Things I have learnt from Celebrity Big Brother, #1.

Despite my fondness for getting pleasantly pickled on a fairly regular basis, and my general reputation for being a “good” drunk (articulate and affable to the last, even though I do tend to stray into “too much information” territory), I’m no good at dealing with “bad” drunks. It’s the loss of rationality which unsettles me the most; if someone is no longer capable of having a joined-up conversation, then I am at a loss with them.

Unfortunately, I’m also very bad at disguising this unease, which filters through as a kind of cautious distaste, bordering on superiority. More unfortunately still, most “bad” drunks are also adept at picking up on this, and so I am frequently taken to task for my perceived prissiness.

donto1Donny Tourette is (update: was) a contestant on this year’s Celebrity Big Brother. He is the lead singer in a not terribly successful rock band called Towers Of London, who bear the minor distinction of polling the lowest EVER score of any of the 1000+ tracks which been reviewed on the Stylus Singles Jukebox. On the show’s opening night, Tourette enters the Big Brother house in a state of advanced refreshment, flicking V-signs at the crowd outside as he stumbles his way in.

Initial impression: he’s a poor man’s Johnny Rotten, a latter-day Gizzard Puke, a rebel without a clue, the latest in a long line of witless dullards who have appropriated the trappings of “outrageous” rock-and-roll behaviour, but without any real fire in their hearts. Whereas Rotten’s contempt was impassioned, lethal and withering, Tourette’s V-signs are a mere learned pantomime.

gizpuInside the house, his fellow contestants have no difficulty in grasping his schtick, and compartmentalising him accordingly. The token rebel. It’s what he does. It’s his act. None of the squares are freaked out, even for a second. They’re in showbiz too. They’ve seen it all before.

“He’s a pussycat at heart. You can tell.”

He is also, clearly, a “bad” drunk. I can already feel myself tensing up.

Eventually, and with a thudding inevitability, Donny ends up in the outside jacuzzi: fully clothed, fag still lit, expensive radio mike still attached (and hence beyond repair). Watching him from the other end of the garden, those same tell-tale signs of unease are beginning to flicker across the faces of his fellow housemates.

donto2Except, that is, for Cleo Rocos: a carefully preserved (we’re the same age; I can say these things) television comedy actress, whose main claim to fame was appearing as an over-the-top glamour girl on the Kenny Everett Show in the early 1980s. Cleo, as it swiftly transpires, is quite superb at handling “bad” drunks like Donny. Smiling, supportive, and utterly unruffled, she takes him in hand, leads him away from the others, gets him cleaned up, lends him some dry clothes. Without coming across as even faintly bossy, or critical, or disapproving, she takes full control of the situation. Donny is putty in her hands.

There’s a wonderful, telling moment, which resonates with me more than any other. As Cleo hands Donny his change of clothes, a moment of clarity emerges from the foggy depths of his booze-addled soul. It’s there in his eyes, as he holds Cleo’s gaze for a second or two, with a mixture of surprised realisation and warm, trusting relief. It’s a look which says: F**king hell, you’re alright, you are. It is not an expression which I am used to seeing in situations like these.

The whole episode is a master class in how to handle a “bad” drunk, and I have learnt something from watching it. Once again, by placing real-life inter-personal relationships under a microscope, and by raising the emotional temperature in order to elicit a series of controlled reactions, Big Brother is – whether by accident or design (and I couldn’t really care less) – usefully illuminating the human condition. This is why, for all its peripheral irritations, I never tire of watching it.

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