Entertainment

Noel Edmonds' Fantasy World Shows Us We Can't Avoid Reality

The prime time TV star's journey from conservative TV star to strange mystic.
August 21, 2017, 1:38pm
Noel Edmonds in his new show 'Cheap Cheap Cheap' (Photo via Channel 4)

Noel Edmonds returned to television last week with Cheap Cheap Cheap, a delirious gameshow-cum-sitcom fever-dream in which contestants have to guess which of three similar items is the cheapest and… that's it. It's 18 years now since Noel's House Party, the nightmareish Saturday night television show, came to an end. It was a different time for light entertainment, one defined by a manic surreality. Noel's House Party gave us Uri Geller bending spoons with his mind, Jeremy Clarkson getting gunged, and, unforgettably, Mr Blobby, the malevolent distended man-thing who came to haunt the nation's psyche.

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When Noel bowed out of House Party doing what he loved – being comically flogged with a fire extinguisher by Freddie Starr – it wasn't just the end of an era for the BBC; it also marked the beginning of the regeneration of Edmonds himself, from a flash, conservative TV star to borderline incomprehensible mystic.

At a loose end and desperate to work again, Edmonds was advised to try cosmic ordering, a positive thinking concept created by the late German self-help guru Bärbel Mohr. In return, the universe rewarded him with the grand second act of his career, Deal or No Deal and, eventually, his third wife, Liz.

Deal or No Deal is itself a fascinating example of the need people have to believe in order. A contestant could leave with 1p or £250,000, but it was a game based entirely on chance and uneducated guesswork, no skill involved. And yet almost as a result of the sheer senselessness, its participants invested it with their own meaning. They developed elaborate systems and lucky charms and studied past episodes to find non-existent patterns. As with the accumulation of real world wealth, the idea that it was all based on circumstances out of our control was too maddening. And as in the real world, contestants were encouraged to believe there was an obscure logic at play – that they could beat the odds if only they deciphered the code. If only they worked hard enough, thought positively enough.


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In an ideal world, Edmonds would have left it there. A bit of positive thinking crap, a few wind chimes and the occasional Bali meditation retreat with Liz. Even his 2006 opus Positively Happy was inoffensive enough, rendered forgivable by its endearingly bargain basement cover image: Edmonds perching uncomfortably on a red sofa, that inexplicable hair, dressed all in black and looking for all the world like a down-on-his-luck magician.

Then his ideology began to snowball. In 2008 he claimed that his deceased parents followed him around and sat on his shoulder and arm in the form of two "melon-sized orbs". In 2015 he made the rather bold declaration that death doesn't exist. In the same interview he claimed that "electrosmog" caused by Wifi and phone signals was a greater threat to humanity than Ebola or AIDS. Then he claimed that an Electromagnetic Pulse device was capable of helping to cure cancer. When challenged to provide evidence by a Twitter user, he asked if they had caused their own cancer with negative thinking. This was a step too far even for people who were fond of his batty spiritualism, and he was roundly dragged on This Morning by one time Noel's House Party gunge-recipient Phillip Schofield.

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There is a melancholy to the incoherent nature of his belief system, a sadness in his need to assign meaning to the inexplicable. A measure of this exists in many comforting rituals, from the horoscope to the taking of communion, but, for Edmonds, its expression is so plaintively literal. How is one to accept the grief of losing both parents as an only child? One option is to conceive of them as eternal balls of energy which never leave your side. Or the frightening prospect of your own mortality? It simply doesn't exist. And what if you've suffered cancer, as Edmonds did in 2013, despite a decade of positive thinking? Well, there's this box that costs two grand which releases magnetic pulses. That will sort it.

"Even if you're not listening, the bombs are still going off."

Making up stories is what people do to cope with loss and mystery. We render the meaningless meaningful so the volatility of the world isn't so overwhelming. The stories we tell ourselves can be harmless and helpful, or they can become something else, when a drive to explain becomes a drive to blame, when we turn to folk-devils to explain the pathetic state of the society we live in.

In 2016, Edmonds – who has advocated a blanket ban on immigration – was widely lampooned for tweeting "Just tried to get somewhere. Allowed loads of time but abandoned journey. Am I alone in feeling Britain is full?" This is the sillier end of the spectrum, of course, to blame a traffic jam on an abundance of migrants. But the need to explain each misfortune we encounter by assigning blame to something or someone in particular is a dangerous way to go. It's a shifting, changeable paranoia, as Edmonds shows; if it's not the electrosmog that finishes off Britain, it will be the immigrants.

Edmonds wilfully lives in a fantasy world. Cheap Cheap Cheap makes this clear in its blend of reality gameshow and sitcom fiction, a strange and archaic world of his own making, one he can create the logic of and live within. He once wanted to buy the BBC, Noel Edmonds, because he didn't like their output. Imagine that – wanting to buy and take over the national broadcaster because you're not keen on it. Instead, he made his own media network, Positively Radio, which has no adverts and plays "happy" sounds like seagulls and disembodied laughter. He created it because his wife didn't like listening to the real radio; "Every hour you'd be bombarded with murder, rape and bombings," he said by way of explanation. That's the thing about fantasy – it can only last so long. Even if you're not listening, the bombs are still going off. And when you start hearing them again, what you've constructed will seem obscene.

In 1992, Mr Blobby appeared on British television for the first time to the delight of the nation. He was an instant phenomenon, this seven-foot monstrosity. He appealed to that slightly sinister element of British humour, the enjoyment of a macabre, day-glo iteration of childhood innocence. But quite suddenly, the mood changed. Newspapers ran stories on how embarrassing a cultural icon he was. During a show in Luton in 1994 he threw a little girl's birthday cake on the floor and was punched by her father. Mr Blobby theme-parks lay disused and graffitied as the 90s ended.

Like the absurd fantasies of Noel Edmonds, Mr Blobby was meant to be just a distraction, an amusement, something frivolous. But the longer we looked, the darker they became. Positive thinking became bullying a cancer patient. Cosmic ordering became wishing all the immigrants out. That bulbous pink body laughing mindlessly came to resemble a funhouse reflection of ourselves. In the end, those glazed, spinning eyes, seeing nothing, understanding nothing, became too disturbing.

@mmegannnolan