I’m Famous and Frightened

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[related: The Michael Jackson SeanceOne World Over: The Day that Davro Died]

The mid-2000s were an amazing time for good-bad paranormal television, with Most Haunted in its glory years, and Living TV churning out a constant stream of weirdo psychics in green-o-vision pretending to be choked by dead jailers. Barring Most Haunted itself, the majority of these hundreds of hours of footage was disposable and instantly forgotten, which is a particular tragedy regarding one extraordinary show. I’m Famous and Frightened aired over three consecutive nights in 2004, bang in the middle of Living’s paranormal boom, in the scariest month of all, March. Even minus ads, it’s got an intimidating run-time of seven hours, which I’m tackling during the hottest day since records began. It’s 39 degrees outside, and I’m getting ahead of my Halloween content, sat here watching Terry Nutkins at a séance.

It’s a simple set-up, putting a bunch of celebrities in a haunted castle for some paranormal investigations. Nowadays, your reality rosters are filled by buff twentysomethings with sleeve tattoos and massive lips from Love Island or TOWIE, but this is an eclectic cast of recognisable celebs your dad might have trouble typing an earnest “who?” about in a tabloid comment section. The aforementioned wildlife expert Terry Nutkins — the British Hulk Hogan — is joined by Linda Robson, Cheryl Baker, Garry Bushell, Toby Anstis, and comically over-boobed glamour model and porn star, Linsey Dawn McKenzie, who at 26, is the youngest contestant by almost a decade, but by modern-reality standards, is a withered crone, soon for the grave. We’ve also got soap diva and Marilyn’s rightful heir, Julie Goodyear, and famed joke-thief and now ghost himself, Keith Chegwin. Incidentally, as a damning encapsulation of my body of work, OpenOffice just tried to correct ‘Keith Chegwin’ to ‘Keith Chemtrails’.

01

As will become clear over the next 4,500 words, the best part about this cast is their complete disregard for paranormal TV protocol. In that world, everything that happens is always a ghost, and things cannot and must not be questioned, especially not on a live show. They’re staying at 12th century Chillingham Castle, (“Chillingham by name, chilling ’em by nature!” says our host), a pot pourri of every classic British spook, with spectral hooves, grey ladies, dead boys, and ghostly pipers, all moaning and moving things about, and startling guests in the middle of the night when they’re definably not just dreaming. The owner goes over its history in a brief video; a toff called Sir Humphrey, which surely can’t be a real name outside of a cartoon villain that’s cutting down an enchanted forest to build a golf course. His plummy voice is so incomprehensibly posh, it makes Jacob Rees-Mogg sound like Danny Dyer, and the only words I can pick out are “their heads cut orf for treason…

Holding it all together; or rather, not; is former Blue Peter presenter, Tim Vincent. His presenting style is that of a shop assistant when you’ve come in to browse one minute before closing on a Friday. Oddly-aggressive and humourless, he barely cracks a smile over the three nights, with a rattled manner that suggests a producer is constantly yelling orders into his earpiece to reiterate, time and again, that whatever happens, a ghost did it. He falls over his words constantly, like someone who’s been woken by a 3am phonecall, losing syllables or adding extra ones to words that tumble from his mouth like those videos of newsreaders having a stroke. His introduction assures us things will be happening “to-nine” using “quip-e-ment” on the ghost hunt about to “take plate… take place.” The visuals are familiar from Most Haunted, with spooky fonts, flickering candles balanced on every available surface, and a soundtrack of trip-hop beats over a synthesised church organ.

02

But you have to have a psychic, and joining the celebs is Ian Lawman, who’d later guest on Most Haunted after Derek Acorah’s ousting. In 2017, Lawman told the Daily Star he’d been visited three times by George Michael’s ghost, who let him know that Geri from the Spice Girls was about to have a big comeback. That’s the Christmas Carol remake the nation needs! Like many psychics, Lawman seems a bubbling cauldron of poorly-concealed anger, under that constant pressure of a reputation hinging on his purported abilities being real, and put in situations where they often don’t work, and where people don’t always play along. Its this pomposity-puncturing which will lead to a pair of incredible scenes; one a hilarious example of mediumship falling apart when the participants are pointing out the emperor’s bell-end, and the other, one of the most appallingly manipulative things ever broadcast.

