Monday, 11 April 2011

Comic Relief 2011: Famous, Rich and in the Slums

Image: BBC

Famous, Rich and in the Slums is a documentary that was shown in the weeks leading up to the principal Comic Relief (Red Nose) night a couple of weeks ago, in which four celebrities: Lenny Henry, Reggie Yates, Samantha Womack and Angela Rippon, swapped their lives in England, in which they are accustomed to the finer things, for the slums in Kenya.

The result was an entertaining yet moving documentary about the struggle in some parts of Africa, in which the celebrities walked away with invaluable, life-changing experiences. The experiment was also an eye-opener, as we got to watch events unfold and in turn, separate the (wo)men from the boys.

On face value, money could have been placed on Yates (due to his Ghanaian roots) or even Henry (considering the amount of time he has spent in Africa in aid of Comic Relief) for most resilient team member. But surprisingly (or unsurprisingly given her unexpected Morecambe and Wise antics), it was Rippon who seemed most at ease in her surroundings.

Being the youngest of the group and without children, Yates didn’t connect with the residents in the way the others were able to, if he even wanted to. He explained to us that he last visited Africa at the age of four and if not for his grandmother (or mother, one of the two) setting up a life for future generations in England, he may well be one of the kids running around in the quarters. Irrespective of this information, he still seemed eager to guard whatever street cred. he feels he has and appeared to behave like a British boy having to put up with living in the slums for a week, as opposed to a British boy of African origin.

Henry, on the other hand, changed the rules of the game and wound up buying an orphaned family a new home, having been incapable of spending a night in their unsanitary environment. His interaction with the residents also provided many comical moments, as passers-by laughed at his efforts to do manual labour and a 16-year-old boy (and head of one of Henry's host families) quizzed him over his ability to horse ride seeing as how he is “so fat”!

Womack also seemed to take it all to heart. Having witnessed the aftermath of a miscarriage in the local hospital and experienced life living with a single mother who has to work as a prostitute to make ends meet, it's easy to see why some are attributing her recent resignation from EastEnders to this (her character, Ronnie, is currently embroiled in a baby swapping storyline). But out of all the celebrities, it was Rippon who proved most admirable with her no-nonsense, "just do it" attitude. From walking miles to find work with one of her hosts, gaining huge blisters from washing clothes by hand and teaching in a school (having never taught before) to avoid "hawking" her vagina on the streets at night, Rippon was by far the most confident and effective in her environment, using her skills to help others and find an alternative to prostitution. Of course it's easy to say that Rippon had the advantage over the other women living in the slum because she came from England, but she still played by the rules of society - and life. It's a jungle out there, so you've got to use all the tools at your disposal (or, "and only the strongest survive"), which she did.

Check out the programme if it pops up on TV again (we caught a repeat), or head over to the wonder that is BBC iPlayer.


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