I’ve written on this subject before but it bears repeating, so do bear with me…
A few months ago I was invited to appear on a TV quiz show called Pointless, a day-time show I have done before as a ‘celebrity’, playing for a charity of my choice which is laudable but not why I am appearing. Not really, the reality being that this is a popular TV show and it does no harm to appear in people’s living rooms and in whatever capacity.
But this presents an awkward and complex equation for me – one that is full of opportunities and pitfalls.
Being on TV is a good thing for anyone with wares to sell and in my case, my books, old and new. But appearing on a quiz is dangerous if my intelligence or lack-of is exposed. And as well as trying to answer the questions and thereby remaining on the show and extending my screen time, but do I need to be funny also? I am a comedian after all and so yes, ideally, I should be funny.
I didn’t sleep terribly well the night before the recording (man of a certain age) and the long car journey across London to the TV studio didn’t help my brain fog very much either.
At the studio, straight from the car to my dressing room and a cursory chat with a masked researcher. We agree that there is no prep I can do for the show and so an empty two hour wait beckons.
Why do they get us to the studio so early?
Other contestants on the show (fellow ‘celebrities’ of dubious pedigree) might have arrived already but there is no Green Room (Covid), so I am left to ponder or watch TV if I wish, which I don’t. Instead I fret and pointlessly run through the world’s major capital cities. Is India, Mumbai or New Delhi? And don’t forget that Sydney is a common curve ball.
My playing partner is Ninia Benjamin – a fellow comedian and a force of nature. I like Ninia and this is a good thing. I suspect we have differing life interests and knowledge which is a plus because I want to win. It appeals to my competitive streak. I will win some cash for The Brothers Trust. I might even appear intelligent and most importantly, I will be on telly for the maximum time possible.
On set, Ninia and I catch up briefly on the hiatus that lockdown has been. Pitted against us are three other couples, including a couple of likely lads from a boyband called Busted I think – but this might be wrong.
My brain fog has not cleared and is now even worse, compounded by my nerves and general anxiety. I hear the show’s host as he chats to the contestants individually – but I don’t really listen.
In the show, Ninia and I fared averagely with me having a complete brain fart on our final question. A question I could have deduced and should have answered correctly.
And then this week the news broke that a young pop star called Tom Parker had died. It is no reflection on Tom or his band ‘The Wanted’ that I had not heard of them and no matter because I could still share in the sadness and the poignancy of a young man dying so young. I thought of his devastated wife, his children who won’t remember him and his friends and family of course.
And also I wondered if Tom hadn’t appeared on Pointless with me? Something nagged at me that he had but I am sure it was Busted and the name, Tom Parker did not ring any bells.
But then on my way to Glasgow this week for a gig – the small matter of needing to entertain 650 people at a black tie dinner, I received an email from the BBC – informing me that my appearance on Pointless is scheduled for April 2nd 2022 (yesterday) – and is indeed with the recently deceased Tom Parker of The Wanted.
I did not meet Tom on the day. I just shared a studio and a screen with him which I guess is some kind of connection. I learn now that he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2020 and was given just a year to live. Tom battled his disease publicly, taking strides to raise awareness and funds. No prizes for guessing what charity he was playing for, should his team prevail in the quiz? Watching the footage now of Tom with his buddy, Max George on the show, his illness is apparent.
And I think back to the recording and my brain fogged day. How I felt sluggish all day, as though I was jet lagged and not very with it. The long layover of lockdown when my nerves hadn’t needed to be jangled. I got used to not feeling nervous. And so I felt more anxious and unsettled than normal – which is chastening now when I consider the issues Tom Parker was contending with.
And now the news of his untimely death and my realisation of our fleeting connection – is a sharp pin to puncture my bubble of woe – the bubble which burdens us all because our issues are pressing and real and everything is relative.
Certainly it gave me reason to pause. A chance to reflect and recalibrate and to put things into perspective. Sure, my impending gig is important and following a speech by my childhood hero Kevin Keagan, no less – but how important is it really in the scheme of things – and against the trauma that befell Tom Parker and his family.
And yet, it is hardly any time before my bubble reforms. Back-stage amid the hub-bub I am acutely concentrating and assuring myself that all will be well. Which I shouldn’t berate myself over because this is just life and human nature. It is how we cope and how we get through.
But that said, it is good to have reminders of just how fragile and fleeting life is and that we cannot cherish our good fortune enough.
I have explained why I wanted to win Pointless. So I was disappointed to lose in the last round – and to two boyband singers for goodness sake. But what a beautiful outcome and result this turned out to be, that Tom and Max not only beat their fellow contestants but they won the jackpot also.
And how poignant and sad that Tom is no longer here to share this victory with the rest of us. No doubt in years to come, his children will watch their dad and Max. They will be proud of him and rightly so.
4/8/1988 – 30/3/2022