THE young woman walks into the kitchen in tears and lights a cigarette from the cooker ring. "Kerry Katona is at rock bottom," says film-maker Lynn Alleway in Kerry and Me. "She's bankrupt, she's been exposed taking drugs and has lost all her contracts." She's also about to dump her husband, tabloid monster Mark Croft, which Alleway hears about before he does. Over the next hour, practically every painful moment of their split will be filmed, because that is what Kerry Katona does. She's tragic for a living.
And she knows it, too. "What do I do? I ain't got a clue," she told Alleway, cheerfully bemused. "I cheer people up, make them feel better about their own lives. I sell papers. I don't get what the interest is. This is work, talking to you now."
But, crucially, not paid work: Alleway's Channel 4 documentary, unlike the gossip magazine interviews or the MTV "reality" shows (their titles tastefully chronicling her breakdowns: Crazy In Love, Whole Again, What's The Problem?), did not pay Katona for her soul. Pondering the ethics could occupy a brains trust of Socrates, Kant and Melvyn Bragg for weeks.
Is exposing the troubled psyche of a mentally ill recovering addict better or worse if you don't pay them? Is editing out the grime, in favour of nicey-nice staged scenes of them playing with their kids, helping them or unscrupulously conning the public? And what about the audience: is it OK to watch Alleway's sub-Louis Theroux sympathetic portrait of a woman buffeted in the celebrity wind – a programme that according to this week's mags Katona was desperate to stop being aired – but not OK to watch the officially approved upcoming reality show?
Buggered if I know. So let's just revisit some of the more jaw-dropping moments of this deeply sad film. There was the bit where Katona, seeking comfort from what in other people's lives would be called "friends", visited her "life coaches" – two wealthy, oily twits whose idea of helping was to read out to her the saddest bits in her autobiography (she'd never read it). Or the bit where Croft, his ambitions as low as his forehead, explained his scheme to get crappy pubs to install his fruit machines in return for Katona dropping in for the odd pint.
The morning after a newspaper front page announced "Why I've Dumped The Leech", she danced wildly in the kitchen as her kids ate breakfast, in a terrible attempt at lightening the mood. "You miserable lot, think you've got problems?" The children stoically munched their cornflakes. "It'll be alright," said the nanny, sadly, "Mum will come down to our level soon."
She gave up, hid in her room and a frustrated Croft lost his rag trying to get the children ready. "Find your shoes or I'll smash yer 'ead in!" he yelled at a tiny toddler, whose tragic, slow retreat down the stairs could have been designed to break the heart of any remotely human adult.
Croft, it turned out, was sacrificed as a condition of Katona getting a new manager, Peter Andre's terrifying Claire Powell, to revive her "career".
The nanny was sacked too and then, after a brief stint of childminding, so was Alleway, leaving her out in the cold with the paparazzi, her documentary half-finished.
But her title was wrong: this wasn't about Kerry And Her, this was about Celebrity And Us.