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How sex toys are being redesigned to help survivors of sexual assault

For many survivors of sexual assault, a happy sex life feels out of reach. While much of the treatment on offer is focused on emotional and psychological healing, people are often left to work out for themselves what sex after trauma looks like for them.

But some people are working to change that, and are reconfiguring and reappropriating sex toys as tools for healing. Last year, the Dutch designer Nienke Helder created a range of objects to help survivors reprogramme how they deal with physical sensations. Drawing on her own experience, she wanted to redress what she saw as the “clinical” approach to recovery currently employed. “The tools are an opportunity to explore your personal sexual recovery,” she says. Her collection, titled Sexual Healing, includes a horsehair brush to explore touch and tickling, a mirror designed to help you better view your vulva, as well as a pelvic device that vibrates when your muscles are too tense, and a bean-shaped sensor that lights up if you’re breathing too fast, to remind you to slow down and relax. “By getting biofeedback through the tools, you can visualise what kind of processes are happening inside your body, which can help you understand in which situations your body reacts with a reflex.”

A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder.


A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder. Photograph: Nicole Marnati

Although Helder’s designs are still prototypes (she hopes to get them manufactured and sold soon), there are places where survivors can go to find existing tools. Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London is a female-focused sex shop with an extensive education and outreach programme. It consults with the NHS to recommend products for women who have been through trauma. “Unfortunately, many health professionals are still not comfortable talking about sex,” says Renée Denyer, the shop’s manager and in-house sex educator. She is also a facilitator for Cafe V, part of My Body Back Project, a support group for women who have experienced sexual violence. “For survivors of sexual assault and rape, their body is taken away from them. But when women are ready to start thinking about sex, after they’ve had therapy and counselling, there is nowhere to go, so we made that space.”

According to Denyer, using sex toys is a powerful way for survivors to reclaim their body. “Especially for those who experienced abuse from childhood, they very early on learned to tune out when any sort of sexual touch is happening,” she says. “Even later in life when they are with a chosen partner, they’ll dissociate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. We work on trying to fix that.”

Many of the recommended products focus on non-fleshy, non-phallic and non-penetrative tools, whilst also encouraging the use of things such as flavoured lube so survivors are not triggered by the smell of genitalia. But it seems that the most important thing is to grant women permission to explore sex again in a healthy way, in a safe environment and without the time or physical pressure that can come with having sex with a partner.

Though there is still a long way to go to improve the recovery process, using a more sex-positive approach is bringing ​many survivors one step closer to a happy sex life​.

How sex toys are being redesigned to help survivors of sexual assault

For many survivors of sexual assault, a happy sex life feels out of reach. While much of the treatment on offer is focused on emotional and psychological healing, people are often left to work out for themselves what sex after trauma looks like for them.

But some people are working to change that, and are reconfiguring and reappropriating sex toys as tools for healing. Last year, the Dutch designer Nienke Helder created a range of objects to help survivors reprogramme how they deal with physical sensations. Drawing on her own experience, she wanted to redress what she saw as the “clinical” approach to recovery currently employed. “The tools are an opportunity to explore your personal sexual recovery,” she says. Her collection, titled Sexual Healing, includes a horsehair brush to explore touch and tickling, a mirror designed to help you better view your vulva, as well as a pelvic device that vibrates when your muscles are too tense, and a bean-shaped sensor that lights up if you’re breathing too fast, to remind you to slow down and relax. “By getting biofeedback through the tools, you can visualise what kind of processes are happening inside your body, which can help you understand in which situations your body reacts with a reflex.”

A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder.


A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder. Photograph: Nicole Marnati

Although Helder’s designs are still prototypes (she hopes to get them manufactured and sold soon), there are places where survivors can go to find existing tools. Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London is a female-focused sex shop with an extensive education and outreach programme. It consults with the NHS to recommend products for women who have been through trauma. “Unfortunately, many health professionals are still not comfortable talking about sex,” says Renée Denyer, the shop’s manager and in-house sex educator. She is also a facilitator for Cafe V, part of My Body Back Project, a support group for women who have experienced sexual violence. “For survivors of sexual assault and rape, their body is taken away from them. But when women are ready to start thinking about sex, after they’ve had therapy and counselling, there is nowhere to go, so we made that space.”

According to Denyer, using sex toys is a powerful way for survivors to reclaim their body. “Especially for those who experienced abuse from childhood, they very early on learned to tune out when any sort of sexual touch is happening,” she says. “Even later in life when they are with a chosen partner, they’ll dissociate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. We work on trying to fix that.”

