Vanessa’s Real Lives

Thursday, December 7, 2006 by

Whereas some might consider Vanessa Feltz’s new daytime show to be exploitationist, could it actually be a forum for challenging and re-evaluating societal norms?

By providing a platform for some of Britain’s “most controversial personalities”, Vanessa’s Real Lives enables a consideration of taboo subjects and unconventional behaviour. The episode in question considered appropriate age limits for sexual relationships, what society considers a proper expression of maternal love and the untapped potential of alternative health products.

Granted this was done by bringing on Lucy “Miss Lust” Hayward, a former teacher who was jailed for sleeping with a 15-year old school-boy; Veronika “Bitty”, Robinson, who breast-fed her two kids until the age of seven; and Jim Crawford, a man who’s elixir of youth is a phial of his own urine, but you can’t make an omelette without having a frank discussion with those eggs.

Hayward was first and gave an account of the relationship she’d started at 31 with a boy half her age.

Apparently, she’d been in an “oppressive relationship during her 20s” when she wasn’t allowed out much (I dare say the two kids she was supposed to be raising during the time may have limited her nightlife). When she moved to take a new job as an English teacher she starting socialising with younger people in the town who had “similar tastes in music”, and subsequently met the adolescent in question.

According to Hayward, he was a typical “Jack the lad, confident, cocky, a charming young man”, and in Vanessa’s treacly phrase, “Cupid’s dart struck very heavily and [she] fell in love”.

Hayward rebutted any cradle-snatching accusations by reminding us that she’d been in an “oppressive relationship during her 20s”. He was “15 going on 25″, and seeing as she was 31 going on 15, then in one sense you could say he was older than her. She made him feel like a man and he took her back to the youth she’d “lost”.

However, societal disapproval of such relationships led to her being fired from her job, convicted of indecent assault, jailed for two years and placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for eight years. Because of this she now finds it extremely difficult to get work and resents being classified with paedophiles, especially considering the sexual abuse she’d suffered when young. She was the real victim here, and lest we forget she had been in an “oppressive relationship during her 20s”.

What the show failed to mention was that Hayward had been jailed for cannabis possession at the time of the indecent assault conviction, having allowed her home to be used by other teenagers to have “pot parties”. And while she may have claimed the relationship developed out of “mutual respect and friendship” it ended with the boy running away from home before revealing the details of the tryst to his parents. They claimed his personality changed as a consequence of the affair and he become withdrawn and introverted (maybe he was worn out from using all the sex toys and videos found by the police at his mistress’ flat). Hardly the most responsible actions from someone whose job description entails a significant amount of in loco parentis.

Hayward was also recently exposed by the People newspaper to be working as a dominatrix and caning punters while wearing a mortarboard and gown: I guess this must be payback for that oppressive relationship she had in her 20s …

But her story at least started a discussion on this particular societal norm. Was she the victim in all of this? Had the young man been exploited and harmed by such a relationship? And is Vanessa Feltz really a MILF?

While there was general disapproval among the audience, most struggled to articulate exactly how Hayward had transgressed, although to be fair they hadn’t been given all the facts. One woman argued that, “He was a young man with his life ahead of him”, as if he’d been killed in a road accident. Another stated, “He’s 15 – not a man. You wouldn’t sleep with your own father and brother”. Hayward, perhaps understandably, retorted that it’s “not really the same thing”, and Feltz agreed that it was a completely different topic (probably tomorrow’s).

Hayward further tried to excuse her lack of responsibility by claiming to have been “vulnerable” at the time of the affair due to the – yes – “oppressive relationship she’d had in her 20s”. Vanessa informed us that she was in her similar situation when her marriage had ended and one of her daughter’s friends informed her she was a “MILF”, but despite her own “vulnerability” at the time she hadn’t taken advantage of the situation as she “couldn’t have faced his mother afterwards”.

The MILF topic clearly struck a chord in one young man who seizeed his opportunity to display his support for sexual generation games by kissing Vanessa’s hand, telling her: “You very gorgeous – I like mature women. Can I call you baby?”

Keen to act on his beliefs, the gigolo insisted on dancing for Vanessa (“You are gorgeous – can I dance for you?”). While she took his place in the audience, he stood with his arms above his head, gyrating his hips and thrusting his pelvis. He then crouched down and brought his head level with her waist, gliding up along her torso and for good measure poking his nose into her cleavage. As his closer, he then lifted his shirt to expose his six-pack and nipples. Unfortunately, this did nothing for Vanessa (“I’m feeling hot – but only with embarrassment”), or Hayward. But then he was probably more than half her age.

