Did you watch the new TV series ‘Splash!’ on Saturday? It’s a variant of Strictly Come Dancing where celebrities perform something they’re not used to doing in front of a panel of ‘experts’ and, of course, the Viewers. At. Home. In Splash!, the celebrities have to dive from a minimum of 3 metres. Jo Brand takes the part of Strictly’s Bruno ‘the funny one’ Tonioli on the panel of judges. Marks are given for difficulty and execution of the dive and Olympic diving champion Tom Daly is on hand to lend the participants support.
First up was Sugarbabes’ member Jade Ewen. Beautiful, young, slim and toned, she strode up in her itsy-bitsy teeny-weenie look-at-me-in-my-golden-bikini. Yes, she was nervous, yes she had a ‘story’ (fear of heights) but it was still hard to sympathise or empathise with the vision of perfection parading before me. Huh, I thought; eye candy for the lads is why you’ve been chosen, missy. Next came handsome, young, slim and toned Jake Caruso. He too left little to the imagination in an itsy-bitsy-tight-and-hunky-look-at-me-in-my-little-red-trunks-ee. Yes he was nervous too – he’d already bashed his conk on the floor of the pool and needed stitches. Yes, he had a story too – he had survived the tsunami in Thailand – emotional stuff – but again, I had difficulty in empathising. Just call me Shallow Hel. Huh. More eye candy, I thought, and searched for the remote. Then along came comedian Helen Lederer.
Helen is in her fifties. She’s short and plump and was wearing a swimsuit that looked as if she’d brought the changing room curtains with her as well as her cozzie. It didn’t do her any favours. And she looked terrified – like a blonde rabbit caught in the headlights of a Hummer. Helen didn’t really have a story for the Viewers. At. Home, other than wondering why she’d agreed to appear, oh, and being rubbish at swimming. The clip from rehearsals showed her being tipped into the water on what looked like a giant baby’s changing mat, followed by her dignity, to prove it.
Helen during rehearsals ©Helen Lederer blogspot
Helen’s actual dive on the show was pretty feeble. ‘Like a piano being dropped into a quarry’ said ‘Barbara Royle’ on Twitter. But you know what? It didn’t matter. I admired Helen’s belly-flop much more than the other two’s more competent efforts. Maybe that’s wrong. I’m sure all three of them were genuinely scared beforehand and it’s not fair to rail against Jade and Jake because they’re young and fit but there’s something extra impressive and stoical about a middle-aged, slightly overweight woman exposing herself to ridicule in front of millions on TV, especially in a swimsuit. Diving is a brave act in itself – much braver in my mind than dancing or singing. Every time I see someone prepare to dive I have a flashback to USA’s Greg Louganis cracking his head on the board in the 1988 Olympics. Ouch! But diving when you don’t look or feel the part and you know you’re going to fail? That takes guts.
On her blog Helen Lederer talks about seeking help from a sports psychologist who suggested she turned her fear of impending humiliation into something positive. I hope she did that because the psychologist is right. Helen’s dive might have been humiliating but after the humiliation wears off there comes a sense of achievement. Whatever it looked like to others doesn’t matter; the fact was she did it. Ms Lederer, on behalf of all the middle aged, overweight non-sporty types out there, I salute you!
You can read Helen Lederer’s blog here.