Many of the recommended products focus on non-fleshy, non-phallic and non-penetrative tools, whilst also encouraging the use of things such as flavoured lube so survivors are not triggered by the smell of genitalia. But it seems that the most important thing is to grant women permission to explore sex again in a healthy way, in a safe environment and without the time or physical pressure that can come with having sex with a partner.

Though there is still a long way to go to improve the recovery process, using a more sex-positive approach is bringing ​many survivors one step closer to a happy sex life​.

How sex toys are being redesigned to help survivors of sexual assault

For many survivors of sexual assault, a happy sex life feels out of reach. While much of the treatment on offer is focused on emotional and psychological healing, people are often left to work out for themselves what sex after trauma looks like for them.

But some people are working to change that, and are reconfiguring and reappropriating sex toys as tools for healing. Last year, the Dutch designer Nienke Helder created a range of objects to help survivors reprogramme how they deal with physical sensations. Drawing on her own experience, she wanted to redress what she saw as the “clinical” approach to recovery currently employed. “The tools are an opportunity to explore your personal sexual recovery,” she says. Her collection, titled Sexual Healing, includes a horsehair brush to explore touch and tickling, a mirror designed to help you better view your vulva, as well as a pelvic device that vibrates when your muscles are too tense, and a bean-shaped sensor that lights up if you’re breathing too fast, to remind you to slow down and relax. “By getting biofeedback through the tools, you can visualise what kind of processes are happening inside your body, which can help you understand in which situations your body reacts with a reflex.”

A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder.


A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder. Photograph: Nicole Marnati

Although Helder’s designs are still prototypes (she hopes to get them manufactured and sold soon), there are places where survivors can go to find existing tools. Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London is a female-focused sex shop with an extensive education and outreach programme. It consults with the NHS to recommend products for women who have been through trauma. “Unfortunately, many health professionals are still not comfortable talking about sex,” says Renée Denyer, the shop’s manager and in-house sex educator. She is also a facilitator for Cafe V, part of My Body Back Project, a support group for women who have experienced sexual violence. “For survivors of sexual assault and rape, their body is taken away from them. But when women are ready to start thinking about sex, after they’ve had therapy and counselling, there is nowhere to go, so we made that space.”

According to Denyer, using sex toys is a powerful way for survivors to reclaim their body. “Especially for those who experienced abuse from childhood, they very early on learned to tune out when any sort of sexual touch is happening,” she says. “Even later in life when they are with a chosen partner, they’ll dissociate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. We work on trying to fix that.”

Many of the recommended products focus on non-fleshy, non-phallic and non-penetrative tools, whilst also encouraging the use of things such as flavoured lube so survivors are not triggered by the smell of genitalia. But it seems that the most important thing is to grant women permission to explore sex again in a healthy way, in a safe environment and without the time or physical pressure that can come with having sex with a partner.

Though there is still a long way to go to improve the recovery process, using a more sex-positive approach is bringing ​many survivors one step closer to a happy sex life​.

How sex toys are being redesigned to help survivors of sexual assault

For many survivors of sexual assault, a happy sex life feels out of reach. While much of the treatment on offer is focused on emotional and psychological healing, people are often left to work out for themselves what sex after trauma looks like for them.

But some people are working to change that, and are reconfiguring and reappropriating sex toys as tools for healing. Last year, the Dutch designer Nienke Helder created a range of objects to help survivors reprogramme how they deal with physical sensations. Drawing on her own experience, she wanted to redress what she saw as the “clinical” approach to recovery currently employed. “The tools are an opportunity to explore your personal sexual recovery,” she says. Her collection, titled Sexual Healing, includes a horsehair brush to explore touch and tickling, a mirror designed to help you better view your vulva, as well as a pelvic device that vibrates when your muscles are too tense, and a bean-shaped sensor that lights up if you’re breathing too fast, to remind you to slow down and relax. “By getting biofeedback through the tools, you can visualise what kind of processes are happening inside your body, which can help you understand in which situations your body reacts with a reflex.”

A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder.


A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder. Photograph: Nicole Marnati

Although Helder’s designs are still prototypes (she hopes to get them manufactured and sold soon), there are places where survivors can go to find existing tools. Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London is a female-focused sex shop with an extensive education and outreach programme. It consults with the NHS to recommend products for women who have been through trauma. “Unfortunately, many health professionals are still not comfortable talking about sex,” says Renée Denyer, the shop’s manager and in-house sex educator. She is also a facilitator for Cafe V, part of My Body Back Project, a support group for women who have experienced sexual violence. “For survivors of sexual assault and rape, their body is taken away from them. But when women are ready to start thinking about sex, after they’ve had therapy and counselling, there is nowhere to go, so we made that space.”

