Thrown to the lions 'Vulnerable' Brian Conley's departure from I'm A Celebrity raises questions over why he was allowed into the jungle… And a former winner reveals fears someone will die on reality TV
00:43 GMT, 22 November 2012
The plan was that Brian Conley would use his period in I’m A Celebrity to prepare for his customary run in panto. Conley, 51, is due on stage next month at the Birmingham Hippodrome, where he will play Robinson Crusoe, with his old pal Lesley Joseph as the Fairy Godmother.
He’s been on stage over Christmas pretty much every single year for the past two decades, and he is so popular that his pay is understood to be about 15,000 a week.
But now, unexpectedly, he has ended up in hospital in New South Wales.
'Stressed and exhausted': Reports suggest that Brian Conley, who has a history of panic attacks, drinking and depression, 'collapsed' in the jungle while a contestant on I'm A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
Reports suggest that he ‘collapsed’ on Monday on the set of I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!
After an assessment by medical staff attached to the show, he was immediately taken to hospital. He was not discharged until late on Tuesday.
He is now in the Versace hotel in Brisbane with his wife Anne-Marie, who flew out on Monday with their two daughters, and is apparently taking medical advice about whether they should fly home straight away, or stay there and rest first.
So what is wrong He is said to have been both ‘stressed’ and ‘exhausted’, and his friends worry that he was overwhelmed by a recurrence of the depression and panic attacks which used to rule his life.
It’s a nightmare come true for ITV, who have never faced such a serious crisis over the welfare of their contestants on the show.
Despite food deprivation, tropical storms, rats and numerous disgusting eating trials, no one has ever ended up in hospital before.
A spokesman for ITV yesterday refused to say exactly what had happened to Conley, and declined even to indicate how serious his problems are. The broadcaster says that it has signed confidentiality agreements with all of the celebrities and cannot disclose any medical matters.
'Withdrawn': Viewers had been expecting to see the former Pontin's Bluecoat with the ready smile, a stock of jokes and a quick wit
Instead, it insists that he was judged fit to appear by an ‘independent medical expert’ and hints that staff may have also spoken to his GP before signing him up. If that is the case, then the system must be judged to have failed.
And although Conley yesterday said in a statement that his medical issues had been ‘resolved,’ his family are apparently furious that signs of his decline were not spotted earlier. For it was clear, nearly from the outset that something was amiss.
He had been expected to be the Brian Conley we remember from his television shows — the former Pontin’s Bluecoat with a ready smile, a stock of jokes and a quick wit.
But the Brian who appeared on television night after night seemed moody, withdrawn and vulnerable.
When the boxer David Haye bullishly threw a couple of logs on the fire earlier this week on the show, Conley walked out of camera shot, muttering: ‘I’m going to pick up a log or drop one on his head.’ He seemed to be crying.
Linda Robson, from Birds of a Feather who’s an old friend and also on the show, could see how upset he was and shouted after his disappearing figure: ‘We love you Brian.’
There was another confrontation with chef Rosemary Shrager. He told her off for being ‘rude’ to David Haye after Shrager told the camp that she hated boxing.
Generally that kind of tetchiness is what you would expect from a bunch of strangers thrown together in such demanding circumstances. But the talk is that other signs he was struggling mentally and emotionally with being on the show were edited out of the broadcast material.
He may have found the boredom considerable. He certainly complained about the meagre rice and beans rations.
But the fact is that Brian Conley has admitted to a struggle with depression and panic attacks following the death of his cab-driver father Colin in 1998, although he declared that he had ‘beaten’ his demons as long ago as 2001.
Conley’s wife Anne-Marie is said to be ‘furious’ that the show’s management didn’t see how unwell he was sooner.
A source said: ‘She couldn’t believe how much he’d changed after ten days in the jungle. He looks really unwell and vulnerable.
‘He’s lost a lot of weight and is exhausted. Doctors have prescribed lots of rest until he recovers.
was hugely supportive of Brian’s decision to go on the show, but now
you can’t blame her wishing he hadn’t. ‘She wants to know how this
happened and why bosses did not intervene earlier.’
He’s not the first, of course, to
buckle under the demands of reality television.
The whole trick of these
shows is to place well-known characters under strain and then observe
the fall-out and boost audience ratings.
Upset: The withdrawn star appeared to be crying at one point on the show after taking himself away from the rest of the camp
Worried: Brian Conley's family arrive at Brisbane Airport in Australia after the TV star reportedly 'collapsed' on the show
the question is whether Brian Conley, who grew up in Kilburn,
North-West London, should ever have been considered in the first place.
He has talked frequently about his mental health issues.
a chemical imbalance in your brain and anything can trigger that
switch,’ he said in 2003. ‘One minute I’d be fine and the next I was in a
state of anxiety. And believe me, it’s paralysing, depressing and
He went on:
‘The weird thing about the attacks and depression is that they never
affect me when I’m working, because when I’ve got a job, everything else
goes out of my head.
bad times always came when I was alone, maybe sitting at home reading
or just waking up. Ask anyone who suffers from depression and they’ll
tell you the mornings are worst.
a long time, I wouldn’t admit to myself that anything was wrong. I’d
get irritated and wonder why I felt so down. But the more you dwell on
it, the worse it gets. You get to the stage where you can’t see any way
out of it. And, of course, these attacks were dominating my life.’
and his father Colin were very close — ‘best mates’, as he described
him, as well as his manager, driver and mentor. Colin died a bare six
months after being diagnosed with bowel cancer.
told an interviewer he started drinking: ‘A year had passed since he
died and I was not feeling right. I was having anxiety and panic attacks
and drinking heavily — a bottle of wine a night and three Jim Beams.
‘I believed it was helping me relax. But it was like trying to put fire out with petrol.’
consulted a psychologist, who told him to quit drinking, which he did.
