Dining with the ‘stars’

As the eagle eyed viewer will have noticed over the past month we currently find ourselves, quite without warning, in the middle of a World Cup. While ITV and BBC greedily bloat their schedules with match after match of ball-focused action, Channel 4 have elected to acknowledge the national obsession with a _Come Dine With Me_ special, which is apparently now their strategy for covering every major public event. Whenever World War III breaks out, have no doubt that they’ll commemorate it through the medium of a bitchy dinner party face-off – Kim Jong-Il surfing a wave of ill-advised hubris as he boasts about his amuse bouche Jimmy Carter awkwardly comforting Benjamin Netanyahu because the Ayatollah insulted his blinis, £1000 prize towards the winner’s nuclear bunker.

In a laudably progressive move, Channel 4 broadcasted shows featuring both WAGS and ex-footballers, move demonstrating that vapidity and ignorance truly transcend the gender divide. In fact, the much maligned wives and girlfriends acquitted themselves rather well, cooking and hosting competently, even if the conversation tended towards the mind-numbing. They were even fairly likable, seeming more like low rent, slightly thick desperate housewives than the grasping designer-clad harpies excoriated by the tabloids. Admittedly, Ruth Cisse was distinctly unpleasant and spent the week either asserting her culinary superiority (she came last) or touting her husband’s scoring record (he plays in the Greek league), but nonetheless, one loathsome, self-righteous blowhard out of four is certainly not a bad ratio on _Come Dine_.

However, no matter how witless the consorts could have been, they would have looked positively urbane compared to the footballing veterans featured on the accompanying programme. Previously confined to fleeting appearances in the lower echelons of the sports channels, reminiscing on I remember inconsequential matches of the 1970s, they seemed to have become slightly overexcited at this brief return to the popular consciousness. Neil Ruddock, who would not be ill-placed for success as a Henry VIII impersonator, bizarrely opted to greet his guests naked, save for an apron in sarcastic deference to modesty. The show thus has the unlikely honour of having unleashed the kind of sheer visual weirdness usually found only on the cracked temple walls of some ancient and terrifying Sumerian deity – the memory will haunt me for the rest of the time. The food was similarly unpalatable (excepting Carlton Palmer’s impressive but tutored dishes) but indisputably the most offensive aspect was the presence of egregious arsehole and celebrity implosion, John Fashanu.

Fashanu’s return to our screens, which probably violated an important law of television itself, was a sort of case study in the effects of extreme fame withdrawal, as he attempted to balance his dangerously large ego on the creaking foundations of his general inadequacy. There are people claiming to be Napoleon who have a more realistic self-image. Although Frank Worthington was clearly a worse chef, largely on account of being utterly pissed throughout, it was Fashanu’s blunders that particularly grated, served up as they were with side orders of his boundless pretension and mystifying self-congratulation. Serving red wine chilled or pouring hot water in the chocolate mousse are not unforgivable crimes, unless they are carried out by some delusional buffoon posing as a seasoned epicure and bellowing misused terminology at his guests.

As always, these _Come Dine With Me_ specials reveal a significant and comforting truth. If members of the public are despicable, pompous and inept, celebrities are about a billion times more so – and if celebrities are such, then footballers are even worse. Still, it’s all glorious fun watching the havoc and, if you particularly care, this is probably the best chance at seeing an English victory this summer.


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