According to Denyer, using sex toys is a powerful way for survivors to reclaim their body. “Especially for those who experienced abuse from childhood, they very early on learned to tune out when any sort of sexual touch is happening,” she says. “Even later in life when they are with a chosen partner, they’ll dissociate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. We work on trying to fix that.”

Many of the recommended products focus on non-fleshy, non-phallic and non-penetrative tools, whilst also encouraging the use of things such as flavoured lube so survivors are not triggered by the smell of genitalia. But it seems that the most important thing is to grant women permission to explore sex again in a healthy way, in a safe environment and without the time or physical pressure that can come with having sex with a partner.

Though there is still a long way to go to improve the recovery process, using a more sex-positive approach is bringing ​many survivors one step closer to a happy sex life​.

Abortion clinic buffer zones being considered by more councils

Eight councils in England are considering setting up abortion clinic buffer zones after pro-choice groups said the number of “intimidating” protests was on the rise.

Across the country, 42 vigils and protests have taken place between 2017 and 2018, according to figures compiled by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). They were led by a number of anti-abortion groups including the Good Counsel Network and 40 Days for Life.

Campaigners say the protests amount to harassment and intimidation, although anti-abortion groups deny this. Pro-choice groups say Britain is increasingly influenced by US-style tactics of “pavement counselling”, in which women are waylaid as they enter clinics.

On Monday, in response to protests, Ealing council in west London became the first local authority to apply a public spaces protection order (PSPO) for the area around a Marie Stopes clinic to protect women from distress and intimidation.

Campaigners, MPs and councillors say a safe zone is necessary after women entering the clinic were called murderers and shown photographs of foetuses. The plan was unanimously approved by the council this month.

Rachael Clarke, a public affairs and advocacy manager at BPAS, described the spread of tactics was “deeply worrying”. “In recent years protests have become more regular, wider spread and more intimidating. What used to be a couple of nuns on the street is now groups of people approaching women and trying to talk to them about their personal medical decisions,” she said.

“But it’s important to know that regardless of what protesters do, their very presence is intimidating to women.”

Other councils considering following Ealing’s lead include Lambeth, Richmond, and Southwark in London, and Portsmouth, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. All have been looking into options including PSPOs. Lambeth is the most advanced, having already consulted on a PSPO.

On Monday in Ealing, on the first day of the official safe zone, just a few individuals were present, standing about 100 yards away – the closest they can be – from the clinic on a small patch of grass.

One of those who remained, Ed, said the PSPO would not stop him from attending vigils. “I am here to defy when required,” he said, describing the order as a violation of human rights.

Binda Rai, a Labour councillor for Walpole Ward who has helped implement the buffer zone, said while the PSPO was useful it would last only three years before the council would have to again gather evidence and call a vote to renew the protection. “There needs to be a national solution – the people of Ealing are protected but others are not,” she said.

In Richmond, the Conservative councillor Mark Boyle said the council would not tolerate antisocial behaviour that caused harassment, alarm and distress. He said after the Ealing decision, Richmond was preparing for a consultation on the use of PSPOs around the BPAS clinic in Twickenham.

Lib Peck, the leader of Lambeth council said women seeking abortions had been met with intimidation and harassment. “They have faced having to walk past anti-abortion campaigners waving placards with graphic imagery and handing out leaflets with fake or misleading medical information.”

Nottingham council sought an injunction against 40 Days for Life, a Christian movement, after they held vigils outside the abortion clinic at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. The move was recently overturned on appeal.

Clarke said American influence had increased the size, frequency and persistence of abortion clinic protests.

“The four large groups are the Good Counsel Network, who have personally said that they use the US tactics of ‘pavement counselling’, which means approaching and attempting to waylay women as they enter clinics; Abort67, whose parent organisation is the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which is run by an ex-Republican politician who has come over to train their activists … This spread of tactics is deeply worrying,” she said.

Robert Colquhoun, the UK-based international director of 40 Days for Life, said while many people may have felt intimidated there had been no “single substantiated cases of harassment”.

He added: “I consider harassment a strong word in terms of what it entails. Many people feel nervous or bad but we have been there to pray and offer help or alternatives to abortion.”

Colquhoun said Ealing’s decision was opposed to free speech and “against some of the things in European convention in terms of human rights”.

Clarke said while she welcomed moves to address the growing problem, more needed to be done on a national level.

“BPAS will continue to call on [the home secretary] Amber Rudd and the Home Office to use their ongoing review of abortion clinic protests to bring in buffer zones across the country and allow women to access the healthcare treatment to which they are entitled without fear of harassment and intimidation,” she said.