Continuing the theme of matronly love was breast-feeding counsellor Veronika Robinson. Breast was most definitely best for her and her two children, who she’d breast-fed until the age of seven, having left the decision of when to wean to them.

The objections from the audience varied, beginning with practical issues (teething and biting). However, Robinson used this to her advantage as a means to set parenting guidelines: “You put the baby down and you say ‘no!’, and they learn very, very quickly that if they want to breast feed they don’t put those teeth in.”

This lesson had been so well learnt that when one of her daughters was asked to write a list of what she wanted for her ninth birthday at the top she wrote “bitty”. Well she probably didn’t phrase it quite that way but “birthday bitty” was what she’d got, and apparently, “It made her day and she had a very special memory of it”. No doubt she’ll be recounting it to a psychotherapist in a few years time.

Shifting the issue, Robinson argued that breastfeeding is a taboo in our culture, and one of the reasons people “have a problem is that they don’t see it”. However, as most of the mums in the audience were quick to point out, weaning is more associated with setting age-appropriate behaviour. One commented that you wouldn’t have your children using the potty at seven just because they still wanted to.

Being a breast-feeding counsellor means Robinson was bound to emphasise the nutritional benefits of mother’s milk, but as one woman pointed out, why not just give it to them in a cup? With the zeal of a convert, Robinson continued to fixate on what she perceived to be a cultural taboo over breastfeeding, coming to the bizarre conclusion that, “We live in a culture where it’s fine to have a relationship with inanimate objects, yet we don’t want our kids to have one with human beings”.

Until this point women were dominating the debate, so it was nice to hear the male perspective. Unfortunately, it came from the MILF-loving dancer, who asked Robinson, “Do you know when you breast feed, do your boobs get bigger?” When this was confirmed he replied, “That’s why you want to breast feed, because you want your boobs big, eh?” Rather than seeing breast feeding at such a late age as unnatural he was simply jealous (“The kid is seven years old – it’s unfair!”).

The final guest was Jim Crawford, keen to explain the health and well-being that can be obtained by drinking your own urine. Jim’s life had changed four years ago when a friend had recommended a book on the potential benefits of drinking your own. Apparently, out of the “hundreds” of people she knew he was one of only six people she considered “open-minded” enough to share the information with. Or maybe she just didn’t like him.

Jim argued that urine is misunderstood and is actually the most medically researched substance in the world. On that basis, blood can’t be too far behind and I’d like to see someone on daytime TV using this argument to defend drinking it. Urine is, according to Crawford, “your own way of making you healthy”, although I was always under the impression it accomplished this by an outward rather than inward flow.

But in case anyone thought Jim was taking the piss (and with the authenticity of guests on a Vanessa Feltz show always open to question), a quick necking of a flute of his own vintage proved beyond doubt that he literally was.

If anyone was curious about the flavour then, according to the connoisseur, it has its own individual taste and changes according to gender. But how did he know this? Jim smirked rather too quickly for comfort in response to Vanessa’s query. It emerged his girlfriend practiced urine therapy on an “ad hoc basis when she fancies it”. It presented a lovely image in my mind, but as a picture tells a 1000 words, for the purposes of space I’ll go no further.

Apart from the hitherto disregarded nutritional benefits, there’s also the opportunity to incorporate urine into your beauty regimen. Jim uses it to hydrate his skin, claiming it calms after a shave “like nothing else”. To demonstrate this, and because he’s worth it, he smeared a couple of droplets around his chin, informing his perturbed audience that, “It will go straight through the skin and into it very quickly”.

Although informing him that he “smells like wee”, Vanessa was quick to sing the praises of his complexion. From a distance. And his skin did look relatively smooth and line free. But also unmistakeably yellow (just like his teeth), so I personally won’t be ditching the Clinique three-step system just yet.

As we returned to an audience uniformly unimpressed by Jim’s urine therapy, he did have one supporter.

Unfortunately, it was Veronika.

Her mother also takes the piss and recommends it to her grandchildren as a “great hair conditioner”. However, it might have the unfortunate side-effect whereby your female offspring breastfeed for prolonged periods.

Taken together, the show’s deviant trio demonstrate how unexamined social norms sometimes are for some people. While it’s easy to recognise when they’re being contravened, it’s sometimes more difficult to define exactly what the deviance is about the behaviour in question, apart from the jarring unconventionality.

This is well illustrated by the final comment from a member of the audience about Crawford’s urine-drinking – “I feel like I’m gong to be sick. I just don’t get it! I understand you’re not hurting anyone by doing this, so fair play to you, but personally, I think it’s wrong!”

Societal norm pariahs or pioneers? Here’s to you, Mrs Robinson, Mr Crawford and Ms Hayward.


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