x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Reality bites

Our resident observer of just about everything opines on talent shows, speakers and kids that scream at classical concerts.

"Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington" are the lyrics to the Noel Coward song that advises would-be thespians that "the struggle is pretty tough. And admitting the fact she's burning to act, that isn't quite enough". Written in 1947, the advice could very well be adapted to the current craze for talent and reality shows. All over the world, singers, dancers, jugglers, acrobats and even people who believe that drilling a hole through your nose on stage is entertaining are being urged to try their luck on such shows.

You only have to look at the queues snaking around the blocks at audition times and the ratings of shows like America's Got Talent, Britain's Got Talent, The X Factor and American Idol to know that they are going to be with us for some time, presided over by a smirking Simon Cowell, who gets richer every year on the back of them. They are riveting shows, and now and again they produce real stars. Britain's Got Talent revealed buckets of original talent, and several acts will undoubtedly go on to have decent careers on the fringes of show business, including the brilliant group of young street dancers from Essex, Diversity, that became the unexpected winners.

After the unprecedented hype surrounding Susan Boyle, who came second, the poor woman ended up being whisked off to The Priory Clinic with exhaustion after incidents of bizarre behaviour indicated emotional stress. To paraphrase Coward, the fact she's "burning to act" - or in this case sing - isn't quite enough. To make it in the tough, fickle world of show business you need to have the hide of a rhinoceros, the stamina and determination of a bull, a touch of the fox's cunning and, to keep the animal analogies going, a pride of lions backing you up.

Boyle is going to need more support than most if she's going to fulfil predictions that she could make £10 million (Dh60m) with her first album, out in time for Christmas. Putting it as kindly as I can, her flirtatious bottom wiggling and leg showing could do with some refinement if she doesn't want people cringing with embarrassment for her. Until she appeared on Britain's Got Talent, she hadn't been much further than the Scottish town of Blackburn where she looked after her mother until she died, and then lived alone with her cat. It has emerged that she has learning difficulties after being starved of oxygen at birth.

In other words, she has a great backstory as far as television researchers are concerned. These days it just isn't enough to have talent. You have to have a tale to tell - preferably a sob story - and the dumpy middle-aged spinster with the haircut from hell, hairy eyebrows and voice of an angel was always going to be a winner, as more than 100 million internet hits have proved. A few years ago my daughter Katy, who had just been through what I used to call rock 'n' roll school, auditioned for Pop Idol. She made it through to the last 50 but was beaten by the lad who eventually came second to another unlikely winner, Michelle McManus, also from Scotland, who had a severe weight problem - another great story for the team.

Before Katy's week in the Pop Idol limelight, I warned her that the show was all about shattering teenagers' dreams and she shouldn't do it if she wasn't clear about that. Cowell and Pete Waterman were actually rather nice to her, but the third judge, the DJ Neil Fox, said her outfit was so bright he couldn't concentrate on her singing and I wanted to kill him. The thing is that Cowell and company have turned ritual humiliation into an art form with their acid remarks. It's what passes for entertainment these days, along with turning the life of a vulnerable woman like Boyle into a circus act. I hope the fame thing doesn't destroy SuBo, as she has been nicknamed. It all makes me feel very uncomfortable.

Full marks to whoever it was who went up to the mother of a squalling child at a performance of Mozart's Requiem in Dubai on Friday and suggested that she might consider taking her noisy offspring outside. She beat me and, at a conservative estimate, about 20 other infuriated members of the audience to it by seconds.

Who in their right mind would bring a toddler to a concert like that? I'm all for catching children young and exposing them to classical music, but do it in the privacy of their own homes to begin with - at least until they can sit through an hour and a half without upsetting the rest of the audience with their shrieks. This particular mother was not the only one with children at the concert. There were quite a few others but for the most part they were under control.

It might be an idea for the managers of theatres to make it clear to parents that they should sit at the back and if their kids start behaving like kids tend to do, they must be taken out of the auditorium immediately. I remember the fearsome headmistress of my daughters' first school warning mothers of very young children that they would be asked to leave the school plays and concerts if they misbehaved. She quite rightly pointed out that both staff and pupils put a great deal of effort into the shows, so woe betide anyone who ruined it for them. We were all terrified of her and leapt to our feet with our babes in arms at the first little squeak. The superb performance by the UAE Philharmonic Orchestra and the Dubai Chamber Choir at the American University was almost ruined by noisy children. Parents may well protest that sometimes they can't get a babysitter so one parent would have to miss the concert, but that's just tough. It should either be "no kids aloud" or "no kids allowed".

My thanks go to Frank Henderson, a reader, for taking the trouble in most erudite fashion to pick me up on something I wrote last week about the UK speaker Michael Martin and how I hoped the next one would speak "the Queen's English". Much as I enjoyed Mr Henderson's eloquent explanation of "received pronunciation" published on the letters page on Friday and his gentle reproof that "although there is nothing intrinsic about RP that marks it as superior to any other variety, sociolinguistic factors give RP prestige in England", as he points out, the UK also includes what he describes as the "colonies" of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

With respect for his semantics, I would venture to suggest that my use of the phrase "Queen's English" was broad brushstrokes sort of stuff and intended to be humorous. I should love to hear an accent from my native Northern Ireland in the speaker's chair or indeed any accent as long as its owner is able to string two words together without sounding like a chump.

There's no escape from the tidal wave of reality television, it seems, and now we're getting Paris Hilton. They really should rethink the generic term. Given the vacuous nature of the American hotel heiress's life and her sheer genius at just being famous for being famous, they should call it the "unreality show". Hilton is coming to Dubai with her successful Best Friends Forever television show, in which 12 people will compete for the dubious honour of being her "Dubai best friend". Must remember to book my holidays.