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, agreed that a national strategy was essential. “We need a national solution … clinic staff [at Marie Stokes] had been getting hassled as well,” she said.

Rudd consulted on buffer zones and whether they were needed. The findings have not yet been made public.

The Home Office has been approached for comment.

Abortion clinic buffer zones being considered by more councils

Eight councils in England are considering setting up abortion clinic buffer zones after pro-choice groups said the number of “intimidating” protests was on the rise.

Across the country, 42 vigils and protests have taken place between 2017 and 2018, according to figures compiled by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). They were led by a number of anti-abortion groups including the Good Counsel Network and 40 Days for Life.

Campaigners say the protests amount to harassment and intimidation, although anti-abortion groups deny this. Pro-choice groups say Britain is increasingly influenced by US-style tactics of “pavement counselling”, in which women are waylaid as they enter clinics.

On Monday, in response to protests, Ealing council in west London became the first local authority to apply a public spaces protection order (PSPO) for the area around a Marie Stopes clinic to protect women from distress and intimidation.

Campaigners, MPs and councillors say a safe zone is necessary after women entering the clinic were called murderers and shown photographs of foetuses. The plan was unanimously approved by the council this month.

Rachael Clarke, a public affairs and advocacy manager at BPAS, described the spread of tactics was “deeply worrying”. “In recent years protests have become more regular, wider spread and more intimidating. What used to be a couple of nuns on the street is now groups of people approaching women and trying to talk to them about their personal medical decisions,” she said.

“But it’s important to know that regardless of what protesters do, their very presence is intimidating to women.”

Other councils considering following Ealing’s lead include Lambeth, Richmond, and Southwark in London, and Portsmouth, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. All have been looking into options including PSPOs. Lambeth is the most advanced, having already consulted on a PSPO.

On Monday in Ealing, on the first day of the official safe zone, just a few individuals were present, standing about 100 yards away – the closest they can be – from the clinic on a small patch of grass.

One of those who remained, Ed, said the PSPO would not stop him from attending vigils. “I am here to defy when required,” he said, describing the order as a violation of human rights.

Binda Rai, a Labour councillor for Walpole Ward who has helped implement the buffer zone, said while the PSPO was useful it would last only three years before the council would have to again gather evidence and call a vote to renew the protection. “There needs to be a national solution – the people of Ealing are protected but others are not,” she said.

In Richmond, the Conservative councillor Mark Boyle said the council would not tolerate antisocial behaviour that caused harassment, alarm and distress. He said after the Ealing decision, Richmond was preparing for a consultation on the use of PSPOs around the BPAS clinic in Twickenham.

Lib Peck, the leader of Lambeth council said women seeking abortions had been met with intimidation and harassment. “They have faced having to walk past anti-abortion campaigners waving placards with graphic imagery and handing out leaflets with fake or misleading medical information.”

Nottingham council sought an injunction against 40 Days for Life, a Christian movement, after they held vigils outside the abortion clinic at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. The move was recently overturned on appeal.

Clarke said American influence had increased the size, frequency and persistence of abortion clinic protests.

“The four large groups are the Good Counsel Network, who have personally said that they use the US tactics of ‘pavement counselling’, which means approaching and attempting to waylay women as they enter clinics; Abort67, whose parent organisation is the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which is run by an ex-Republican politician who has come over to train their activists … This spread of tactics is deeply worrying,” she said.

Robert Colquhoun, the UK-based international director of 40 Days for Life, said while many people may have felt intimidated there had been no “single substantiated cases of harassment”.

He added: “I consider harassment a strong word in terms of what it entails. Many people feel nervous or bad but we have been there to pray and offer help or alternatives to abortion.”

Colquhoun said Ealing’s decision was opposed to free speech and “against some of the things in European convention in terms of human rights”.

Clarke said while she welcomed moves to address the growing problem, more needed to be done on a national level.

“BPAS will continue to call on [the home secretary] Amber Rudd and the Home Office to use their ongoing review of abortion clinic protests to bring in buffer zones across the country and allow women to access the healthcare treatment to which they are entitled without fear of harassment and intimidation,” she said.

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, agreed that a national strategy was essential. “We need a national solution … clinic staff [at Marie Stokes] had been getting hassled as well,” she said.

Rudd consulted on buffer zones and whether they were needed. The findings have not yet been made public.

The Home Office has been approached for comment.

Abortion clinic buffer zones being considered by more councils

Eight councils in England are considering setting up abortion clinic buffer zones after pro-choice groups warned that the number of “intimidating” protests was on the rise.

