It was a stroke of genius, ten years ago, for Ms Camila Batmanghelidjh to invite documentary maker, Lynn Alleyway, into her multi-coloured harem to film her charitable work with underprivileged kids – ‘Tough Kids – Tough Love‘. It broadcast widely her seductive message of ‘give generously, money can solve all these problems’.
It was an act of madness to invite her back, ten years later, on what proved to be the eve of the charity’s destruction, to film the famous harem’s disintegration as the multi-coloured props were packed away amid recriminations, lies, and victim blaming.
Camila feels let down; ‘why shouldn’t poor people have nice things’ she wailed querulously when the intrusive cameras filmed her swimming pool, paid for by charitable donations. A nation shouted back – ‘because you’re not poor for a start’.
Alleyway started as a supporter; her voice was crackling with dismay and disillusionment as she realised she had a ringside seat filming a narcissistic manipulator on her way to the gallows. She dimmed the lights as she filmed ‘Annie’, in her well shod flat with expensive gizmos, but nothing could hide the fact that she was filming a woman that Camila claimed would ‘fall apart’ without Kid’s Company money to subsidise her desire to paint plastic eggs all day – and still pay the rent, buy new sofas, refit the kitchen…
Ms Batmanghelidjh’s downfall follows a familiar path – built up by the media as an exotic ‘picture-editor friendly’ icon, with charitable intentions, torn down and sent into disgrace in a whirlpool of sexual allegations. Last night’s documentary was an object lesson in why not to court the fickle media…
I do believe that Camila’s downfall was caused by the media – but not in the way she believes.
Camila thought that being a ‘good parent’, which was what she thought those kids needed, was shown by ‘buying things’. That idea in itself is a product of the media. The media’s desire to sell advertising. ‘Here’s a new thing that you want’. Nobody had swallowed that message more than Camila.
Our homes are overflowing with things that we ‘wanted’ a few months ago. Our landfill sites are overflowing with the things that we ‘wanted’ last year. We live in a welfare state where no one needs to starve on the street – but it’s not enough, not for food and all the things that we are told we ‘want’. Our economy is in trouble and allegedly it’s our fault; we are not wanting fast enough, thoroughly enough…
I have been both grindingly poor – I really did possess no shoes at one point; my solution was to call myself a hippy and make a feature of my bare feet. Eventually, hitchhiking, somewhere, sometime, someone with size eight feet took pity on me and gave me a pair of flip flops – I promptly tripped over them and sprained my ankle. Now I could afford as many pairs of shoes as Imelda Marcos if I wanted, a different price range perchance – but size 8s are hard to come by, so my shoe box rattles! I am neither happier nor was I sadder shoeless.
Camila believes that she has been ‘crushed’ by middle class values dictating ‘what poor people should have’. In truth, Camila is the larger than life embodiment of ‘middle class values’ – the idea that you can feed children objects from shops; expensive trainers, mobile phones, iPods, and that this qualifies as ‘parenting’.
There was a touching story doing the rounds the other day of a Mother who had watched another mother for ten years, walking her children to school, playing with them, talking to them, cooking for them – until guilt overtook her, and she gave up her job to spend time with her own children, and was now trying to make contact with the women who had so inspired her.
There was nothing wrong with Camila’s idea that these kid’s desperately needed a form of parenting; time, interest in their lives, mentoring. That she and her band of supporters could have done for ever – and been supported to do so charitably. A wage bill and rent was all that was required.
It was translating that into a requirement for multiple millions to provide those children with everything that every misguided middle-class parent palms their child off with, in preference to their time, that was wrong.
Quite why the media sought to publicise her charity to destruction and not any of several others is a mystery though, that can only be explained by Camila producing such wonderful photographic copy.
£42 million, we are told, over and over again, is the ‘disgraceful sum’ that we poor taxpayers poured into the utterly undeserving charity – Kid’s Company.
I have yet to see the main stream media even mention the £10 million that taxpayers poured into a charity you have probably never heard of – Awema.
Awema was also set up to give money to underprivileged black people across Wales, rather than colourful and right-on Brixton. The story has never left Wales; no documentaries, no high falutin’ journalists, no Public Accounts Committee. Just a sordid court case in Swansea Crown Court, where Naz Malik found himself defending, amongst other charges, his use of the charity’s money to pay a parking ticket…
The media don’t just orchestrate the values by which children are raised – they get to decide who or what you are scandalised by.