Putting the poo-poking ‘expert’ in the stocks

Yes, it’s great fun watching the British public get its revenge on vegan hag Gillian McKeith. But let’s not get carried away.

Rob Lyons

Topics Politics

Every series of a reality TV show needs a defining moment, something that pulls in the viewers and makes what is entirely artificial suddenly seem to matter. I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here has had more than its fair share over the years: the on-off relationships between Tara Posh-Wotshername and Darren ‘Love Rat’ Day or Katie and Pete; Diana’s ‘rock’ Paul Burrell squealing like a schoolgirl over touching a spider; watching the returning Katie doing ’orrible trial after ’orrible trial while the Great British Public gloated. And now we have Gillian McKeith’s live faint.

I’m A Celebrity… (ITV1) isn’t a subtle show. You get a bunch of formerly famous and never-quite-famous people into an uncomfortable, enclosed environment – a jungle in Australia – and watch them debase themselves for a fee in the faint hope that they might win the hearts of the British public. What could be more fun than watching some desperate and needy – or obnoxiously egotistical – celeb eat various disgusting larvae or have spiders crawl all over them? They could just as easily have called it The Schadenfreude Show.

Watching Gillian McKeith – or TV diet hag Dr Gillian McKeith, as she was once known – make an idiot of herself the other night, while suffering an attack of the vapours like some Victorian melodrama heiress, was particularly enjoyable because she is desperate and needy and obnoxiously egotistical at the same time. The poison dwarf of TV nutrition has proven to be reality TV gold.

Having spent years reducing fatties to tears about their eating habits, examining their faeces with gusto, and then dishing out frequently wacky health advice on her Channel 4 show You Are What You Eat, the viewing masses are taking great pleasure in this nightly opportunity for payback. While there are a dozen celebs to choose from to endure the ‘Bush Tucker Trials’, it’s been Gillian’s number – just add ‘zero two’ if you want to join in – that people have been dialling. We can only endure – and ignore – the endless health advice from government campaigns and health professionals. But with Gillian, we can finally get revenge. Oh joy!

Looking like a spindly old doll that a dog’s been chewing, ‘health expert’ Gillian looks anything but a glowing example of how to live your life. As others have noted, McKeith is only a few months older than the voluptuous TV cook Nigella Lawson. Now, whose eating advice would you take given that comparison? Lawson brings together the sensual worlds of sex and food; McKeith treats food like a stepping stone to the grave.

Indeed, it is a wonder we ever paid attention to the vegan stick insect. Why did anyone ever listen to the New Age dietary prescriptions of a woman who seems so obviously sickly? It could only be our desperation – long held by women but increasingly by men, too – to stop being fat that allowed her into our homes, like some ginger-haired vampire, to drain the life out of us. Thankfully, the realisation that she had only the shakiest of claims to being called ‘Dr’ – as first revealed on spiked – quickened the demise of her TV series and condemned her lurid pink advice books to the bargain bins.

But before we get too excited about the delicious torture of Gillian McKeith, we should remember that while her particular brand of advice was bizarre and unscientific – as frequently pointed out by numerous critics – she came along at a time when Britain was being struck by a faeces-storm of scare stories about how we were all going to get terribly fat and die young. Pretty much anything that promised to help us lose the lard was regarded as acceptable. Shows in the same hectoring, lecturing vein as You Are What You Eat spread faster than the nation’s waistlines.

Yet while Jamie Oliver’s dubious claims about fat, constipated children vomiting up their own shit because their schools were serving junk for lunch were widely accepted as a brave and valid crusade against junk food, McKeith became the easy target for the backlash. The difference was that while Jamie’s claims had the backing of the medical mainstream – even though they were filled with more crap than a Turkey Twizzler – McKeith’s obsession with nutritional supplements and, perhaps most strangely of all, sauerkraut made her a laughing stock with the alternative medicine-baiting crowd.

So while it is great to see McKeith reduced to being a televisual sideshow for the entertainment of millions, we should remember that her wacky views were also a sideshow to the mainstream fearmongering that really deserved – and still deserves – a critical kicking.

Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked and blogs at Panic on a Plate.

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Topics Politics


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