Across the country, 42 vigils and protests have taken place between 2017 and 2018, according to figures compiled by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS). They are led by a number of anti-abortion groups including the Good Counsel Network and 40 Days for Life.

Campaigners say the protests amount to harassment and intimidation, although anti-abortion groups deny this. Pro-choice groups say Britain is increasingly influenced by US-style tactics of “pavement counselling”, in which women are waylaid as they enter clinics.

On Monday, in response to protests, Ealing council in west London became the first local authority to apply a public spaces protection order (PSPO) for area around a Marie Stopes clinic to protect women from distress and intimidation.

Campaigners, MPs and councillors say that a safe zone is necessary after women entering the clinic were called murderers and showed photographs of foetuses. The plan was unanimously approved by the council earlier in April.

Rachael Clarke, a public affairs and advocacy manager at BPAS, said the spread of tactics was “deeply worrying”.

“In recent years protests have become more regular, wider spread and more intimidating. What used to be a couple of nuns on the street is now groups of people approaching women and trying to talk to them about their personal medical decisions. But it’s important to know that regardless of what protesters do, their very presence is intimidating to women,” she said.

Other councils now considering following Ealing’s lead include Lambeth, Richmond, and Southwark in London, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. All have been looking into options including PSPOs. Lambeth is the most advanced, having already consulted on a PSPO.

On Monday, in Ealing on the first day of the official safe zone, just a few individuals were present, standing about 100 yards away – the closest they can be – from the clinic on a small patch of grass.

One of those who remained, Ed, said the PSPO would not stop him from attending vigils. “I am here to defy when required,” he said, describing the order as a “violation of human rights”.

Binda Rai, a Labour council for the Walpole Ward who has helped implement the buffer zone, said that while the PSPO was useful it would only lasts three years before the council would have to go through the process of gathering evidence again and calling a vote to renew the protection. “There needs to be a national solution – the people of Ealing are protected but others are not,” she said.

In Richmond, the Conservative councillor Mark Boyle said the council would not tolerate anti-social behaviour that caused harassment, alarm and distress. He said that following the Ealing decision, Richmond was preparing for a consultation on the use of PSPOs around the BPAS clinic in Twickenham.

Lib Peck, the leader of Lambeth council said women seeking abortions had been met with intimidation and harassment. “They have faced having to walk past anti-abortion campaigners waving placards with graphic imagery and handing out leaflets with fake or misleading medical information.”

Nottingham council sought an injunction against a Christian movement, 40 Days for Life, after they held “vigils” outside the abortion clinic at Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. The move was recently overturned on appeal.

Clarke said American influence has increased the size, frequency and persistence of abortion clinic protests.

“The four large groups are the Good Counsel Network, who have personally said that they use the US tactics of ‘pavement counselling’ which means approaching and attempting to waylay women as they enter clinics; Abort67 whose parent organisation is the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, which is run by an ex-Republican politician who has come over to train their activists … This spread of tactics is deeply worrying,” she said.

Robert Colquhoun, the UK-based international director of 40 Days for Life, said that while many people may feel intimidated there has been no “single substantiated cases of harassment”.

He said: “I consider harassment a strong word in terms of what it entails. Many people feel nervous or bad but we have been there to pray and offer help or alternatives to abortion.”

Colquhoun said Ealing’s decision was opposed to free speech and “against some of the things in European convention in terms of human rights”.

Clarke said that while she welcomed moves to address the growing problem, more needs to be done on a national level.

“BPAS will continue to call on [the home secretary] Amber Rudd and the Home Office to use their ongoing review of abortion clinic protests to bring in buffer zones across the country and allow women to access the healthcare treatment to which they are entitled without fear of harassment and intimidation,” she said.

Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, agreed that a national strategy was essential. “We need a national solution … Clinic staff [at Marie Stokes] had been getting hassled as well,” she said.

Rudd consulted on buffer zones and whether they were needed. The findings have not yet been made public.

The Home Office has been approached for comment.

Ant McPartlin is a celebrity, but do we forget he’s a human being? | Ros Coward

Ant McPartlin’s celebrity has been built on a perennially boyish, cheeky-chappy image, always at ease in front of the camera. The image he presented following his sentencing for drink-driving, after a collision in which other people were injured, could not have been more different. Gaunt face, furrowed brow, and dark bags under worried eyes, he looked in no fit state to have cameras shoved in his face. But a press that has built him up is not going to miss the opportunity for close-up scrutiny of his downfall to addiction and depression. His haggard face covered front pages: “Ant’s court shame”, “Ant’s guilt”, “Shamefaced!” chorused the captions. The Daily Mail had the nastiest dig at its former darling: “A picture of self-pity, drink drive Ant fined £86,000 (and that’s just 4 days’ wages).”

