What happens to a reality TV star when the camera stops rolling? When they emerge out from under the spotlight, or leave the house or villa? There’s the merry-go-round press tour, the obligatory club appearances, and the inevitable sponsored social media posts.
But, as shown in BBC film Make Me Famous, there’s also the kiss-and-tells, the public’s cruel assumptions, the spiralling money troubles – and the dawning realisation that unless you’re really, really lucky, your celebrity shelf-date expires in less than a year.
“These people are holding on desperately to their celebrity value,” says Tom Brittney (Grantchester), who in Make Me Famous plays Billy, a 24-year-old whose cheeky, bad-boy persona captured the nation’s attention when he appeared on reality dating show “Love or Lust” the previous year.
Mentioning the introduction of Love Island’s winter edition as an example, Brittney adds, “Now that these shows are more frequent… your 15 minutes of fame is potentially going be even shorter.”
Billy’s desperate quest to remain in the public eye while also attempting to “rebrand” himself – and the toll that takes on his mental health – is at the heart of this searing TV film, written by presenter Reggie Yates, who previously worked alongside the late Caroline Flack (the show was filmed shortly before her death by suicide).
Speaking exclusively to RadioTimes.com, Brittney said: “There’s contestants on The Bachelor who’ve taken their own lives, and there’s other contestants from other reality TV shows. The world of celebrity culture has claimed many lives, and I don’t see that it won’t in the future; not to be cynical, but that’s why I think shows like this are really important.”
Brittney is vocal about the number of suicides among former reality TV stars in Britain, and about – as he perceives it – the alleged lack of aftercare on such shows, mentioning his own experiences on daytime television.
“Not all producers of these [reality] shows are terrible people, but I still think that there are a few who really do have a lot to answer for, knowing they’re putting contestants on with mental health problems, or red flags they should have spotted earlier.
“But in the end, they make money and they entertain people, so I don’t know – and also you can’t fully blame them, it’s very hard to sort of go, ‘Well you caused [Love Island contestant] Mike Thalassitis to kill himself.’ It’s so much more complex than that.”
Asked about his hopes for the film, Brittney continues, “I’d love for there to be a… inquest into how aftercare works for these shows. I don’t know to what extent it’s been changed; I know from my experience on going on daytime talk shows and stuff like that is that their aftercare is reasonably minimal in certain places. Not that it’s not there, but I think what they can expose you to – possibly they [a show’s mental health team] need to be there more and for longer, for people who have no experience with how to deal with online abuse.”
Although he never posted any “online abuse” himself, Brittney admits that he previously bought into the ‘heroes and villains’ narratives that reality TV shows often concoct.
Stating that he was previously a fan of both Love Island and Jersey Shore, he says, “[I] never got to the thing of abusing anyone online or that kind of extent, but [I was] definitely falling for the ‘villain’ type character, of being like, ‘God he’s such a bastard’ or something like that.”
Fame, however, is an “unnatural” state of being – even for full-time actors like Brittney.
“I think, genuinely, fame is just a really hard thing for a lot of people,” he says, “I think it’s a very unnatural state to be in, even as an actor or anything like that, it’s not natural to be watched and have potentially millions of people having an opinion over your work and then your personal life.”
He continues, “It’s a really hard thing for someone to handle, especially if you’ve just kind of skyrocketed from doing a show, and then suddenly you come out [of the show], and the minute you come out you’re met at the airport by paparazzi – and then from then on, it’s just kinda non-stop, and your personal life being under attack, people going through your bins… I mean, that’s gonna take its toll on most people.”
BBC Three’s Make Me Famous, starring Tom Brittney, is available to stream on BBC iPlayer from Wednesday 17th June. It will also be shown on BBC One at 9pm on Thursday 25th June.
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