A peak at real-life dramas - only it wasn't real at all

Torquay's Georgia Toffolo found fame with Made in Chelsea

Torquay's Georgia Toffolo found fame with Made in Chelsea - Credit: PA

I have been guilty lately of gratuitous nosey-parkering, I am sorry to say.

I admit it: I am absorbed by the minutiae of human relationships, and by what makes people tick.

It's a disposition that others may recognise, and small wonder: as a species we are endlessly fascinating - so strange, yet so familiar.

But no excuses; although my preoccupation has been largely harmless, I would suggest, and mostly contained, it's a tendency about which I feel somewhat sheepish.

An innate interest in the lives of others is facilitated by the easy availability of fodder to fuel our
fascination.

Mine was first piqued by early reality television shows, with their larger-than-life depictions of the intriguing inner sanctum of pockets of society like Chelsea and Essex: each had their salacious stories to tell and offered a tantalising glimpse into worlds I would likely never know.

The outfits, the cars, the homes, the meeting places - all were imbued with an attraction that helped to keep me tuning in episode after episode.

But it was the rapport between characters that truly held me in thrall: the friendships, the kinships, the romances, the affairs, the betrayals, the break-ups: they were utterly compelling in all their drama and nuance - like the soaps, but even better because they were real life.

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Except they weren't. Disclaimers for each series discreetly asserted that scenarios had been created for the viewers' pleasure - and that pleasure was most decidedly guilty.

In truth, I had little problem with the programmes themselves; I was fully invested in the characters' trials and tribulation, their triumphs and treasons. It was rather my (borderline unhealthy) obsession with them that made me uneasy.

In a moment of clarity, I vowed to end my viewing habit.

It was a challenge at first to go cold turkey and suppress my natural curiosity about the fortunes of those I had followed so avidly; I would now never learn if X had discovered Y's affair with Z, or if A and B had put their slanging match aside and made friends. (I could guess: yes, and no.)

But I was determined to curtail my inquisitiveness.

After all, real or scripted, televised or private, the lives of these people had no bearing on my own; I would do well to remember that, and concentrate more effectively on the parameters of my own world.

This may all seem eminently noble and admirable, but shows based on a similar premise to the
ones I had so recently relinquished appeared to be very much on the rise - and still do.

Housewives, farmers, Geordies, school pupils, A&E staff, police officers - all have had their 15 minutes of fame, egged on by viewer statistics.

For the most part, it wasn't the actual theme of the programme that generated widescale interest: it was the back story provided for each contestant, flashing snippets of a private life with which we could relate and sympathise.

And audiences did - in droves. The production companies began to win awards and have contracts renewed for ongoing series.

The stars, unknown at the outset, rapidly achieved an initially unsought and unexpected celebrity, to the extent that they became household names and were booked to appear on celebrity editions of other programmes, despite their fame having been created purely through them living their lives under public scrutiny; it all seemed rather surreal and farcical.

But who was I to judge? Clearly, ratings told the story, and they were sky-high.

It's a two-sided coin, of course; people who appear on reality television programmes are aware that they are making themselves vulnerable to the public and will often court publicity.

I am nonetheless moved to ask: Does our preoccupation with other people do us any good?

Are we intrigued about their often edited, scripted, polished and filtered lives to the ultimate detriment of our own? I certainly feel as though I have been.

When I heard recently about Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds' wedding, my default response was outrage. I felt as though the sanctity of Catholic marriage was being undermined, and it upset me.

Of course, I should simply have accepted that the church was fully apprised of the circumstances of the marriage in a way to which I was not privy.

I should have wished the newlyweds well, and given my own dear husband an extra kiss. After all, the only relationships I really need to be interested in are my own.