Kirsten's Topless Ambition
As someone who’s avoided kids TV for years, I only vaguely recognised Kirsten O’Brien. Background given early in the programme reveals that she’s one of those rare people that have achieved their childhood ambition, and ended up in a broom cupboard, before a long run in SMart (mostly alongside the late Mark Speight). I didn’t know that she was a stand up though - in fact I didn’t really know anything about her - but she seemed to be asking herself an interesting question, and in the course of her trying to find the answer, I learned quite a lot, and liked it.
It’d be hard to have missed, of course, the growing number and free availability of lads mags, which to some degree have similar content to what would have been top shelf publications a few years ago. Something that had passed me by, though, was the fact that a lot of the female presenters on mainstream shows had previously worked in kids TV. A logical progression, of course - but the fact that many have made the step from one to the other on the back of a spread in these lads mags was more surprising. So, now in her mid-thirties, the question asked by Kirsten and the programme was : should she now do a sexy photo shoot for a lads mag to get a career boost, having been overtaken for jobs by other presenters (the likes of Gail Porter, Cat Deeley, and Kirsten’s own colleague Angelica Bell) that have?
In conversation with Angelica very early on, the first of two uncomfortable elements came up. Describing her shoot as “the best thing [she’s] ever done” seemed a little odd. It sounded scarily like I’d expect the first stages in press ganging girls into porn, or hooking them up for being trafficked, to sound. Angelica was surprised to have been asked in the first place, but in spite of deciding in advance what she was going to wear for the shoot (corsets and skirts), it took but a few compliments about her body before she was willing to do the standard bra-and-pants shot that the rest of the ex-kids presenters had done, and thus inspire articles in the national press about “letting the kids down”. No alcohol or rohypnol required. Of course, the reward is now a place on the One Show team.
The other thing that bothered me was that in spite of her experience in the business - and apparent level of confidence - when meeting with various of the men who work for some of these magazines, even she seemed to be prepared to do what they said much more easily than you’d expect. In saying that, I’m allowing for the fact that most of these guys are high up in their company or field, and they’d tend to tell people what to do anyway - and that Kirsten was looking for their advice, as well. I still felt, though, that here was an undercurrent of a “know your place” attitude.
It soon became obvious that this wasn’t going to be the right thing to do. Discouragement came in the form of Peter Stringfellow’s comment that “sexy and funny don’t go together” (well, not the pole dancing context they don’t, at any rate), and Anthea Turner saying that she just doesn’t belong in the ‘rudey doody’ gang (although the fact that Kirsten used the phrase first made that doubly telling). Incidentally, Turner’s claim that her shoot for Tatler with a large snake was very different to a lad’s mag shoot rang somewhat hollow. Fortunately, Kirsten had come to the same conclusion by the end of the programme anyway, and didn’t go ahead with a shoot of any kind. I think the programme itself could be the best alternative she could have found. Sadly not one that others can follow the example of, as it’s now been done - but it fits her feeling that she’s a role model for the kids who are her show’s audience, and the young adults they’ll be growing into. She’s certainly gained a fan with me, and though there’s no guarantee her humour will automatically transfer to a stand-up routine, she is certainly a funny lady.
So everything turned out well, and our heroine will hopefully go on to do educational programmes in the vein of Jenny Eclair, get some other good jobs in mainstream TV, and eventually become a main presenter on the much cooler daytime show that’s created when Loose Women has passed its use by date. Beneath that though, the programme gave ample proof that women are still confronted with the choice of whether or not to use their bodies to boost their career prospects - even if they are already successful - but I doubt that’s news to anyone anyway.