You had to be a film star, like Marilyn Monroe, or Gary Cooper, you know, all matinee idol good looks and silver screen idol. Or maybe you needed to be the greatest sportsman of a generation, like Muhammed Ali or Pele.
As the years have passed, however, the velvet rope which separated the celebrities in life’s VIP area from us mere mortals has frayed and snapped, allowing any old Tom, Dick, and Joey Essex through.
The most obvious example of this can be found airing nightly on Channel 5, in Celebrity Big Brother. Just a cursory internet search for this year’s ‘celebrities’ reveals just how degraded the word has become.
Of the 15 people who entered the house, six were ‘reality television personalities’, one was a former contestant on The Apprentice, another was a failed X Factor contestant, and another was the ex-husband of Anthea Turner.
When the most famous person in the house is Christopher Biggins, you know you’re in trouble.
The spin-off show, Celebrity Big Brother’s Bit on the Side, is hosted by another failed X Factor contestant –the walking Ken doll Rylan Clark-Neal – and Thursday night’s edition featured another reality TV ‘star’ on the celebrity panel in the form of Dee, from notorious laugh-at-the-scroungers show Benefits Street.
Meanwhile, as if terrified of running out of celebrities to fling into the controversy machine that is the Big Brother house, Channel 5’s Thursday night schedule was packed with shows almost guaranteed to manufacture them.
Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole followed a woman called Susanne Hinte. In January this year, she hit the headlines after she claimed to have put a £33m jackpot winning Lotto ticket in the wash, and now the programme claimed she had a taste of the celebrity lifestyle.
This celebrity lifestyle apparently included living on more than £1,500 a month in benefits, modelling in her undies, and building a hot tub in her garden shed.
And then there was Body Freaks: Old Face, New Face. Here, we were presented with a parade of desperate people –all with body issues of some kind –who were resorting to painful surgeries to change their appearance, often with grotesque results.
There was Jordan Parke, a 25-year-old man from Salford, who was trying turn his face into Kim Kardashian’s, and Star, from Birmingham, who had spent thousands trying not to look like her absent mother.
These are both freak shows, masquerading as serious documentaries, parading people before us to laugh at, gasp at, rage at.
They serve no purpose beyond ensuring the CBB house and the Daily Star’s front page will continue to be filled, in a vicious circle of wrong.