As The Critic enters into the podcasting business, Dominic Green surveys the world of motivational, self-affirming podcasts
If you really must work, Bruce Daisley’s Eat Sleep Work Repeat is full of life-hacking tips on how to maximise your commercial potential. This podcast, like yoga and other harmful physical exertions, offers to ease you off the hamster wheel of ambition but actually gives you tips for scrambling even faster. For British publication, the book of the pod was retitled The Joy of Work, presumably because Eat Sleep Work Repeat sounded like a gulag memoir.
Sarah Ellis and the promisingly named Helen Tupper of the Squiggly Careers podcast suggest that being sacked was a great opportunity to work harder, and a man called Martin Morales ‘reboots his career’ by leaving the sex-and cocaine-infested music industry for a healthier life-work balance as a chef. I was, though, fascinated by Dr Pippa Grange, the ‘culture coach’ for the England football team.
In 2018, Grange’s psychological strategies helped England’s team of prima-donna dogging freaks get to the semi-finals of the World Cup. I hoped the ‘culture coach’ would take the lads to a museum or the opera as a reward, but the ad for her episode shows Raheem Sterling riding an inflatable unicorn in a swimming pool. Dr Grange knows how to connect with her patients. She pep-talks about the need for ‘resilience’ when ‘it’s all gone pear-shaped’, and how even star athletes need to know it’s alright to ‘go to Nando’s and get an early night’, rather than go clubbing and crash a Bentley.
Feeling spiritually devastated and badly underpaid, I entered Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place. Cotton is a television presenter notorious for license-fee justifiers like Petswap and The Truth About Online Anorexia. She’s also descended from the Cotton circus dynasty, so she’s a perfect ringmistress for the confessional freakery we like. Cotton practises what her sponsors preach, too. In 2012, the BBC had received a massive 4,000 complaints about Cotton’s commentary on its Diamond Jubilee broadcast. ‘I love my job and wouldn’t be doing it if I wasn’t any good at it,’ Cotton responded, demonstrating the power of mind over matter.
On Happy Place, Cotton enters the digital dairy to milk the success of her motivational bestsellers. She offers ‘ways to put one foot in front of the other and help you unlock that inner happiness’. How she unlocks inner happiness with her foot is not satisfactorily elucidated in what follows, but Cotton does threaten to ‘draw on her own experiences’ as she guides you ‘through feeling blue to finding joy’.
I was all ready to slide into Fearne’s happy place when I saw Russell Brand had got there first. Helplessly I clicked on the playlist, not because, with Roger Scruton gone, Brand is our premier public exponent of Lebensphilosophie – you just Kant get the staff these days – but because I hoped that Brand, after therapy for sex, drug and alcohol addiction and marriage to Katy Perry, might offer some Tiresias-like life-hacks for perking up the human condition.
Brand did not disappoint from the moment he confessed to bingeing on chocolate and porn as a child, and becoming a bit more impulsive after that. But then, he is the hardest-working prat in showbiz. If one of Fearne’s ringmaster forebears asked him to put his head in the lion’s mouth, Russell would lean in. He’d still be talking after the lion had, as we all do when listening to Russell, clenched its jaws.
I was all ready to slide into Fearne’s happy place when I saw Russell Brand had got there first. Helplessly I clicked on the playlist.
Brand talked his usual alarming blarney of moronic bantz and the odd killer one-liner, like Oscar Wilde on ketamine. You could tell he’d taken the therapy to heart, because he didn’t put the moves on Cotton, at least not during the podcast. Every time he tried to blather his way out, Cotton gently but firmly pinned him to the couch. It was fascinating and, to my horror, enlightening.
‘I got a bit caught up in essence,’ Russell admitted. ‘Kierkegaard, Sartre and Camus say there is no essence… You have to find your own meaning, it’s not like there is an “essential Fearne Cotton”, which is an album I’d like to hear.’
‘Mmm,’ said Fearne. ‘I don’t mean to sound arrogant like I’m one of the philosophers, but I do think there’s that magic you can’t explain.’
Fearne had initially asked Russell for some advice on how to bring less ‘drama into our lives’, but now we were off to the metaphysical races.
‘The wound, some say, never dies, but the wound can become a salve, a portal that can be your connection to a higher self,’ said Brand, taking the Parsifal line on life-hacking. ‘This is a deep and mythic theme, that from the wound comes salvation.’
Fearne, I hear, sports a giant tattoo of a fern on her torso. To really attain his Wagnerian redemption, Brand should brand himself with an iron. Rio Ferdinand, meanwhile, is rebranding himself with Fearne’s help. Rio played for the England before Dr Grange’s arrival, so his souvenirs include 81 caps, three bans for speeding and one for drunken driving, a cameo in a team mates’ group sex video in Ayia Napa, testimony in a teammate’s rape trial, allegations of threatening behaviour towards the woman in that case, suspension for bringing the game into disrepute by using misogynistic language and, the Sunday Mirror claimed in court, cheating with ten different women on his wife Rebecca. She, the mother of his three children, died of breast cancer in 2015.
Rio has subsequently rebooted his commercial potential on reality television and is now married to shy and modest Kate Wright from The Only Way is Essex. While Fearne, who is on the BBC, was cross-promoting her book, Rio and Kate were cross-promoting their BBC television documentary Rio and Kate which, Fearne told us, was ‘stunning’ as well as being set in their ‘beautiful home’.
Kate was ‘super-vulnerable’ when she, Rio, the kids and a camera crew entered family counselling with Child Bereavement UK, because her and Rio were on the verge of splitting up. But she and Rio both found the emotional coaching useful and, Rio mumbled when he could get a word in edgeways, ‘therapeutic’.
‘When I met you, you just did not communicate,’ Kate told Rio. ‘Quite a lot of your family were like that. You just didn’t speak about what you felt but you could tell that you was harbouring thoughts.’
‘Mmm,’ Fearne salivated.
‘I been carrying around all these feelings about people,’ Rio confessed. ‘Every time I’ve gone into a situation and spoke, I just felt like a feather flying about in the air… My conscience is clearer.’
Unlike in the Daphne du Maurier novel, Rebecca didn’t get a mention. Fearne referred with Victorian prurience to ‘family grief’ and ‘the loss of the children’s mother’, but the real story was the challenges the likeable and caring Kate faces as she tries to make a new family. Nor did Fearne mention Rio’s first venture in reality television, the Ayia Napa footballers’ orgy that, the Sunday Herald warned, gave eye-watering insight into ‘the murky and sordid world of roasting’. But then, step-parenting is a game of two halves.
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