As we meet the celebs, we find out where they stand on the paranormal. Garry Bushell’s wife once saw her dead great-aunt, while Cheryl danced with her dead dad “when I was asleep,” quite literally in a dream. Terry Nutkins woke up one night “absolutely rigid” as the ghost of a dead cat ran across the room, and Linsey “had an experience in Greece once.” That’s a euphemism, isn’t it? I think I saw that video of hers. “I have, like, sixth sense type feeling,” she says, though by show’s end, it’ll be another celeb who’s gone the full Acorah. Meanwhile, Keith dances around singing the Ghostbusters theme, while Bushell proves he’s 2004’s most modern businessman, by wondering how he’ll survive a whole weekend without a fax machine, before bringing up “the multiverse… overlapping dimensions…

03

To kick off, Cheryl’s sent down the Devil’s Drive with a torch, to collect Julie Goodyear, who appears out of the dark in a gothic horse-drawn carriage, like Jonathan Harker’s Uber to Castle Dracula. In fact, Goodyear’s sharing Gary Oldman’s hairstyle from the film, and as it drives off, a hot mic picks up her complaints about being made to walk up the driveway. As Tim Vincent tells us the fireplace is spitting out embers whenever scepticism is voiced, he has a disastrous chat with a pair of resident ghost ‘experts’, who are so awkward on camera, mumbling and muttering, they’re never seen again. Though one did once see some ghostly feet — “you’ve actually seen feet?!” — so it’s likely Quentin Tarantino will be joining the cast by night two.

Frightened‘s first investigation sets the tone, with Lawman taking them to the haunted courtyard, where he harps on about the temperature dropping, as he’ll do for the entire three nights. While these shows are usually “did you hear that?” this one’s decidedly “do you feel cold?” Remember, it’s not cold because they’re outside at night; it’s because there’s ghosts. Lawman senses a “dark boy” and an angry guard, who eventually half-possesses him, demanding they all get out, but nobody’s really buying it, barely listening, and fiddling with their EMF meters like bored kids on a school trip. Still, he insists it’s really scary. “I feel very relaxed,” says Nutkins, while Anstis giggles, and Linsey points out various air vents causing the drafts. The guard, a nasty spirit called Dunwick, then passes on a message through Lawman. They’ll be amazed, says Dunwick, at how many viewers will ring in to report paranormal experiences while he was onscreen, which is a very impressive knowledge of 21st century television and mass communication for someone who died in 1657.

04

While most of the the show’s a generic ghost hunt with tedious filler, a number of wild scenes make it well worth the effort. The first begins with Linda’s “shitting hell,” as she trips on a cable, into a room haunted by the former lady of the house, who went mad and died in there, and whose painting decorates the wall. The canvas, as pawed at by Keith Chegwin, bulges in the middle, because she keeps escaping from it like Vigo the Carpathian, though Bushell reckons “she looks like Danniella Westbrook.” As to her name, Lawman senses it’s Elizabeth, while Julie Goodyear feels it’s Mary. Earlier, Julie spoke of her spiritualist gran, admitting that she has the power too, and as Tim Vincent confirms the lady’s name as Mary, Goodyear has usurped the official medium, establishing I’m Famous and Frightened as her occult origin story.

Within moments, she’s riddled with feelings of ghostly anguish, with Mary begging her to “end the madness!” leading us to a moment I never thought I’d see, as Julie Goodyear, Linda Robson, Cheggers, and star of Boob Cruise 2000, My Cousin is a Whore, and Big Tits at Work 17, Linsey Dawn McKenzie, lead the tormented spirit of Mary through the gates of Heaven. “That’s it, darlin’,” says Goodyear, in a moving spiritual ceremony which Keith will later describe to Tim Vincent with an actual “Wahey!” Once Mary’s off with Jesus, they move to investigate noises at the far end of the room, with Linsey still brilliantly argumentative — “I thought we just sent her away?” — and the gang unable to get there anyway, because they’ve turned off the lights for atmosphere, and can’t navigate past the furniture.