He said: ‘The money I spent on therapy was the best couple of grand I’ve
ever spent. I feel better, I get up early, I take my daughters to
‘And I’ve learnt to cry; to let my emotions out. I used to
suppress my feelings, and the effect was physical. My chest would
tighten. I’d feel panic. Therapy has opened a door to my emotions and
I’m grateful for that.’
Fears: Anne-Marie Conley flew to Australia to be with Brian and was said to be 'furious' show bosses didn't see how unwell he was sooner
The period of his greatest trauma came when he was already a big success on television. Conley started out as Kenny Everett’s warm-up act and became the biggest name in light entertainment – after Michael Barrymore.
He was lauded for the mixture of sketches and interviews on The Brian Conley Show and twice appeared on An Audience With.
He turned down a role on EastEnders, saying that he would rather have time at home with wife Anne-Marie and daughters Amy and Lucy in Windsor, Berkshire.
In recent years, he has taken the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray and of Fagin in Oliver, both in the West End. He also tours. But there is a sense that he misses the great success which he once enjoyed.
Conley’s agent Sue Latimer said last night that he was ‘delighted to be back with his family’ after his experiences in the Australian jungle.
She added: ‘He would like to thank everyone for their kind wishes and concern.’
You can’t help but feel, though, that everyone involved will rather regret that he signed up for the show in the first place.
Far better, on balance, to stick with the Christmas panto.
'Why I fear someone will die on a reality TV show'… /11/22/article-2236569-025B1F49000004B0-810_306x423.jpg” width=”306″ height=”423″ alt=”Christopher Biggins won I'm A Celebrity in 2007″ class=”blkBorder” />
Christopher Biggins won I'm A Celebrity in 2007
Back in Roman times, the public got their entertainment by laughing, cheering and screaming as gladiators tore each other apart and fought to the death in huge arenas.
While the gladiatorial spectacle may no longer be with us, it seems people’s thirst to watch others suffer is stronger than ever, if the recent crop of celebrity reality shows is anything to go by.
Today, bullying, ritual humiliation, physical injury and mental anguish pass for light entertainment as TV companies queue up to exploit those greedy, foolish or egotistical enough to take part.
To date, we’ve only had a few emotional meltdowns and broken bones as a result of celebrity reality TV but, as demand for ever more degrading and brutal television grows, I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think that one day somebody will die.
I also don’t think it’s totally unreasonable to suggest that maybe, just maybe, that’s what some production companies are holding their breath for.
I speak as somebody who took part in, and won, I’m A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here! in 2007, and who has never regretted it. I also speak as somebody who knew exactly what I was letting myself in for and had every confidence I was able to face anything they threw at me.
When the show first started ten years ago, it was actually pretty tame and more like a jolly celebrity camping show. /11/22/article-2236569-0253E0E9000004B0-636_634x353.jpg” width=”634″ height=”353″ alt=”The show is tougher now than it was in 2007, says former winner Christopher Biggins” class=”blkBorder” />
The show is tougher now than it was in 2007, says former winner Christopher Biggins
Don’t believe anyone who says they do it for any other reason. Johnny Rotten always tried to insist he took part in I’m A Celebrity because he enjoyed nature. Nonsense!
'It seems to me that all reality television programmes, not just the celebrity-based shows, are pushing the limits'
While some are cagey about revealing their fee, I don’t mind telling you that I was paid 50,000 for what amounted to less than a month’s work.
Today, the show pays more than ever. Carol Vorderman recently revealed that she was offered 250,000 to take part this year.
I can top that. I was offered 300,000 to take part in the most recent series of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel Five. There was a condition attached, though — I had to persuade my very good friend Joan Collins to come in with me and, in return, she would be paid 1 million.
It’s a staggering amount of money, and more than any actor would get paid for taking part in a TV drama or soap. You can understand why so many succumb.
Joan had the good sense to refuse, and I was relieved when she did. You only have to look at what happened to Les Dennis when he competed in Celebrity Big Brother in 2002 to witness how badly it can go wrong.
Ratings: Les Dennis struggled on the set of Celebrity Big Brother in 2002
Les took part at a time when his marriage to Amanda Holden was crumbling, and he suffered the most painful and pitiful breakdown in front of millions of viewers.
Producers could have used their discretion in not showing him at his worst but, of course, they did no such thing.
Today, rather than anything else he has done in his 40-year career, that episode is the thing he is best known for. Tragic for him. Manna from Heaven for the show and its ratings.
The trouble is that ratings is what it’s all about. In the case of independent productions, the higher the ratings the greater the advertising revenue. While I don’t think the big hitters such as ITV or the BBC are foolish enough to want a reality contestant to die taking part, I don’t think they object to the odd injury.
My friend Cleo Rocos sustained the most horrific injury when she took part in the BBC’s Celebrity Wipeout, even though she was told to expect only bumps and bruises.
She smashed her leg to pieces when she had to jump from a great height into water and, as the show is filmed in the middle of nowhere in South America, it took three hours for her to reach a hospital.
She was in agony and had to hobble on crutches with her leg in a brace for six months afterwards. Still, it all made for good TV.
It seems to me that all reality television programmes, not just the celebrity-based shows, are pushing the limits.
X Factor viewers are encouraged more than ever before to laugh at the untalented and mock the delusional. No show that doesn’t include at least one tearful episode could possibly be considered a success.
As for me, my reality TV days are over. I won I’m A Celebrity and Celebrity Come Dine With Me — and that will do me.
But for as long as production companies keep offering big fees, and as long as people keep watching we can expect to see plenty more celebrity suffering in the years ahead. Ever more cruel, ever more humiliating.
We just have to hope that one day we don’t witness an unthinkable tragedy — all in the name of entertainment.