19 August 2010
I haven't watched much Masterchef in either of its guises of late - I have a problem with shouty, unqualified greengrocers telling people how to cook - but I caught a bit of last night's episode as the final three went to France.
What did occur to me was how likeable and natural a screen performer (if not a cook) Christine Hamilton has become.
That awful, naive Tory wife - she pretty much existed for that phrase's coining - of 13 years ago that gallantly stood by her man is an age ago. I suspect even she looks back on how she was back then and cringes.
There was something to admire about her, albeit from behind the sofa. Throwing the politics aside, women seemed to enjoy the feistiness and the loyalty. That is still in evidence to this day. She had wit, albeit an insular one, and a natural confidence that comes with a previous lack of public profile, in the same way that 17 year old footballers enjoy their debuts and only get nervous after half a dozen games as a regular. But there was a hardness to her, a lack of empathy, of charisma, of world-wisdom and of self-awareness, emphasised by that appearance on Have I Got News For You, immediately after Tatton got rid.
Ian Hislop said his attempt to insult and send up the Hamiltons that day was his biggest regret on the show, as they were so shameless all his barbs misfired. But from that day onwards, out of financial necessity, the Hamiltons became a brand - and the previously famous one, the joyless biscuit-toting ex-MP Neil, had to take a back seat. Christine got her own chat show (on BBC Choice, asking Tony Slattery about chucking his furniture into the Thames), went into the jungle with Tony Blackburn and Rhona Cameron and did HIGNFY on her own, contributing muchly to the slow death as host of Angus Deayton ("if he [Neil] is disgraced, what are you?") while simultaneously arguing, admirably, with Rod Liddle. Neil's only bookings came as one half of a couple, whereas plenty wanted Christine on her own.
I met the Hamiltons once, briefly. I had actually clean forgotten about this until the rest of this post was written, but nonetheless they came to Imagine FM to record a couple of special Christmas shows one year and while I didn't hear the eventual broadcasts, they were affable and pleasant in the office beforehand. Well, she was. That's the point. She talked, he laughed. I suspect that was how they were advised to go about their "appearing in the media" career from the off.
There really is a stark difference between the 1997 Christine Hamilton of blue polka-dots and cake-maker hairdos and this brassier, amiable model of today. She quickly took the advice of a stylist and a publicist, toning down her vocal delivery and softening her image. The television seems to really agree with her. I have no real desire to watch Masterchef for the rest of this week, to be honest, but even though the other two semi-finalists are likeable enough (though Dick Strawbridge has to be a health hazard with that 'tache - don't chefs have to keep tasting their food?), I would rather like her to win.
For all that, her husband remains a charmless buffoon. When was he last on telly, anyway?