Friday, 1 April 2016

Famous, Rich and Homeless; View from a Cynic

Julia Bradberry in Famous, Rich and Homeless
How on earth do you pretend to be homeless? This was the question a lot of people were asking when Famous, Rich and Homeless arrived on our screens in aid of Sport Relief. This was a very sensitive subject and, with a title like that, this show had the potential to fall flat on its face as a patronising pat on the head to anyone currently grappling with the reality of this horrendous situation. Surely, anyone who goes into this knowing they have a warm bed to return to at the end of the 'experiment' can't really learn anything... can they?

There were some interesting stories behind the personalities who were featured on the show, particularly Kim Woodburn. I have been a huge fan of hers, since the 'How Clean is your House' days, and not just because she knows her way around a U-bend. I have read Kim's autobiography and it's a very, very difficult read. What she went through in her youth was horrific and to walk out the other side at all is nothing short of miraculous, but to do it with the determination and stoicism that she has, shows a phenomenal strength of character that it's impossible not to admire. I love her positive outlook on life and was really interested to see how this would influence the people she met in the course of the show. Although she was slated after the show for her harsh words to one rough sleeper, taking into account her background, and the editing of the show, things may not be all they seem. Willie Thorne has also battled a few demons in his past, and I wondered if that would help him relate to some of the people he met. Also featured were Nick Hancock, who I remembered from They Think It's All Over, but didn't know much about and Julia Bradbury, who is around my age and always seems so normal and down to earth, she could be anyone's mum and her approachability made her a good candidate to find the best in people. 

Celebrities in Series 2 of Famous, Rich and Homeless

What surprised me most was that, yes, they were followed by a film crew and, obviously (quite rightly), they were clearly kept safe, but they were also expected to fend for themselves, and it was really interesting to see how that worked out. Kim wanted to be visible and approachable and looked for somewhere to be where other homeless people would see her. Nick was the most sociable, seeking out people to talk to and asking the advice of those he met. Julia had me in stitches, with her reasoning for asking strangers for money, but not actually begging. Genius! Although I felt she embraced the experience in a totally different way. Her aim was to find a way not to sleep on the streets, which was brilliant because that is exactly what a homeless person probably would do. It also highlighted an issue that I had no idea about. It's widely assumed that people are homeless because they have no money, but Julia's attempts to secure a place in a hostel, with money she had managed to cadge off a generous public, failed because she had no I.D. So, even if you give enough money to a street sleeper to try to keep them safe, they may still end up sleeping in a doorway.

Willie Thorne. Hmmm. What about Willie? In the early stages of the show he struck me as a man who is very well looked after at home! Not a crime, but it did mean he had a much harder time than the others, because he didn't seem to get the memo about preparation for the night ahead. Where Kim, Julia and Nick were making friends, who would help them through the difficult bits and finding shelter and warmth as best they could, Willie was... not. I don't think it was his fault, he was just vastly underprepared for the task and the question we were all asking was... Willie make it? Unfortunately not, really. He managed to wangle two nights in a hotel which seemed to put him at a massive disadvantage to the others. All the participants who threw themselves into this show, who got to know the genuine street sleepers, listened to them, cared about them, all got something back. Kim was so touched when two young men gave her an extra sleeping bag and brought her something to eat. Julia, in her own unique, bossy-but-caring way, managed to reunite a lovely young man with his mum, so he could get the support he needed for a drug addiction. She did that just by listening to him. And then there's Nick. The unlikely hero of the piece. Faced with aggression, hostility and drug abuse, his compassion and caring nature turned every situation around, so that eventually people were talking, even laughing, and he was listening. He, too, was moved to tears (well, almost, he is a Northerner!) by the kind actions of a young homeless couple who couldn't do enough to help him, despite having nothing themselves.

Nick Hancock with crown
King of the pillow fort!
I approached this programme with the utmost cynicism. Like Nick, I asked myself; 'What can (us) doing this change?' We know the homeless are there, we know that this needs to change. One of the things the show highlighted though, is that homelessness isn't always about drug use. Anyone can be homeless, from any walk of life. When Willie Thorne told a homeless man that he had to go to a hotel because; 'We've all come from a life at home.' The man quietly replied; 'Yeah, so have I'. In that moment, every stereotypical myth that has ever been created about the lives of the homeless disintegrated. Anyone, at any time, is at risk. Especially in today's economy. You can't judge a person by the clothes they are wearing, or the place they call home, they could have been your next door neighbour, or someone you sat next to on the commute to work. Which brings me to the point of this post. What I learned from this show. Something I hadn't even considered. Where Willie was getting cross with everyone and removing himself from the group, because he felt alone and vulnerable, the other celebrities involved, particularly Nick and Julia, put a huge amount into the project. They went out of their way to find out the truth and try to help and the rewards they got for that were clearly apparent. This really illustrated to me, that you get out of life what you put in. Even with no money, or resources, they still made a difference. I also learned that Nick Hancock is the most resourceful person to have on your side if you need shelter, as he emerged as the star of the show. His pillow fort, built from a supermarket cage and an old mattress, was phenomenal. Clearly a quiet, unassuming man, he stole the show with his down to earth manner and incredible survival skills. I really hope he returns to our screens soon. I wonder if Ray Mears needs a sidekick? 


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