05

The exorcism raises an interesting moral point. If psychics like Lawman or Derek Acorah or Bet Lynch are able to move ghosts from their eternal torment on Earth up to the afterlife, isn’t it shitty to not do that every time? Later, they’ll visit a room containing a dead little boy, but just leave him to suffer alone for hundreds more years. Is Lawman in the pocket of Big Ghost, paid off by stately homes to leave their tourist-boosting spooks wandering the halls? Shit, it feels like I’ve got half the plot of a screenplay there. After the break, a spiritually drained Julie Goodyear’s recovering offscreen, while everyone else wows over the incredible way she psychically picked up on the name Mary. Well, almost everyone. “I’ve got to be honest,” says Linsey, “I did read it on the internet.

Likely because of her attitude, with an enormous 52% of the viewer vote, she’s sent to spend four minutes alone in a haunted dungeon. ‘Linsey Dawn McKenzie solo dungeon’ sounds like an xhamster link, and she quickly becomes hysterical with fear, convinced someone’s vibrating her seat. They’ve not put a Sybian down there, have they? When Lawman lets her out, jumpy Linsey thrashes around, screaming “something’s on my bloody leg!” which turns out to be her mic pack, and scares herself by sitting on a rocking chair. It’s a mystery why someone locked in a pitch-black torture dungeon, with a skeleton buried in the floor, might get a bit freaked out. Must be ghosts. In an incredible show of imagination, Lawman says he can see the spirit of a gaunt man with a long beard, down in this old medieval dungeon.

06

Garry Bushell’s turn in there is much calmer, though the celebs watching on a screen freak out at the sight of two dogs in the brickwork. Except, they can’t agree which dogs. Some see Jack Russells, others “a puppy and a big dog,” with Linda seeing a Labrador; they can’t even settle on whether it’s just heads or full bodies, or even where exactly they are, with nobody questioning the huge variation, and simply wowed because everyone sees the dogs. On night three, Vincent will pull out a painting of two dogs someone found hanging in the castle and pretend it’s identical to the wall, in a show of literal gibberish. This, plus the constant replaying of ‘orb’ videos flying around them, which are clearly just moths, as though they’ve got proof of the afterlife that’s rewritten the laws of physics, make me embarrassed for everyone involved. With ten minutes left, Ian Lawman gives us the classic night one medium’s ending, leaning against the wall and going all weak.

Night two makes it clear why the celebrities are feeling sick, tired and emotional (a sign of ghosts!), with videos of them titting around at 4am for more tasks. An offhand comment by Linsey mentions how they’d gotten up at 6am the day before, so by the time we see Terry Nutkins on a night-watch, getting his first feeling of dread from a haunted room, he’d been awake for 24 hours. It’s a cheery start, with Goodyear saying “I had the feeling flesh had been eaten there,” and everyone in smart clobber for Linda’s birthday. Vincent brings in a cake, and as she blows out the candles, Linsey hollars “give it a blowjob, girl!” Judging by what happens next, Linda must’ve wished for Ian Lawman to have the worst fifteen minutes of his life.

07

To set the scene, Garry and Cheryl are tasked with investigating the Edward I room, so-named because he stayed there once, and supposedly haunts it still. For Lawman, this is a bad pairing, with neither celeb prone to jumping or shrieking, though he tries to instil some dread by pretending a chandelier is casting the shadow of a pentagram on the floor, not seeming to even know what a pentagram is, even referring to it as a pentagon. “Clearly,” he says, “there’s something going on.” Then he casually makes the weekend’s boldest statement, “I actually made contact with Henry the VIII in the courtyard today.” With nothing much happening, Garry and Cheryl are soon joined by another celebrity; King Henry himself. Lucky for us he never went to Heaven, and just wanders about Chillingham, waiting for film crews. As Garry Bushell has a chat with Henry VIII, we get to live one of those conversation-starters about which great minds you’d invite to a dinner party. “What does he think of England since his reign?” asks Garry. “He thinks it was a disaster,” replies Lawman, immediately. Now, I simply cannot stress strongly enough how psychics are never questioned or doubted in these shows, ever. It just doesn’t happen.

