Page last updated at 13:17 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 14:17 UK

The pressure of sudden TV stardom

As Britain's Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle is admitted to a London clinic after appearing in the final, the focus has fallen on how television treats its previously unheralded stars.

Psychologists, charities and TV industry insiders give their view on what they think has happened to the Scottish singer and how ordinary people thrust into the limelight ought to be protected.


There has been a sudden rise to fame out of a very ordinary background where she's protected and loved, and pitched into this media circus where you get a mixture of adulation and spite.
Dr Glenn Wilson
Dr Glenn Wilson has been a psychologist on Big Brother

Somehow she knows it's not just love, it's negative thoughts and feelings too.

I think [the production company] are fully aware of the dangers of excessive fame.

Britain's Got Talent has the elements of a freak show where deficiencies and shortcomings are as important as their talent. We enjoy the stress we are putting these people under - will they or will they not survive?

She will have difficulty keeping her roots and the original source of her identity. There will be sycophantic people wanting a slice of the pie and she won't know who to trust.

It's not surprising she's fallen into the protection of a clinic where the main treatment will be to get her away from the media circus.

Ben Fogle in Castaway
Ben Fogle was the star of the first series of Castaway

When we made Castaway nine years ago we had a psychologist who was retained by the programme, initially to help select people. They stayed in touch with contestants after the show was over.

Making a US and then Channel 4 programme called Playing It Straight, we absolutely had a psychologist as part of our team.

I would be very surprised if [Britain's Got Talent] hadn't got in place that kind of support, given the range of people on the programme, from kids through to adults who may or may not be equipped to take part in such a huge public process.

I would assume they have someone on their team who they can refer everyone taking part in the semi-finals and final to, and have that person monitoring the whole process.

In these sorts of reality shows, it's always been done. There is a psychologist on the team who will be part of decisions where people's suitability to take part is concerned.

Jeremy Mills was executive producer for the BBC series of Castaway in 2000 and 2007.


As a result of taking part in Britain's Got Talent, Susan Boyle has received an unprecedented amount of attention. Considering that she has also had to cope with the pressure of taking part in a national television competition it is understandable that Susan is feeling exhausted. The experience can be overwhelming, especially for somebody who is not used to living in the spotlight.

Reality television programmes and the media can very quickly propel people who lead very ordinary lives into a world that is unfamiliar and fast-paced.

It is only right that Susan is being supported at this time and is getting the care she needs.


This was a very unusual case, including the international acclaim and the length of time between the phenomenon and having to sing again. Everything worked together for this to be as stressful as possible for Susan.

Dr Linda Papadopoulos
Dr Linda has appeared on numerous television programmes
With Big Brother everyone was on the ball with psychological support, but [it] seems to be different with shows like Britain's Got Talent, because people want to be famous and are getting what they want.

I didn't work behind the scenes on Big Brother, but this is how savvy they were - psychologists who commented on screen like me couldn't work behind the scenes because it was considered unethical.

I don't think certain people shouldn't be allowed to take part in these shows, but different people need different kinds of support - there can't be the same cookie cutter treatment.

Who knows what's going on behind the scenes and what are their expectations? Did Susan Boyle do it to seek acceptance?

We are already doing this, we just need to do it right. There's going to be a learning curve and we need to adapt for each case.


Most reality TV is in some respects exploitative, but Britain's Got Talent seemed to me to be particularly so. It was quite clear to me, watching the screen, that Susan Boyle was having some difficulties.

And those difficulties were confirmed the following day when Piers Morgan, in a number of interviews he gave, said that she was, quote unquote, "distraught", that she had been taken to a safe house, that the producers were in "uncharted territories".

Jo Hemmings
Jo Hemmings has said the show will have a lasting effect on Susan Boyle

Susan came from such a sheltered background and was catapulted far beyond anyone else. The impact on her is probably greater than the other contestants.

She has psychologically been through the mill. I wonder if her fragility has been attended to in the way it should have been as the show progressed.

She is undoubtedly a vulnerable person and I feel there should have been an impartial psychiatrist or counsellor, someone who could have been joined at the hip with her during the last few weeks so she could have at least released some of that pressure.


I'd say the British news media probably have as much responsibility for "pressure" on the contestants as the show itself. If, for example, there were undercover reporters at the hotels around the studios, befriending and encouraging contestants, getting them drunk and recording them slagging each other off, then they really shouldn't exempt themselves from the equation when subsequently writing about the intolerable pressures of fame.

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