WE HAVE, as this column likes to say, come an awfie long way from the 1970s when making the most of your personality away from sport was flogging carpets in Argentina’s version of the sombrero if you were the Scotland football manager – while his players signed up for a commercial where they popped their permed heads out of car doors in a daft routine definitely not choreographed by Busby Berkeley (Drew Busby more like).
I was thinking how clever, sophisticated and appropriate sporting endorsement had become as I was strolling past a popular sandwich shop and spotted Louis Smith blown up large, munching down on one of the lunchtime whoppers. Hang on, was that the most notorious bap on the menu, the Meatball Marinara? Did it form part of the fiendishly-controlled diet of an Olympic silver medal gymnast? If I scoffed it would I get a teak-like torso the same as Smith’s, the decisive factor in mums and daughters voting him Strictly Come Dancing champ? And this: who’s advising him and what convinced them this ad would be a good idea?
But I calmed down and decided our Olympians, who so thrilled us last summer, casting brilliant light on their sports and an unbecoming fug across football, should be allowed to try new things and go a bit crazy and make some money after all that devotion and those early-morning training sessions, aches, pains and verrucas. The problem isn’t with our great sporting talent, it’s about what our celebrity culture offers and expects in return.
Celeb culture, as exemplified by Strictly, wants glamour and tears. Victoria Pendleton gave the show plenty of both and I remember scolding myself for a flip remark along the lines of “Jings, she’s high maintenance” when, really, she’d passed the ultimate test, the only one that mattered, a few months before in the velodrome – and who were we to judge her on “personality”?
I’m not sure what they want on Dancing on Ice, ITV’s riposte to the BBC’s Strictly, but maybe glamour, tears, sequins, campness and blood. That’s just for starters, and did I mention campness? From the Olympics, gymnast Beth Tweddle and boxer Luke Campbell signed up and the latter, given the punishment you can take in the ring, must have laughed at the show’s hysterical voiceover during the opening credits: “The unforgiving wrath of the ice!”
But Dancing on Ice is like Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, the high water mark of high art appreciation, next to Splash!, Tom Daley’s new diving series which continued last night after scoring 5.5 million viewers for openers but dire reviews. When it was unveiled, I can’t have been alone in thinking that Daley + diving board + TV might have grim consequences. One shouldn’t tempt fate but I don’t think any of the B-list celebs is going to do a Greg Louganis. Nevetheless, Splash! is truly appalling.
Presenter Vernon Kaye is appalling, the dead hand of ITV which is all over the show is appalling and the campness is appalling (diving isn’t camp, is it?). Really, the only thing that can save this is Peter Kay waddling into view, wolfing down ten of Louis Smith’s monster sandwiches and reprising an old ad of his from five metres up: “Top bombing!”
Daley’s intention is to popularise his sport, something I thought he was already doing pretty well. He’s been criticised by British Swimming, concerned he’s being distracted from training. I’m sure he’s been well rewarded for the show and that no one forced him to do it, but again you have to question the judgment of those who claim a fat percentage for image rights.
It’s a jungle out there. On the internet you’ll find speculation that the reason Mo Farah didn’t win the Beeb’s Sports Personality of the Year was because of an awkward performance on Jonathan Ross’s chat show when he wouldn’t reveal the names of his twins because Hello! had the exclusive and wouldn’t discuss his relationship with his twin brother back in Somalia because this was being covered in his autobiography. Farah’s talent isn’t as a straight man for Woss’s rubbish jokes: it’s running and running and running. But he’s a hero to my kids who aped the Mobot all summer long. The stars of London 2012 must remain heroes.