Magazine article The Spectator

Portrait of the Week

Magazine article The Spectator

Portrait of the Week

Article excerpt

There's no reason why you should have heard of me. No reason why you would have watched a Channel 4 television series called Benefits Street - with a title like that, I'd have changed channel if it came on my telly. But they didn't tell us the title when they wanted to spend 18 months filming on our street.

For reasons I can't pretend to understand, five million people tuned in. It's supposed to be the biggest hit Channel 4 have had since The Snowman. A fairly normal bunch of people - myself, Fungi, Black Dee, Becky and Mark - have become reality TV stars. It's like Big Brother, except no one is evicted. Or paid.

Since the programme first aired, everything has gone mad. Our street, James Turner Street, has become the unlikeliest of tourist attractions. I went to put something in the recycling bin and saw someone parked outside the house, hoping for a picture. Unbelievable - it's hardly Beverly Hills around here! I'm nothing special, just a single parent who tries to do the best for her kids. But from first thing in the morning until midnight, there's cars driving past beeping horns and calling names. Nice names! There have been unpleasant comments, too: the footballer Joey Barton said that watching Benefits Street made him think 'people should have a licence to have kids'. I think some people should have a licence to open their mouths.

I agreed to do a local radio phone-in the other day. One woman, Laura, called in to say she spent £800 on nursery fees, the same again on the mortgage, and she couldn't afford to smoke as much as I do.

Well, in my defence, they filmed me for more than a year, and spliced lots of bits together. Usually it's me smoking and sipping tea - so I can see why it looks as if that's what I do all day. But I don't!

Sharper viewers might have noticed that I had three hairstyles in one episode.

But I agree with Laura on one thing - more should be done for people who work. I'm not working at the moment, so I don't have to pay rent or council tax. I'd say my income averages about £200 a week. Now I know quite a few working people that haven't got £200 a week - and they're working hard all day. That's not right. I've read about teachers who have to use food banks. …

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