08

That was ever such a quick answer,” says Cheryl, laughing, “I don’t believe Henry VIII is here.” Sadly, we don’t get a cut back to the psychic’s face, but know he must be seething. Having forged a rod for his own back in the shape of a fat king, he pushes on, with Bushell asking if Henry’s got a message for the English. This time, he considers his answer. “His message would be… if I could bring it in our English…” Wait, can’t you just repeat what he’s saying, mate? It’s not like you’re having to suddenly improvise realistic medieval-sounding dialogue. But go on. “…stand up for our rights. Tell ’em to stand up for our rights.” A haunting premonition of Brexit, there, from a very real Henry VIII, who is definitely in the room. Surely this has won them over? Alas, cynical Cheryl; “I don’t believe he’s here. I’m really sorry, I don’t believe it.

But he can’t end on a failure, and sets to prove Henry’s there by having him move a pair of crystal dowsing pendulums held by Garry and Cheryl. It’s decided the arbitrary direction of left to right means Henry VIII is there, while circular motions mean he’s not (knock once if you’re not here!). It’s all very scientific. The pendulums start moving, but by spinning slowly round, so no Henry. Lawman has them try again. This time, Cheryl’s side-to-side, while Garry’s round-and-round. Like a child wanting best of three, then best of five, then seven, until they win, Lawman has a third go, this time with the celebs’ elbows on the table. Now, finally, Garry’s is moving side-to-side, as Tim Vincent berates him with “Garry, look at it moving! Do you not believe Henry VIII is there?” Vincent and Lawman are adamant this is proof; that a little weight on a thin chain, held from someone’s hand in a cold room for ages, will only move a couple of millimetres because of ghosts.

09

As an example of our psychic definitely not being angry or embarrassed, he suddenly goes off topic to shout at Tim in the studio, psychically sensing that he’s been thinking of moving. “Stop being so sceptical, and you’ll find that you will actually move house!” he yells, like a man who heard his wife laughing with her friends about his impotence, running in with a biro stuffed down his cock, roaring “LOOK AT MY STIFFY!” Back from a break, he’s still arguing about Henry — “them pendulums moved!” — though I’d never suggest it’s this televised scoffing at his powers which drives what happens next.

At this point, as there’s a needless Big Brother style vote-off tacked onto proceedings, Garry is eliminated, so will miss night two’s climax — the séance. Just the mention of a séance has everyone on edge, with a long discussion beforehand where Lawman, a “qualified exorcist,” assures them he can protect anyone who gets possessed. Cheggers is so worried, he’s finally stopped pissing about. It’s important to note here that both Linda and Cheryl are grieving over the recent loss of their fathers, with Linda hoping to contact hers during the ceremony. As he’ll do again and again, Tim Vincent assures us that everything’s genuine, and nothing we see will be fake, in a way that brings to mind that famous tweet, “My ‘Not involved in human trafficking’ T-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt.

10

In something else I thought I’d never see, Terry Nutkins and Cheggers sit sombrely around a séance table with their mates; everyone in black fleeces with their voting numbers on the back, like Alan Partridge at Tony Hayers’ funeral. While this is supposedly an attempt to contact the spirits of Chillingham Castle, vile Garry Bushell type sceptics may instead see someone trying to reassert themselves after a recent humiliation, particularly in who gets singled out first. The spirit that comes through isn’t a grey lady or Dunwick the guard; it’s Cheryl’s dad. An uncomfortably emotive scene, Lawman gives the kind of info only a real medium could know, like how the father of a woman in her 50s liked being in the garden; all filled with the usual psychic verbal ticks like “would you understand?” Next to say hi is Julie’s old Corrie castmate, Pat Phoenix, passing on messages to fuck lung cancer and keep puffing away, and that the spirits say Julie will be returning to the show someday soon (note: she didn’t). Julie gets a strong smell of onions — “does onions mean anything to anyone?” — as Lawman does that thing psychics do, playing dumb with obvious facts to make it more revelatory when the mark fills in the blanks, telling Julie he sees a charity and feels “you should be president of the pink ribbon. What does that mean to you?” Julie thinks a moment, and then proclaims — “AIDS!

