London. This had nothing to do with the quality of food at Fifteen, which in my experience is very good, and everything to do with needing to drum up column inches for Harden's.

If you want to get some idea of the hard work that goes into making a restaurant like the Ivy the hottest place in town, go and see Fully Committed, the hilarious one-man show set behind the scenes at New York's most fashionable restaurant. It's playing every night at the Arts Theatre in London's West End (along with my play). You could combine it with dinner at the Wolseley afterwards. At least you'll have no trouble getting a table.

Licence to Thrill

It's official: Brosnan's out and the search for the next Bond is underway. For what it's worth, the outgoing star has already announced who he'd like to see replace him. "I'd give it to Colin Farrell," he says.

I sincerely hope Farrell doesn't get it. The Irish scallywag is great at playing charming rogues, but he lacks the savoir-faire to embody the debonair secret agent. In any event, we've now had a Scotsman, an Australian and another Irishman in the role. Isn't it about time an English actor was cast?

My money's still on Orlando Bloom. I know it sounds unlikely, but I have it from a very reliable source. According to my highly-placed insider, the search for a replacement is just a publicity stunt. In reality, the Lord of the Rings star signed on the dotted line several months ago.

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is currently playing at the Arts Theatre. For tickets call 020-7836-3334

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