I’m a voracious reader but I’m not a book reviewer by inclination. I know what I like, as they say, but I’m not usually given to expressing my opinion on someone else’s work, outside my writing group, other than the occasional, ‘you must read this!’
I‘m always interested in books that draw on the author’s own experiences, particularly if there’s a familiar setting, so when I was invited to review Reality Rehab, the debut novel of journalist and former reality TV producer Lisa Mary London, I agreed immediately. As a fellow television insider, I was intrigued. How could I refuse?
Faded soap star Gloria Grayson swaps banoffee pie for humble pie with a stint on reality TV. But her last ditch bid to salvage her celebrity backfires, when the ex-husband from hell is sprung on her in front of 10 million viewers. Can Gloria win back A-list status, happy ever after and her Rear of the Year title? Reality is stranger than fiction!
Faded TV star Gloria Grayson has hit rock bottom. Sacked from her starring role in a top soap, divorced from hell-raising actor ‘Mad’ Tommy Mack, and obese from binge eating, her days as Britain’s sexiest blonde are well and truly over. But her luck changes when cruel paparazzi photos relaunch her career, and she and her fat, feisty dog are booked to appear on TV’s Reality Rehab.
Gloria is incarcerated with an American psychotherapist, a rabble of D-list celebrities and umpteen cameras, then put on a starvation diet. But worse is to come, with the shock arrival of her alcoholic ex-husband. Tears and tantrums ensue as the divorced couple’s therapy sessions take over the show, and ratings soar. The other celebrities are infuriated to be sidelined and Reality Rehab fast becomes The Tommy and Glo Show.
But Gloria and Tommy are hiding explosive secrets from each other and 10 million viewers…
On the face of it, this is simply a very funny story and anyone who likes a bit of reality TV will find lots to giggle along with. But it’s so much more than that. It’s also a well-written satire on the excesses of reality TV and modern celebrity – fast paced and packed full of amusing one-liners and laugh out loud moments. What’s more, the authentic voice of the insider lends the hilarious capers of this motley crew of has-beens the whiff of truth.
In the already exaggerated world of reality television, every celebrity is a caricature of themselves. Lisa Mary London has a deft, light touch that stops short of outright mockery, treating the reader to a rare glimpse behind the curtain and revealing what I suspect is more real than ‘reality’. I particularly liked the way the online press articles and social media reactions are woven into the storyline. They provide a clever, and very funny, counterpoint to the false and fabricated world inhabited by the contestants.
If you love the reality television format, you’ll find much that is familiar, though maybe a little more over the top and tongue in cheek than the usual fare; if you loathe it you’ll still enjoy reading about this bunch of saddoes participating in a social experiment in the name of entertainment, with added humorous consequences.
However, the whole outrageous situation is redeemed by London’s sharp eye and shrewd, precise writing. The first person perspective is very engaging and allows for some insightful commentary on the meaning of celebrity, the tyranny of body-image and the malevolence of tabloid intrusion.
Bordering on the cynical, Reality Rehab manages to retain an intelligence and humanity that ensures the reader might actually care about the characters. And that’s quite an accomplishment.
About the author:
Lisa Mary London went from Chief Reporter on a sleepy Cotswold newspaper to become Celebrity Producer on some of Britain’s best-loved TV shows. Her TV credits include An Audience with Ken Dodd, A BAFTA Tribute to Julie Walters, The British Comedy Awards and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! She’s worked with stars from Tony Curtis to Ant and Dec, and her debut novel Reality Rehab features around 200 famous names.
‘There’s never a dull moment when you’re working with the stars’, says Lisa. ‘One minute you’re sipping champagne with Pierce Brosnan, the next you’re standing in the Ladies’ minding Barbara Windsor’s handbag.’
Reality Rehab is based on her real life, behind-the-screen experiences as a Celebrity Producer. ‘I’ve met many old school stars like my book’s protagonist Gloria, who curse reality TV and think the cast of TOWIE should be stacking shelves at Tesco, not walking the red carpet.
‘She’s a cross between Diana Dors, Boadicea and Miss Piggy, a glorious, garrulous anti-heroine with bags of fattitude – Gloria puts the real in reality TV!’
Gloria’s petulant pooch Baby-Girl is closely based on the book’s cover star, Lisa’s beloved Maltese Dolly-Dog (says Lisa – ‘You couldn’t make her up’). Dolly-Dog won fame on ITV’s Loose Women when she married Sherrie Hewson’s Westie Charlie, in a ceremony officiated by John Barrowman (available on YouTube). The couple split acrimoniously and are currently fighting for custody of a chew toy.
A journalist by profession, Lisa has written for the Daily Mail and was briefly a News of the World reporter, but made her excuses and left before anyone was imprisoned for phone hacking.