11

It’s a long, bruising séance, leaving Toby with a hot head, and Julie suffering the painful psychic symptoms of Pat Phoenix’s fatal lung cancer. Linsey’s getting a message from Pat, telling Julie to stop smoking, which they shoot down immediately, with a growing sense everyone’s had enough of Linsey, and her constant complaints of a ghost blowing on her cleavage. Who’s next to come through? Maybe the sea lion that fell out of Terry’s car window when he was going down the motorway? Nope, it’s Linda’s dad. Far more misses than hits, Lawman brings up her dad’s son. Linda’s got no brothers — oops! — but she jokes he was a bit of a lad. “So it is a possibility,” says Lawman, vindicated, because who’s to say Linda’s dad didn’t have a wank and some of his spunk flew out of the window and went up someone’s fanny when they were walking by? By now, Linda’s sobbing, as “dad” talks about her kissing his forehead before he died — an easy guess, after she’d previously described his passing the night after going into hospital.

     Lawman: “And your dad had curly hair?

     Linda: [silence]

     Lawman: “Who had curly hair?

     Linda: [silence]

     Lawman: “He’s coming through with hair.”

     Linda: “It had a wave in it, I suppose.”

That’s me convinced. By the end, half of them look shell-shocked, with Linda particularly upset, and Toby Anstis a shaking wreck, feeling “rejected” after no lost family members came through for him. It’s then that an ice-cool Terry Nutkins drops the bomb, “I’ve taken part in many different kinds of séance… but none pre-planned.” What’s the story there?! Sadly, he’s voted off before we can find out. We close with a vigil in a room haunted by a blue boy, whose entombed bones were found in the fireplace by builders. Lawman again plays dumb, “not sure” why he wants to climb in the fireplace, or why he’s drawn to it, despite them telling the story all night. Though he says the child’s walled in and needs help to get out, unlike Mary the Carpathian, they just leave him there. As night two comes to a close, they make a huge deal how a bunch of people in their 50s who’ve been kept up until 5am in a cold castle two nights running, are feeling drained at the end of their second three-hour live shoot. It’s ghosts what done it!

12

Night three sees a live audience in the castle, and news of a thrilling paranormal event earlier in the day, when Linda picked up a newspaper and a junk-mail leaflet showing Henry VIII fell out. Strangest of all is her casual admission that it’s the first time she’d ever seen a picture of Britain’s most famous monarch. The final night’s packed with fun, dumb stuff, like the visit to a haunted pantry, where Ian Lawman “gets his throat slit” by a ghost, and has to be exorcised by Julie Goodyear, who’s really come into her own as a powerful sorcerer. But there’s also more shite with temperature drops and arguing whether or not something’s moving a bit; this time with a swinging chain in a former torture dungeon. Frightened‘s catalogue of ‘paranormal evidence’ is down to believing stuff that’s hanging down in breezy rooms stays perfectly still at all times, unless a ghost moves it. Hold on, my neighbour’s wind-chimes keep going off, better shut my kitchen window before their poltergeist flies in.

Our main event is another séance, this time with a ouija board, which Tim Vincent gives us Trumpian assurance, over and over again, has never been done live on television before, even though Most Haunted had already done it loads. I’ll be honest, I’m not massively put at ease by his promise “there are no hidden magnets.” The celebs are a nervous group, with Keith letting out an “oh, no” at the first utterance of the word ouija, and Lawman having to confirm, as is Keith’s fear, that the ghosts won’t follow them home. Julie won’t even participate until it’s confirmed not to be “witchcraft.” It’s a small crew of four now, with Toby, Linsey and Cheryl voted off, leaving Julie Goodyear, Keith Chegwin, and Linda Robson to put their fingers on the glass with Ian Lawman, who’s dressed even more like a pick-up artist than usual, in Harry Hill collar, choker, and jacket with EYE FOR AN EYE REVENGE written all over the left-hand side in spunky font.

