Sunday 18 August 2019

Sarah Caden: 'Celebrity hip flasks and hangovers hit a bum note in a new age of abstinence'

Sober Ant won a prize, but Holly and Phil continued their 'harmless' tradition of being hungover on TV, writes Sarah Caden

NOT HIP: Phillip Schofield, with hip flask, and Holly Willoughby at the awards. Picture: Getty
NOT HIP: Phillip Schofield, with hip flask, and Holly Willoughby at the awards. Picture: Getty

Sarah Caden

When Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly won the TV presenter of the year award at the UK National Television Awards last Wednesday, it was the 18th time they took the prize.

The win got them into the Guinness Book of Records, but also a bashing from the likes of Piers Morgan, who didn't win in his category and was only too happy to remind us that Ant has barely been on the telly last year.

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But then, we knew that. In fact, part of the reason Ant and Dec won this award again is down to Ant's massive fall from grace after a drink-driving conviction and, since, his attempts to rehabilitate. It could be seen as a nod of loyalty to him and to Dec, who soldiered on, and faith in Ant's ability to have a second act.

There was plenty of bleating about the fact Ant didn't deserve a win, compared with other TV sorts who have been slaving away all year, but at least it didn't seem to stop people having a good time. Which, by the photographs of the night and the hungover state of people on the actual telly the next day, was a boozy good time.

And this, surely, seems to hit a bum note, until you acknowledge that it sums up an attitude to alcohol that isn't exclusive to Ireland, but extends to the UK, too.

There are people who have a problem with drink: poor old Ant, isn't he great? And then there are the people who are just having a good time and it's all a bit of a laugh.

None of the people photographed having a few giddy drinks at the NTAs have a problem with alcohol, but there was something about the celebration of intoxication last Wednesday night that seemed off, especially in light of the Ant McPartlin award.

In the days after the awards, there were photographs of reality TV stars getting bolshie with each other after the event. Reality celeb and TV presenter Mark Wright went on Good Morning Britain the next day thrilled to report how he was there after a scant few hours' sleep.

On the same show, Piers Morgan introduced the weather girl Laura Tobin as having "decided to drink herself into oblivion" the night before. Tobin admitted she didn't know what time she'd gone home and that she'd been to two after-parties.

Morgan's co-presenter, Susanna Reid, said that Tobin had arrived "to work this morning, walked past my room with make-up running down her face and went, 'Don't drink, just don't drink'."

It's not big and it's not funny, right? And yet this has somehow become a thing on TV, as if it's harmless good fun.

For some time now, boisterous booziness has been a source of fun with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on This Morning. And it's become almost boastful, possibly as they've continued to get away with it.

In 2016, the morning after their show won its category at the UK TV Awards, they turned up to present the show in the same clothes that they had attended the event in. Holly hadn't been home, she confessed. They giggled and bumbled through their job and people found it relatable, something that is key to Holly's popularity.

Since, they've admitted to hangovers on air and have even had the odd drink on air. These drinks have been part of a segment, but they always lead to what has become a familiar foolishness between the hosts, one that viewers seem to enjoy.

This benevolent attitude to Phil and Holly enjoying a drink brings them then to the point where, last Wednesday, they were sharing snaps of themselves swigging from a hip flask backstage. All good fun, a drink never hurt anyone.

Then, last Thursday morning, they both turned up to work on motorbikes as happily hungover as the day is long. Phil, in fact, was late and, he reported, he nearly puked in his helmet.

Phillip Schofield is 56 years of age. He's entitled to have a good time, obviously, but what's in question here is the idea of what constitutes a good time. The idea that drink is key to the good time, is not only at odds with the whole dewy-eyed, 'isn't he doing well?" attitude to Ant McPartlin. It's also one that seems to wash less with the younger generation.

Just last week, Tracy Cassidy, who brews Silk Tree, an Irish non-alcoholic spirit, predicted that "drinking is going to become the new smoking".

Guinness has an alcohol-free lager, Pure Brew, and next month a no-alcohol bar, The Virgin Mary, will open on Dublin's Capel Street. Young people still want to go out, they just don't see the value in getting locked.

Statistically speaking, while binge-drinking remains a problem with young Irish people, fewer of them are drinking at all. In the UK, a report in late 2018 showed that 30pc of millennials do not drink alcohol.

Fundamentally, the idea that it's hilarious to get so drunk you can't remember how you got home or that you want to vomit at work doesn't appeal to the younger generation. Possibly, their rejection of the idea that shame is an acceptable state in which to live your life is part of it.

They reject the accepted narrative that you look back at your youth as a series of drunken, half-remembered incidents of making a fool of yourself.

Also, perhaps, they have a better handle on the fact that use of alcohol as a social lubricant and demolisher of inhibitions is often born of the user's shyness and self-loathing. And only temporarily fools the user into thinking they're OK.

They probably have the right idea. And while Irish young people continue to binge drink, that's unfortunately a result of the bad example of their elders.

There's no obligation on the part of the celebs at last week's NTAs to be role models for society at large. Any notions of that as part of the job description are long gone.

But there was something so self-indulgent about the congratulatory boozing and subsequent suffering that reflected badly on them.

Ant was the token rehab veteran - the one whom alcohol simply didn't suit - while the rest of the celebrities were only enhanced by their boozing. Or so they seemed to think.

What they might bear in mind, however, is that Ant and Dec won their award by public vote.

The public like what they see in someone cleaning up their act. The hip flasks and the puking in a helmet? Not so much.

Sunday Independent

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