These same papers have recently reported, with approval, attempts to improve the treatment of mental health, including Theresa May’s rhetorical promise to transform how the issue is dealt with. But when it comes to their relationship with celebrities, self-awareness and responsible reporting of psychological distress is too much to expect.

Celebrities are the lifeblood of much of our popular journalism, and ambivalence is the name of the game. Personalities are elevated through endless attention to every detail of their lives – look no further than the current obsession with Meghan Markle’s every outfit, her dogs’ names and her estranged relatives.

But this is envious attention, waiting – even hoping – for the celebrity to crash and suffer, or to behave in ways that will justify spiteful commentary. When celebrities really come down to earth, or even die, there is a ghoulish interest in the details of their suffering, especially if there’s a suggestion that they were, after all, not happy with their previously enviable celebrity lives. The bear-baiting treatment of Amy Winehouse and Frank Bruno were examples of this. Dale Winton’s death this week offers the opportunity for a sort of voyeuristic interest in the details of his depression.

Ant, particularly as part of Ant and Dec, plays an interesting role in the machinery of British celebrity. The duo’s core television work has been precisely in the area of celebrity making and breaking. They are the front team for Britain’s Got Talent, a show where celebrities are discovered among “ordinary” people and become fodder for the popular press. The pair’s sensitive handling of Susan Boyle after her first performance turned her into a megastar. But they also front I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, where famous people are tested and hopefully – from the perspective of “good” television – broken. Created or destroyed, all of it feeds the needs of the celebrity media conveyor belt.

Ant McPartlin with Declan Donnelly in Byker Grove.


Ant McPartlin (right) with Declan Donnelly in Byker Grove. Photograph: BBC

Ant and Dec are the innocent face of this celebrity supply machine. They are boyish and good natured, they put participants at ease and guide them through tantrums and disappointments. They have an unusually benign rapport with each other – most showbusiness couples have more edge. Away from the shows, their lives have, until now, been relatively blameless: they don’t behave badly; they take their mothers to the Palace for their gongs; and, phew, they have even married women just when the tabloids were beginning to wonder. Their brand of wholesomeness, playful entertainment and sympathetic rapport with participants is massively important for ITV. By appearing decent and deserving themselves, they make this kind of entertainment, even through its low points, seem acceptable: a quest for innocent celebrity fun.

In some respects, Ant and Dec really are deserving. They have certainly worked hard. Ant was brought up by a single mother in Newcastle, and first came to fame as a child actor in the TV series Byker Grove, which is where he met Declan Donnelly. They became friends and after a brief detour into pop, found TV presenting. They’ve lived their lives in the spotlight ever since. And while they now earn fabulous amounts, as the Mail was quick to remind us, their work is far from glamorous. They deal with the unedifying process of celebrity making and breaking from the inside.

On Britain’s Got Talent this means dealing with the casting of suitable subjects, and all the artificialities behind the scenes. On I’m a Celebrity, they hang around in sordid conditions outside a fake jungle, holding at bay teams from countries waiting to take over the set, and witnessing endless negotiations with the celebs.

This may be enough to drive anyone to drink or to something worse, which itself provides new script lines for a macabre and interactive public soap opera.

It’s more than just a powerful irony that McPartlin’s downfall played out this week in the media’s full glare. His clean personality has helped to mask the darker process of celebrification, and made the goal of fame seem unproblematic. His cheerfulness has hidden the downside of fame, the envious hostility it awakens. So perhaps it’s also poetic justice he finds himself mocked by a media that cares little for his distress. There’s an obligatory sequel to the celebrity narrative of “Build them up and knock them down”, an episode called “Let’s see if they can get up again”.

McPartlin’s tortured appearance suggests he knows the arc as well as the public. But what does our appetite for this recurring drama say about us? We could look away now and not allow ourselves to get caught up in the process of another human unravelling. Once we might have done so. At least we might have seemed reluctant to be part of the cavalcade. Now we are integral to it. Is that where we want to be?

Ros Coward is a professor of journalism at Roehampton University

Ant McPartlin is a celebrity, but do we forget he’s a human being? | Ros Coward

Ant McPartlin’s celebrity has been built on a perennially boyish, cheeky-chappy image, always at ease in front of the camera. The image he presented following his sentencing for drink-driving, after a collision in which other people were injured, could not have been more different. Gaunt face, furrowed brow, and dark bags under worried eyes, he looked in no fit state to have cameras shoved in his face. But a press that has built him up is not going to miss the opportunity for close-up scrutiny of his downfall to addiction and depression. His haggard face covered front pages: “Ant’s court shame”, “Ant’s guilt”, “Shamefaced!” chorused the captions. The Daily Mail had the nastiest dig at its former darling: “A picture of self-pity, drink drive Ant fined £86,000 (and that’s just 4 days’ wages).”

