Pat Stacey: There's no escape from celebrity culture on Irish TV

Dr Eva's Great Escape, RTE

Dr Eva's Great Escape, RTE

Pat Stacey

Remember the golden age of TV gurus, when you couldn’t turn on your television without encountering some expert or other telling you how you should be living your life?

There were gurus to tell you how to get fit, how to eat properly, how to dress, how to transform your home, how to clean your kitchen and bathroom, how to discipline your dogs, how to raise your children.

Not all of them were chancers. Some were actually qualified to pontificate on what they were pontificating on. But it’s fair to say that the exact “expertise” some of these “experts” possessed, and how they’d acquired it, was questionable, to say the least.

Self-styled Supernanny Jo Frost had no formal qualifications, yet nonetheless parlayed her experience as a plain old childminder into a high-profile television career.

Frost’s methods seemed to consist largely of making badly-behaved children sit on “the naughty step”, a strategy that’s been dismissed as counterproductive and potentially damaging by child psychologists and qualified childcare professionals. But hey, they’ve never had their own TV shows.

Then there was the infamous “Dr” Gillian McKeith “PhD” — who was no more a doctor than I am Philip Roth. Among acres of other nonsensical quackery, McKeith, a supposed nutritionist, claimed she could diagnose people’s ailments by examining their tongues and poking around in their excrement (I hope she washed her hands before wagging her finger in their faces).

Dr Eva's Great Escape, RTE

Dr Eva's Great Escape, RTE

TV series, bestselling books and millions and millions of lovely pounds duly piled up. But then, the bubble burst. After a sustained and hilarious exposé of her worthless credentials and useless advice by Ben Goldacre — who really is a qualified doctor, as well as an academic and a respected science writer — McKeith promptly dropped the “Dr” title when someone complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.

You don’t see Frost or McKeith on television in these parts anymore.

The cult of the TV guru has largely faded away on mainstream television in Britain. Curiously, however, it’s thriving still in RTE, which continues to devote a sizeable chunk of its limited budget to programmes fronted by various health and lifestyle gurus.

Towering above all the others like a Finnish volcano is Dr Eva Orsmond.

First, let me stress that unlike some of those mentioned earlier, Dr Eva really is a fully qualified doctor.

But we’re not talking about Orsmond’s qualifications here; we’re talking about her TV career.

Since capturing the nation’s attention, if hardly its affection, by reducing a young woman to tears on the ghastly Operation Transformation a few years ago, Orsmond’s rise in RTE circles has been unstoppable.

She’s not the first medical professional to become a TV celebrity, but she’s the one who seems most intoxicated by the fame. How to Live Better for Longer, her series from last year, suggested she’s enjoying her programmes more than the viewers.

The two-parter was supposedly focused on health concerns; in reality, it was all about Eva. She bragged about her good genes and Botox use, showed us how fit she is and squealed with delight when her “biological age” was revealed as 26 (her real age is 53), all the while radiating vanity and self-regard.

But frankly, it seems this was just a mere warm-up for her next project: Dr Eva’s Great Escape, which spends three episodes with her and her husband as they renovate a derelict hotel in Portugal, which they hope will bring them closer together.

Orsmond’s personal Opertion Transformation from celebrity doctor to celebrity is complete.

Dr Eva's Great Escape starts on RTE1 on Sunday at 9.30pm


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