Tuesday, January 17, 2006

galloway in celebrity big brother

The Respect Party MP George Galloway has taken many risks in his political career, and has generally come up trumps. But his surprise decision to participate in the reality TV contest Celebrity Big Brother may be a gamble too far even for this wily politician - who currently faces serious allegations that he received large sums of money from Saddam Hussein in the form of oil allocations.

Galloway formed Respect after he was expelled from the Labour Party for his strongly anti-Iraq war stance. How does he justify spending up to three weeks incarcerated in the Big Brother House with 10 other mostly minor celebrities?

Before entering the house 12 days ago, Galloway explained that he was participating in order to reach a new young audience for his political views. He is giving his fee for participating, and any winnings, to the Palestinian charity Interpal. But Channel 4 TV made it clear that he would not be allowed to use the house as a political soapbox.

Galloway's most famous TV appearance to date came last May when he appeared before the US Senate Subcommittee on Investigations in order to refute under oath claims that he had received Iraqi oil allocations. He used the occasion to deliver a stunning indictment of the invasion of Iraq.

The Cuban cigar-chomping politician’s current TV appearance is of a different type altogether. Under the surveillance of 24-hour cameras he and his fellow housemates are ordered by the invisible “Big Brother” to carry out bizarre tasks in order to win food and other perks. Viewers decide which celebrities are to be ejected.

In one demeaning incident, which has made him an object of public ridicule, Galloway was filmed doing an impression of a cat, purring loudly and pretending to lick milk from the cupped hands of 58-year-old former actress Rula Lenska. Lenska stroked his head and rubbed his whiskers while he nuzzled against her thigh.

Galloway had several heated confrontations with 27-year-old glamour model Jodie Marsh, who was the first housemate to be evicted from the house on Friday. Samuel Preston, lead singer of The Ordinary Boys complained that Galloway was trying to turn the Big Brother House into a socialist republic.

Galloway is being accused of neglecting his constituents, who include many Muslims, in the impoverished constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow in East London. A group calling itself the United Residents of Bethnal Green and Bow has set up a website entitled 'Contestant George Galloway MP: Why Isn't he at work?'

The housemates are a rum lot. Disgraced entertainer Michael Barrymore is using his appearance to try and make a comeback. Bangladesh-born Faria Alam's sole claim to fame is that she had much-publicised affairs with England football coach Sven-Goran Eriksson and Football Association chief executive Mark Palios.

The other contestants include US basketball star Dennis Rodman, former "Baywatch" actress Traci Bingham and rapper Maggot from Goldie Lookin' Chain. A “fake celebrity”, blonde Chantelle, was promoted to official celebrity status after she convinced the other housemates that she is lead singer of a girl group called Kandy Floss.

Although Galloway’s stint in the Big Brother House looks as if it could deal a serious blow to his career, the man may yet show that, like the cat he imitated in the house, he has nine lives.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 16 January 2006