The “Stars” may not be stellar examples of celebrity, your average American would be hard pressed to recognise a single one other than Miriam Margolyes (Professor Sprout in the Harry Potter Movies). She is tremendously good fun. Stalwart of the theatre and TV and film. Her plummy tones and straight talking, no filter approach to life is a very amusing addition to the group. She is a loner at home so communal living is a challenge from the start.
Jan Leeming is the posh Newsreader whose glamorous demeanour lit up the BBC News in the 1980s. She has done little else since, apart from appear on “ I’m a Celebrity” and seemed then to be ever so slightly unhinged, so I worry for her mental state as she embarks on this adventure.
Sylvester McCoy is a strange little man whose ailments seem to have got the better of him since his turn as a brown wizard who eats too many magic mushrooms in The Hobbit. His days of Dashing about as The Doctor Long gone.He walks with a cane and hopes that India might be a place to finally be still after a nomadic lifestyle.
Wayne Sleep recovering from Prostate cancer is still the exuberant man of old despite his recent health scare.
Rosemary Shrager is loud and strident, but her bluster and constant need to show her capability seems to mask a hole in her Peace
Roy walker of Game Show fame is quiet in the first episode not revealing much, just getting the lie of the land and his fellow housemates.
Rounding out the merry band is Bobby George, Darts player and a resoundingly cheerful fellow and Patti Bulay seventies songstress who also is relatively self contained in this first segment.
The group arrive at their new home in Jaipur the capital of Rajasthan and home to 3.5 million souls, a place of year round warmth , but not as humid as other parts of the country They ar met by their driver Janu. Who describes the chaotic traffic as like living in a video game.
Their abode will be within the pink city, an old walled Quarter of the Jaipur. Miriam demurs saying it is orange, but Janu laughs back, it is “Indian Pink” As a group they are taking over a Haveli, a mansion built around a central courtyard.
Built by Brigadier Singh’s Great Grandfather,six generations have lived there and for under £20 a night the group will have a luxury room in the complex.
A first Dinner reveals that Roy might have an issue with Indian cuisine, but will very much benefit from the morning yoga sessions. The group all discuss their expectations, but I found Bobby’s comments the most profound, that they will not see the real India from their well appointed Haveli, but when they sit on the ground alongside the Indians on the street struggling for survival
A Haveli of this size would normally have seven in house staff, but he celebrities want to see if they can go it alone before employing servants. Rosemary,Wayne, Sylvester and Roy all go the short distance to Chandpole Bazar, the biggest food market in Jaipur. It is a riot of fresh produce, colour and activity. The cost of goods is a fraction of the cost of comparable things in the UK. They have fun bartering for vegetables and buying copious lemons for G & T, but things get infinitely darker when they buy a chicken and the poor thing is half alive still when it is placed in a bucket for transport. Everyone (including me) is mildly appalled, even Rosemary, who is a cook by trade and must get meat direct from abattoirs for her culinary school.
The other group are navigating language barriers and and poor toilet facilities. Bobby again takes a rather jolly approach to the absolute chaos, chuckling away at the absurdity of the traffic and Miriam likewise deals with poor sanitation with aplomb. Patti seems to be more concerned with cosmetic issues on a trip for “Everyday essentials”, ordering a full length mirror when the others seek toilet rolls and honey. Miriam’s take on communal living is straight forward as long as she does not have to take the bins out, she is happy!
Rosemary and her helpers prepare dinner in a scorching hot kitchen and the gentlemen sit on the roof verandah with a cool drink and consider that there is not a retirement home like it on the planet; as they look out over the city at night.
The heat and hard work makes them consider whether they can do this alone or need to take advantage of the cheap staff costs to settle here. Between the group £20 will secure staff to assist for a week as they will be in house and on site. I have to admit this seems an appalling wage for several people to live on and I sense some around the table are not as enthusiastic (Namely Bobby and Sylvester) but I am not in my seventies or experiencing the heat that these reasonably privileged folk are so maybe they are wise.
The staff earn about £100 a month and have travelled huge distances from their families to find work in the city.
This first night working as a group also reveals a little about the personalities of the assembled celebs too. Patti and Miriam are adverse to household chores, Miriam is so erudite that her blatant laziness is almost forgivable despite her gall at avoiding all work. Patti just scarpers to bed before the table is cleared. Bobby and Sylvester are up to their elbows in suds and dish cloths without a murmur. I like them very much!
Jaipur is full of hundreds of years of history, best seen in its impressive buildings, so the group head out to visit the jewel in Jaipur's crown, the 500-year-old Amer Fort. It is an impressive sight on the hill. Previously a royal palace it is now a popular tourist attraction, but it soon becomes apparent they will learn just as much about Indian culture from their guide.
Raju is twenty seven years old and taught himself French and English four years ago in order to assist in his employability to become a tour guide. He is knowledgeable and bright, telling them about the King’s 21 official wives and his 3000 concubines, but Jan is more interested in Raju’s eligibility, he states he will choose his own wife having seen the perils of arranged marriage with his own sisters.
Raju offers to show them his own home at the base of the fort; where he lives with his Mother, Sister,Niece and two Nephew. He has educated himself. The family have cows and buffalo and sell buffalo milk to make an income. His family is part of the mena caste who were numbered among the criminal castes during the empire.
Conversation with Raju shows that despite government efforts to remove the prejudice of the caste system, he is still battling it , in his efforts to get better tour Jobs with travel agencies.As soon as his name reveals his caste, he is to go away and get more “ Experience”. His wage is £20 a week. The celebrities begin to understand the gulf between rich and poor and the impact of the caste system will have if they settle here.
This is never more evident than when they are also invited to take tea with Jaipur's royal family at the opulent Rambagh Palace, mixing with high society in the finest surroundings. Miriam is not really impressed by this outing and her concession to getting ready of a smudge of lipstick did make me chuckle. “ If they don’t like it, they’ll have to lump it!
I was heartened to see that all the celebrities were questioning the family and gathered dignitaries about the caste system. One lady stated it was professional before it became discriminatory . That gardeners,soldiers and cleaners all came from distinct castes. I was also interested that one lady claimed the poorest classes were not unhappy because their Hindu faith reminds them of the cyclical nature of life and that in the next life they may be much better situated. I am not sure the leper on a mat a stone’s throw from the palace might agree, but it was definitely a more jolly way to consider abject poverty.
Bobby is far more at home with the staff and even takes time to teach one of the young lads how to play Darts.
Wayne makes the most of his wish to explore his spiritual side by attending the daily morning prayers at the house and visiting the beautiful Galti Ji temple, which is home to a troop of kleptomaniac monkeys. Before they even manage to meet up with Raju again, one has stolen all of Wayne’s goodies. The healing waters are supposed to grant the bather a better life. Wayne had a cancer scare and so is seeking more serenity and value to life now that he realises it’s transience.
Rosemary, finding it hard to unwind from her normal hectic life, tries meditation for the first time and is surprised by the results. Her busy demeanour seems to me to be a mask for some insecurity, she has to fill every moment so she has no time for self examination. She finds stillness for the first time in an age at a retreat for mental and spiritual wellness.
To end their first week, they throw a party with performances to meet their new neighbours as they start to feel more at home so far from what they know as normality..
Next time Health matters and the meaning of love take centre stage as the celebs go to hospital and visit the Taj Mahal.