These same papers have recently reported, with approval, attempts to improve the treatment of mental health, including Theresa May’s rhetorical promise to transform how the issue is dealt with. But when it comes to their relationship with celebrities, self-awareness and responsible reporting of psychological distress is too much to expect.

Celebrities are the lifeblood of much of our popular journalism, and ambivalence is the name of the game. Personalities are elevated through endless attention to every detail of their lives – look no further than the current obsession with Meghan Markle’s every outfit, her dogs’ names and her estranged relatives.

But this is envious attention, waiting – even hoping – for the celebrity to crash and suffer, or to behave in ways that will justify spiteful commentary. When celebrities really come down to earth, or even die, there is a ghoulish interest in the details of their suffering, especially if there’s a suggestion that they were, after all, not happy with their previously enviable celebrity lives. The bear-baiting treatment of Amy Winehouse and Frank Bruno were examples of this. Dale Winton’s death this week offers the opportunity for a sort of voyeuristic interest in the details of his depression.

Ant, particularly as part of Ant and Dec, plays an interesting role in the machinery of British celebrity. The duo’s core television work has been precisely in the area of celebrity making and breaking. They are the front team for Britain’s Got Talent, a show where celebrities are discovered among “ordinary” people and become fodder for the popular press. The pair’s sensitive handling of Susan Boyle after her first performance turned her into a megastar. But they also front I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, where famous people are tested and hopefully – from the perspective of “good” television – broken. Created or destroyed, all of it feeds the needs of the celebrity media conveyor belt.

Ant McPartlin with Declan Donnelly in Byker Grove.


Ant McPartlin (right) with Declan Donnelly in Byker Grove. Photograph: BBC

Ant and Dec are the innocent face of this celebrity supply machine. They are boyish and good natured, they put participants at ease and guide them through tantrums and disappointments. They have an unusually benign rapport with each other – most showbusiness couples have more edge. Away from the shows, their lives have, until now, been relatively blameless: they don’t behave badly; they take their mothers to the Palace for their gongs; and, phew, they have even married women just when the tabloids were beginning to wonder. Their brand of wholesomeness, playful entertainment and sympathetic rapport with participants is massively important for ITV. By appearing decent and deserving themselves, they make this kind of entertainment, even through its low points, seem acceptable: a quest for innocent celebrity fun.

In some respects, Ant and Dec really are deserving. They have certainly worked hard. Ant was brought up by a single mother in Newcastle, and first came to fame as a child actor in the TV series Byker Grove, which is where he met Declan Donnelly. They became friends and after a brief detour into pop, found TV presenting. They’ve lived their lives in the spotlight ever since. And while they now earn fabulous amounts, as the Mail was quick to remind us, their work is far from glamorous. They deal with the unedifying process of celebrity making and breaking from the inside.

On Britain’s Got Talent this means dealing with the casting of suitable subjects, and all the artificialities behind the scenes. On I’m a Celebrity, they hang around in sordid conditions outside a fake jungle, holding at bay teams from countries waiting to take over the set, and witnessing endless negotiations with the celebs.

This may be enough to drive anyone to drink or to something worse, which itself provides new script lines for a macabre and interactive public soap opera.

It’s more than just a powerful irony that McPartlin’s downfall played out this week in the media’s full glare. His clean personality has helped to mask the darker process of celebrification, and made the goal of fame seem unproblematic. His cheerfulness has hidden the downside of fame, the envious hostility it awakens. So perhaps it’s also poetic justice he finds himself mocked by a media that cares little for his distress. There’s an obligatory sequel to the celebrity narrative of “Build them up and knock them down”, an episode called “Let’s see if they can get up again”.

McPartlin’s tortured appearance suggests he knows the arc as well as the public. But what does our appetite for this recurring drama say about us? We could look away now and not allow ourselves to get caught up in the process of another human unravelling. Once we might have done so. At least we might have seemed reluctant to be part of the cavalcade. Now we are integral to it. Is that where we want to be?