13

Ironically, it’s their fear that keeps anything from happening. Unlike the excitable crews of a Most Haunted; where the glasses would fly round the board, and they were familiar with the mechanics and rhythms of hitting the letters; everyone’s so tentative, all they produce is a very slow gibberish — WQ2S. As it can’t ever just be that it hasn’t worked, they try to decode this very genuine message from the other side. “Is that your initials? (yeah, it’s a robot) Are you two years of age?” Almost afraid to touch the glass, it’s barely moving. Linda asks her dad to come through, and as the glass points to a NO, Julie Goodyear gets another feeling — “is my mother there? Mam? Mam? Mam?” But Julie’s mum refuses to spell her own name, so they have one last go at reaching Chillingham’s ghosts, which — very, very slowly — give the following message.

     W, O, C, G, M, W, O, Z, N or O, M, C, L, K, 5 or 6, B, I

Bless ’em, they try so hard at deciphering it, desperate to find meaning. “WOZ. Woz?!” “B, I… are you trying to spell birthday?” Then, in a terrible moment, Julie asks the ghost if it’s Linda’s dad.

     YES

They ask how he died, spelling out D, C, which is taken to mean Died of Cancer, as proof that he’s there, (though his death was discussed in depth on night one). Eventually, Lawman closes it down, sending Linda’s dad and Julie’s mum back off to Heaven, to the Love and Light. Though, the oddly specific phrasing of moving them back to their side, “whichever that may be,” suggests he’s hedging his bets, unsure whether they might be in Hell.

14

Just when it seems the crass exploitation is finally over, there’s some last-minute confusion over a ring given to Linda by someone in the audience, “for her dad.” Was it was her dad’s actual ring? A present from beyond the grave? Nobody’s sure, so they ask the audience member. She says she’s a psychic, who uses the ring to calm her clients during readings — “Linda’s dad was adamant she had to have the ring.” Linda looks deeply uncomfortable, and as the psychic proposes she come to her for a sitting, “because your dad’s desperate to talk to you,” she bursts into tears. This use of the celebrities’ grief as a narrative device is fucking horrible, and Vincent’s suggestion she talk to the woman after is met with a pointed silence. With ten minutes left, they vote off Cheggers, who literally cartwheels through the courtyard, before being brought back all of two minutes later when they reunite the whole gang. There’s one last black eye for the doubters, as Vincent rather gravely informs us ouija board letters sometimes come out in the wrong order, and you have to rearrange them, like fucking Countdown.

15

As was only fair, viewers voted Julie Goodyear the winner, and with her rapidly-growing psychic powers now unlocked, we must pray she doesn’t go all Dark Phoenix on us, and devour the sun while puffing on a Benson & Hedges. As a demonstration of the massive public appetite for this stuff at the time, I’m Famous and Frightened ran for three more series, two of which happened in the same year, with a final show in 2005. To give you an idea of the calibre of contestants, celebs included Rustie Lee, Richard Blackwood, Jo Guest, Christopher Biggins and Handy Andy from Changing Rooms. Cheggers returned with a promotion, hosting for series 2 and 3, while duties for series 4 fell on the 21st century Cher, Claire Sweeney. As proven by its ludicrous highs and disgusting lows, there’s an incredible show to be had in this format. If I make enough money on Patreon, perhaps I’ll shoot one of my own, and finally sit around a ouija board with Zammo, Cleo Rocos, Noel Edmonds, Lightning from Gladiators, Bobby Ball, and Big Alan Jackson from Eastenders, while Ann Widdecombe’s eyes roll back in her head as she pukes out a six-foot snake of ectoplasm. If I do, I make you the promise that Keith Chegwin, who died in 2017, will make his return to our screens.

This piece first appeared on my Patreon, where subscribers could read it a month before it landed here. If you’d like to support me for as little as $1 a month, then click here to help provide the world with regular deep dives about weird-bad pop culture, and all kinds of other stuff.

There’s a ton of content, including exclusives that’ll never appear here on the free blog, such as 1970’s British variety-set horror novella, Jangle, and my latest novel, Men of the Loch. Please give my existing books a look too, or if you’re so inclined, sling me a Ko-fi.

~ by Stuart on November 24, 2019.

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