Monday 19 August 2019

Millennial Diary: 'Ben, hun, are you really OK?'

  

Una Healy and Ben Foden. Photo: Ian West/PA
Una Healy and Ben Foden. Photo: Ian West/PA

Ciara O'Connor

I don't take the privilege and responsibility of this platform lightly, and so I'd just like to take this opportunity to say, right here and now: Ben Foden, are you OK, hun?

Una Healy's ex-husband announced via Instagram last week that he had married his new beloved, Jaqueline, on a boat with her sister as witness. "People will say we are mad or crazy or even fools, as [we] had only been dating seriously for a little over 2 weeks before deciding to get married," he wrote in the lengthy caption beneath a panoply of golden-hour photos.

It had been a turbulent year, he wrote, referring to the fact of his cheating on earth angel Una Healy, the mother of his two young children. He referred to the "keyboard warriors" who think he's a "bad person" - if I was a bad person, I might even have thought he felt himself a bit of a victim.

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Since the break-up of their marriage, Una Healy has undergone a personal and professional glow-up of truly epic proportions, while Foden languished in self-righteous shame. She dyed her hair blonde, and took to incredible all-leather ensembles, while being pictured on the arms of beautiful men so powerfully enormous they made rugby pro Ben look like a toddler. Una, formerly of The Saturdays, went back to her country roots with a new album that felt authentic and joyful. She was dignified and wonderful: she became the patron saint of cheated-on women everywhere.

Perhaps I'm jaded and cynical; perhaps Ben Foden marrying a woman he's known a couple of weeks and thanking "my beautiful X wife Una Healy who I love even more for her blessing" is not a cry for help. Perhaps they will have a long and happy marriage. Perhaps Jaqueline really will be "a great step-mum to Aoife and Tadhg". Perhaps I'm a hater. Perhaps. But regardless, I'm just going to ask one more time: Ben, hun, are you OK?

*****

Look: I know I said Love Island was over. I thought it was. I really and truly believed it. But, it turns out that the finale was only the beginning for this year's crop of sexy performing seals. After a slow start, Love Island 2019 is the gift that keeps on giving: Curtis is confirmed for The Greatest Dancer, and more excitingly, as a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race; Ovie has landed a cooking slot on breakfast TV, after dazzling the villa (and the world) with his poached eggs and raw sexual charisma; and the real winner of Love Island, the person who would have won if we could have voted for individuals, Maura, has taken to This Morning as an agony aunt.

Maura burst onto our screens as a woman who was, in the words of many reality contestants before her, not here to make friends. She was on Love Island for the 'lads' and their 'willies' - female friendship was a pointless and tyrannical distraction for her, a femme fatale with sex on the brain and flutters in her fanny. She's still committed to this image of herself, which is cute - but it's obviously total nonsense. Despite her best efforts in cartoon villainy, Maura spent weeks on Love Island battering much-needed sense into confused and broken-hearted female islanders. Against her better judgment, Maura became an icon of straight-talking female camaraderie.

And she's perfect. As an agony aunt, Maura is kind and empathetic and firm. She's like your granny, if your granny had discovered her sexuality and the front-facing camera, with the sensible cliches we all need to hear: "Honesty is the best policy", "Time is the best healer" and "She has to block that man". It was obvious early on in Maura's time at the villa that she has a long media career ahead of her - but we couldn't have guessed, as she stared at Tommy while going to town on a popsicle, that it would be as a lovely voice of reason. When the time comes, Miriam O'Callaghan can retire in peace, knowing her legacy is safe.

Meanwhile, Greg has arrived back home to Ireland to a hero's welcome: Shannon Airport, which hasn't seen so much commotion since the last time a busy flight was diverted from Dublin, was full of hundreds of screaming fans. Young, charismatic and with a twinkle in his eye, Greg has essentially become Princess Diana - he even visited sick children on his return. I really hope they don't know who he is.

*****

What better week, then, to look back into the annals of reality TV history to where it all began, with the Ur-Maura, the original gobby monster: Jade Goody. A documentary about the first reality superstar aired last week on Channel 4, which reminded us how far we've come and how far we haven't.

We watched as one journalist looked back at his headlines, calling the 20-year-old Jade a pig, helpless with laughter: "She was a gift for me, an absolute gift." It's jarring viewing - tabloids today could never get away with it. Culture seems to have gotten more PC, but reality TV may have gone the other way.

The documentary threw us back to those early halcyon days, when Big Brother had to pretend to lofty aims of 'social experimentation' and anthropological research to justify locking people in a house with no access to the outside world and putting them on TV. Today, we don't need pseudo-science to feel all right about watching; pure entertainment is reason enough to tune-in nightly for 22-year-olds weeping to camera. Since Jade's day, we've realised we only wanted to watch outlandishly good-looking youngsters.

But there was a time when we could tune-in to watch live, when 24 hours' worth of filming wasn't compressed into a highly produced and narrative-driven tight 45 minutes. There was a time when to get onto national television, you could send a VHS of yourself fitting your entire body through an elastic band, as Jade Goody did. She did not have an existing audience or social media fanbase or an agent to get her through the door - she wasn't handpicked from a Instagram menu by producers and asked to partake, like Love Island winners Amber and Greg.

For the winter series, producers have put out a casting call asking for a 'career girl', an 'Essex girl' and a 'sexy siren', but also a male virgin, a classy female stripper and someone who's 'related to royalty'. A Parker-Bowles somewhere must be at least four of those things.

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