STAR CRAZY: CELEBRITY WORSHIP SYNDROME; Halle Berry Said No Star's Made It until They've Got Their Own Stalker. but Is Our Fascination with Fame Turning Us into a Nation of Celeb-Obsessed Freaks?

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In a bizarre case of life imitating art, Leigh Francis, who plays celebrity stalker Avid Merrion in hit TV show Bo' Selecta!, claims his life's been made hell by his own obsessed fans.

Francis, 30, says, `It really does terrify me now when I leave the house, because there are so many weirdos who follow me around. Honestly, some of them are nuts. They are like proper stalkers - both men and women.'

It is an ironic twist because Francis's creation Avid is a celebrity stalker. A fictional loner who lives in a bedsit and keeps a former Big Brother contestant captive in his cupboard, he isn't most people's idea of a fantasy figure. It sounds stranger than fiction, but that's the irrational nature of Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS), a newly identified condition doctors estimate is affecting one in three Britons. CWS can range from totally harmless interest, to terrifying levels of obsession.

`CWS is homing in on one celebrity to the point where that interest affects your daily life. People who suffer from CWS believe they've got a special bond with their hero,' said Dr John Maltby of Leicester University, an academic who conducted the research with colleagues from a University in Florida.

The research suggests 16 per cent of us are so obsessed by a celebrity, it has an impact on our life: one in 10 has `intense' feelings for a star, and a scary one per cent are `borderline pathological'.

`When we asked if they'd do something illegal for their celebrity, they said they would - and they were also prepared to die for them,' says Dr Maltby.

And it's not just the glamorous who attract stalkers. While Nicole Kidman, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, Vanessa Mae and Sheryl Crow have been in the news of late due to unwelcome attention from fans, Pop Idol 2 winner Michelle McManus has also been besieged by an admirer who showered her with gifts, letters and photos. Fellow Pop Idol hopeful Mark Rhodes was targeted by a middle-aged woman so taken with him she followed him everywhere, waiting for hours outside the show's studio and even risking her life by jumping out in front of his car.

And even more unlikely was the case of Ruth Tagg, who was sent to a psychiatric hospital indefinitely after developing an obsession with 76-year-old comedian Ken Dodd.

Tagg, 35, bombarded the comedian with indecent photographs and bizarre packages - one included a perfumed dead rat. Finally, she attempted to burn down Dodd's home by pushing burning rags through the letterbox.

Tagg admitted harassment and arson, shouting, `Thank you my Lord. I am very grateful' in a high-pitched Diddyman voice, as she was led away into custody.

Carol Hall, 36, lives in Surrey with her husband Kevin and their daughter. She is perfectly normal in all respects, apart from her obsession with Cliff Richard.

`I love Cliff. He can put his slippers under my bed any day,' says Carol, who's been to over 100 of Cliff's concerts, and admits she would happily swap Kevin for Cliff.

`I am obsessed with Cliff,' she admits. `It's a healthy obsession though, because I get so much out of it. I'm going to New Zealand to meet up with another Cliff fan and I enjoy spending hours every day running a Cliff fan club. …