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Back to real life after reality TV

THE lives of a handful of ordinary Scottish men and women are currently being subjected to intense TV scrutiny thanks to a string of fly-on-the-wall documentaries like the BBC1 documentary The Street, which follows the folk who make their living on Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street, and Channel 4's Strippers, which charts the lives of the women who work in lap-dancing bars up and down the country.

Strippers gives an insight into the world of Kim, top, while graffiti artist Ciaran McAllister, above, and chef Nick MacIntyre bare themselves in The StreetPhotos by Colin Templeton and Stewart Attwood
Strippers gives an insight into the world of Kim, top, while graffiti artist Ciaran McAllister, above, and chef Nick MacIntyre bare themselves in The StreetPhotos by Colin Templeton and Stewart Attwood

Commentators complain that the subjects of these high-profile shows are often not fully aware of the impact appearing in them will have on their lives. What happens once the cameras stop rolling? And how do these ordinary people get back to their ordinary lives after they've been made mini celebrities? Just look at White Dee - the unemployed matriarch of Channel 4's hugely successful Benefits Street - and the hate and love she inspires in equal measure to see how an ordinary life can be turned upside down by a few hours' TV exposure.

The truth is that these lives are a lot more complex than TV can suggest. Take Kim - now in the midst of her 15 minutes of fame thanks to Strippers. Far from still slogging it out in the tough world of the adult entertainment industry, she is starting work in a bank and settling into a sedate life. The lesson? People change. They are not dipped forever in the aspic of TV. But while their lives move on, for viewers they will always be the person captured on TV.

On the first episode of Strippers viewers were told the stories of women working at Diamond Dolls, in the centre of Glasgow. Kim had originally been lined up to pole dance as an extra. However, when the filmmakers asked if they could interview her she decided it was right to share more about her life.

In one emotional scene Kim is filmed with tears rolling down her face while showing off her collection of gymnastics medals. She was on the road to competing in the Commonwealth Games when, aged 16, she quit the sport, cut her father from her life and started lap-dancing, which, she admits, was a form of rebellion.

Speaking after the show's airing, the 21-year-old from Lenzie says it was important to "speak up" on the documentary. "I never said anything that wasn't true," she says. "I was myself and that's what you're meant to be in these things. I don't feel I gave too much away. I don't speak to my dad any more. He doesn't have a place in my life.

"He was pushing me down the gymnastics road but he didn't support me. I do regret leaving gymnastics but if I hadn't left I wouldn't have started lap-dancing and I wouldn't have gained confidence in myself. And then I wouldn't have had the confidence to take part in a TV show."

TV worked for Kim - which it can do for members of the public who subject themselves to the camera. It allowed her to look at herself honestly, and change her life accordingly. Being part of the series has helped Kim decide to stop being a stripper and seek a nine-to-five job, although she also attributes her career change to having a partner.

Since the show was filmed last winter she has worked in the House of Fraser beauty department and her last dancing shift was worked just after Christmas. Kim starts her new job at a bank later this month. She wants to start a family and admits she is happier "in my jammies in bed with a cup of tea" than dancing round a pole.

"Now I wouldn't go back," she says. "I don't have to do my hair every night, I don't have to stick eyelashes on, I don't have to be perfect. It is hard to leave because lap-dancing is a money trap. But I've got my boyfriend and I've got my nine-to-five job that I wanted so much."

Kim frequently mentions confidence. It was the reason behind her decision to appear in Strippers and it's the reason she quit lap-dancing to pursue a job in a bank. She's a strong young woman: able to handle being a stripper, able to weather TV exposure, and now she's taken her life in a new direction. Not everyone is as strong though.

While Kim feels her experience has been positive, others have raised concerns about the editing process and the way they've been portrayed. For Nick MacIntyre, for instance, reality TV has been more challenging. The 30-year-old chef cannot watch The Street.

Programme-makers Friel Kean Films, who were also behind 2010 series The Scheme, followed MacIntyre as he attempted to turn his sandwich takeaway Taste into a success.

The series was shot nearly three years ago and MacIntyre says it was one of the most vulnerable times in his life. Taste closed last year but the former London chef and ex-cocaine addict is now the owner of new Glasgow restaurant Jacker de Viande.

"I've seen my footage but I've not watched the show," says MacIntyre from his restaurant. "It was a time in my life when I really struggling. I exposed myself at one of my most weakest times of my career. Taste was a nightmare."

MacIntyre's main concerns are his foul mouth and how his treatment of young apprentice Kevin was portrayed. "They made it look like Kevin was only there for a week before he was out the door but he was there for five months," he says.

"It looks like I never gave him a chance. My staff have parents, I've got parents. They don't want to see me treating people in what looks like a horrible way."

MacIntyre says the whole experience has changed the way he looks at himself. Despite this, he is adamant that the only way he could do the show was to be honest about his past. "There's a lot of things I've overcome, a lot of reasons I shouldn't be here. I thought I might as well just say 'Aye' to it and tell the truth. If I'd said, 'I finished at the Ivy and I just felt it was time for me to come home and open a baguette shop,' my exes would have been phoning up the papers and selling the real story. I've made my bed and now I need to lie in it."

Graphic designer and former graffiti artist Ciaran McAllister will be in the final episode of The Street, which airs tomorrow. The 29-year-old, known as Bullet Beard, is uneasy about the repercussions of being in the series because he was filmed doing street art.

"That was two years ago and I don't do that now," says McAllister. "I had been putting up wee posters and messing about with street art stuff for a while. The directors had found me on Facebook."

However, like the other subjects, McAllister wanted to tell the truth about himself at the time. "I had to have a long think about my identity because I knew what I was doing was illegal. But it wasn't immoral.

"Even though the outcome could be that I get arrested or fined I think it was a good thing that I showed my face because it means I had nothing to hide. If I had asked for my face to be blanked out it would mean I was aware of the fact that I knew what was doing was wrong."

McAllister said watching the final edit of his footage was "cringey". He says: "I must admit, I was quite embarrassed watching it. I look a bit like an idiot, but that was what they're after. If it was just me walking about looking cool no-one's going to engage with that. You need a bit of humanity."

Professor Raymond Boyle, of the centre for Cultural Policy Research at Glasgow University, says the format of voyeuristic documentaries means people often feel cheated after a series has aired on TV.

He says: "What is complicated is the way in which people very rarely have thought through what the implications of appearing on such programmes are.

"Many people certainly have an assumption that everybody is media savvy these days but I think occasionally that's over-assumed.

"The participants have certainly not given thought to the legacy or the long-term impact of appearing. Some people may have given it thought but, after the event, you can have an outcry of people feeling that they were misrepresented."

Boyle says, however, that these people are usually the most interesting to watch and often the subjects who put up a guard for the cameras do not make the final cut.

"It's about telling stories," he adds. "And what do you need in a story? You need conflict, you need characters."

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