Ros Coward is a professor of journalism at Roehampton University

Ant McPartlin is a celebrity, but do we forget he’s a human being? | Ros Coward

Ant McPartlin’s celebrity has been built on a perennially boyish, cheeky-chappy image, always at ease in front of the camera. The image he presented following his sentencing for drink-driving, after a collision in which other people were injured, could not have been more different. Gaunt face, furrowed brow, and dark bags under worried eyes, he looked in no fit state to have cameras shoved in his face. But a press that has built him up is not going to miss the opportunity for close-up scrutiny of his downfall to addiction and depression. His haggard face covered front pages: “Ant’s court shame”, “Ant’s guilt”, “Shamefaced!” chorused the captions. The Daily Mail had the nastiest dig at its former darling: “A picture of self-pity, drink drive Ant fined £86,000 (and that’s just 4 days’ wages).”

These same papers have recently reported, with approval, attempts to improve the treatment of mental health, including Theresa May’s rhetorical promise to transform how the issue is dealt with. But when it comes to their relationship with celebrities, self-awareness and responsible reporting of psychological distress is too much to expect.

Celebrities are the lifeblood of much of our popular journalism, and ambivalence is the name of the game. Personalities are elevated through endless attention to every detail of their lives – look no further than the current obsession with Meghan Markle’s every outfit, her dogs’ names and her estranged relatives.

But this is envious attention, waiting – even hoping – for the celebrity to crash and suffer, or to behave in ways that will justify spiteful commentary. When celebrities really come down to earth, or even die, there is a ghoulish interest in the details of their suffering, especially if there’s a suggestion that they were, after all, not happy with their previously enviable celebrity lives. The bear-baiting treatment of Amy Winehouse and Frank Bruno were examples of this. Dale Winton’s death this week offers the opportunity for a sort of voyeuristic interest in the details of his depression.

Ant, particularly as part of Ant and Dec, plays an interesting role in the machinery of British celebrity. The duo’s core television work has been precisely in the area of celebrity making and breaking. They are the front team for Britain’s Got Talent, a show where celebrities are discovered among “ordinary” people and become fodder for the popular press. The pair’s sensitive handling of Susan Boyle after her first performance turned her into a megastar. But they also front I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, where famous people are tested and hopefully – from the perspective of “good” television – broken. Created or destroyed, all of it feeds the needs of the celebrity media conveyor belt.

Ant McPartlin with Declan Donnelly in Byker Grove.


Ant McPartlin (right) with Declan Donnelly in Byker Grove. Photograph: BBC

Ant and Dec are the innocent face of this celebrity supply machine. They are boyish and good natured, they put participants at ease and guide them through tantrums and disappointments. They have an unusually benign rapport with each other – most showbusiness couples have more edge. Away from the shows, their lives have, until now, been relatively blameless: they don’t behave badly; they take their mothers to the Palace for their gongs; and, phew, they have even married women just when the tabloids were beginning to wonder. Their brand of wholesomeness, playful entertainment and sympathetic rapport with participants is massively important for ITV. By appearing decent and deserving themselves, they make this kind of entertainment, even through its low points, seem acceptable: a quest for innocent celebrity fun.

In some respects, Ant and Dec really are deserving. They have certainly worked hard. Ant was brought up by a single mother in Newcastle, and first came to fame as a child actor in the TV series Byker Grove, which is where he met Declan Donnelly. They became friends and after a brief detour into pop, found TV presenting. They’ve lived their lives in the spotlight ever since. And while they now earn fabulous amounts, as the Mail was quick to remind us, their work is far from glamorous. They deal with the unedifying process of celebrity making and breaking from the inside.

On Britain’s Got Talent this means dealing with the casting of suitable subjects, and all the artificialities behind the scenes. On I’m a Celebrity, they hang around in sordid conditions outside a fake jungle, holding at bay teams from countries waiting to take over the set, and witnessing endless negotiations with the celebs.

This may be enough to drive anyone to drink or to something worse, which itself provides new script lines for a macabre and interactive public soap opera.

It’s more than just a powerful irony that McPartlin’s downfall played out this week in the media’s full glare. His clean personality has helped to mask the darker process of celebrification, and made the goal of fame seem unproblematic. His cheerfulness has hidden the downside of fame, the envious hostility it awakens. So perhaps it’s also poetic justice he finds himself mocked by a media that cares little for his distress. There’s an obligatory sequel to the celebrity narrative of “Build them up and knock them down”, an episode called “Let’s see if they can get up again”.

McPartlin’s tortured appearance suggests he knows the arc as well as the public. But what does our appetite for this recurring drama say about us? We could look away now and not allow ourselves to get caught up in the process of another human unravelling. Once we might have done so. At least we might have seemed reluctant to be part of the cavalcade. Now we are integral to it. Is that where we want to be?

Ros Coward is a professor of journalism at Roehampton University