Watching 80’s ‘Soul Superstar’ Alexander O’Neal and Wine Critic Jilly Goolden wandering around Sainsbury’s together, I thought maybe I’d had a stroke and was imagining the whole thing. But, it turns out this was just the latest instalment of Channel 4’s Celebrity Wife Swap.
This is the sort of thing that TV still does really well. Small domestic conflicts and deliberately-engineered personality clashes between D-list celebrities. I rubbed my hands together and punched the air triumphantly. I really should get out more.
Jilly Goolden is one of those completely unflappable, indestructible women who built the Empire in-between making lunch, while their husbands were in the study dreaming of Nanny and re-enacting The Battle of the Somme with tin soldiers. As she arrived at Alexander’s stylish little flat in Central London, she looked completely unphased by the whole event. And when Alexander arrived, they got on like a house on fire. And Alexander had a weird limp.
The programme makers must have been panicking. ‘Damn! On paper, they’re supposed to hate each other! Posh bossy old bird, unreconstructed old man used to getting his own way.’ Still, they must have hoped for better from their other-halves.
Jilly and her husband Paul live in a huge country mansion and as Alexander’s blonde servile American wife Cynthia stepped into the giant entrance hall, you could almost see her cowering down and looking for the dusters. She appeared to go from blousy blonde rock chic to Mrs. Overall in a matter of seconds. And she too had this weird limp.
Americans love all that posh English bollocks anyway. But bearing in mind she describes herself as Alexander’s ‘Valet Wife’, I was looking forward to some enjoyable scenes of domestic exploitation. Not conflict necessarily. But I was hoping Paul would at least have talked her into dressing up as Nazi Helga from ‘Allo ‘Allo and made her feed him rusks as he lay in a giant pram. You know – the usual upper-class toff shit. But no. They got on well too.
Jilly’s husband was very much the gentleman. Treating Cynthia with respect, making her delicious meals, serving her lovely wine and apart for being a thoroughly nice chap, my only other thought was how much he reminded me of Basil Brush. Most things put me in mind of Basil Brush these days. He really was the consumate host. If only he’d been married – what an episode that would make.
By this point, the programme makers must have been tearing their hair out and considering a last minute change to the format. ‘How about we stick in Jade Goody and Dr Raj Persaud and see if that livens things up?’
Back with the O’Neal’s and as he arrived at that evening’s gig, I got the distinct impression Alexander was feeling a little obliged to lay on the ‘Superstar’ tantrums for the viewers. Also, when your career’s being filmed for the telly, I suppose it’s better to pretend you’re pretty pissed off about changing in a cleaning cupboard, rather than just admitting it’s business as usual.
‘Can you move the mop and bucket, please? Mr O’Neal usually puts his Mojo in that corner’
Poor guy. You had to feel for him.
Meanwhile, Cynthia decided to loosen Paul’s stiff-upper-lip by taking him lingerie shopping and then, Lord help us, clubbing.
Unfortunately for all concerned, this didn’t involve flying out to The North Pole and swinging a pickaxe into the softly-boiled skulls of baby seals. It was much crueller than that. She took him to a discotheque which played popular music.
Luckily, the cameras glossed over this in the same way you try not to leer at a terrible car crash, hoping instead to catch it in the wing-mirror as you go by.
This uncharacteristic reserve on the part of the programme-makers was probably as much to do with Cynthia’s stange limp as Paul’s ‘Oh dear, I appear to have snagged my bottom on something’ dancing.
Alexander still had exactly the same limp (did I mention that?) by the end and I got the distinct feeling that, if they’d taken the whole concept to its logical concusion, both Jilly and Paul would also have had one by the end of the week.
Luckily, peaceful thoughts of Mr Roy reading Basil a teatime story washed this dreadful image from my mind.