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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 20th February 2005

How long before Z-list 'stars' pay to get on TV?


By common consent, there are two low points in the history of reality television. The first was Richard Blackwood getting an enema in Celebrity Detox and the second was Rebecca Loos masturbating a pig on The Farm. Last week, Channel 4 came up with an ingenious way of combining the two in order to produce what must be the worst series ever broadcast on British television: Extreme Celebrity Detox.

This was a four-part reality show in which 15 so-called celebrities were subjected to a range of detox programmes in far flung parts of the world that involved drinking sea water, taking hallucinogenic drugs and attracting heavy weights to their genitals. To describe what the celebrities had to go through as "humiliating" scarcely does the series justice, which may account for the fact that the participants included such last-ditch no-hopers as Magenta Devine, Roland Rivron, Lisa I'Anson, Jack Osbourne, Jo Guest and James Brown (the former lad mag journalist, not the pop star). It was like a psychological experiment designed to discover just how far a bunch of has-beens were prepared to go in order to prolong their fifteen minutes. A better name for the series would have been Fame At Any Price.

I watched it with particular fascination because I was approached about appearing on it myself. The producers wanted me to go to Thailand with an undisclosed "pin up girl" to be inducted into the secrets of tantric sex, though what that had to do with detoxing is anyone's guess. They stressed that we'd be expected to administer manual pleasure to one another under the watchful eye of a Taoist sex master. Viewing the tantric episode last week, it suddenly became clear why the producers were so keen to have me: the pin up girl in question was David Beckham's ex-mistress. Clearly, they were hoping to publicize the show by billing it as a second chance to see Rebecca Loos tossing off a pig.

The truly extraordinary thing about Extreme Celebrity Detox is how little the contestants are being paid. The fee for appearing on I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here, for instance, starts at £25,000 and can go as high as £150,000. Similarly, the contestants on Celebrity Big Brother are paid upwards of £20,000. But when I asked the producers of Extreme Celebrity Detox how much I'd be paid they offered me a measly £2,000. "It's a fixed fee, across the board," they assured me. "Everyone's getting the same. No exceptions."

I politely told them that they'd have to add at least two zeros if they wanted me to do it.

Now, I don't know for certain that all 15 contestants were paid £2,000. But given how tight-fisted the producers were, I can't imagine them being paid much more. Which makes it even more mind-boggling that anyone agreed to do it. I mean, what's next? Are some D-list celebrities so desperate for a bit of notoriety they'd actually pay to be on a reality show? I daresay there are. Coming soon on ITV3: I'm A Former Celebrity...Here Are My Life Savings...Now Get Me On Telly!

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

What does Michael Jackson hope to achieve by including so many celebrities on his witness list in his forthcoming trial? Last week Jackson's lawyers revealed a list of defense witnesses that includes Kobe Bryant, Quincy Jones, Larry King, Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Wonder, David Blaine, Deepak Chopra and Steve Wynn, among others.

According to Laurie Levenson, a professor at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, this stunt is essentially a glorified form of name-dropping designed to impress credulous jury members.

"You have to remember this is not just a trial, it's a public relations campaign," she says. "This list is a nice way of reminding jurors that Michael Jackson has a lot of important friends in high places who believe in him."

If that's Jackson's strategy, I'm not sure it'll work. Surely, the days when you could convince people of your probity by wheeling out a few celebrity friends are long past. I would have thought that, if anything, being acquainted with the rich and shameless is strong evidence of just how morally bankrupt you are. Jackson might as well add O J Simpson's name to this list for all the good it'll do him.

DON'T GIVE UP THE DAY JOB

Talk about the grass being greener on the other side of the hill! Actor Bill Murray has announced he's thinking of giving up his career to become a writer.

As someone with a book deadline hanging over his head, I can assure him that the life of an internationally famous movie star is infinitely preferable. Think about it. The star of Lost In Translation spends his life lolling about on movie sets, occasionally having to make out with gorgeous, pouting actresses like Scarlet Johansson, while I sit in a darkened room all day staring at a blank computer screen. He earns $10 million for three-months work, while I'm struggling to make my monthly mortgage payments.

Is he stark raving bonkers? If he's serious he's welcome to swap lives with me for a year. I can't help thinking that life in Beverly Hills might not seem so bad after twelve months in Shepherd's Bush.

BIRTHDAY BLUES

I was alarmed to read that competitive parents are now spending up to £20 a time on the contents of children's party bags. According to Wacky Warehouse, a company that organizes children's parties, the average goody bag costs £5.50, but one in six parents spends between £10 and £20, lavishing money on such things as DVDs of the latest Disney cartoon.

This is bad news for me. Not only do I have one child whose second birthday is fast approaching, but my wife is due to give birth to baby number two on March 1. We've just had our attic converted at a cost of £35,000 to make room for the new arrival--and taken on an au pair--so the idea of adding to our household expenditure really doesn't appeal. If only this was a leap year. That way, the baby would be due on February 29 instead of March 1 and we'd only have to celebrate the little blighter's birthday once every four years.

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