| A sign on the fence of Big Brother House. (AP)
London, Jan. 18: After initially denying it would do so, the main commercial backer of Big Brother, mobile telephone operator Carphone Warehouse, today “suspended” its £3-million-a-year sponsorship of the reality television show following a virulent attack last night on Shilpa Shetty by her chief tormentor, Jade Goody.
In the evening, Shilpa, who was earlier heard responding to a housemate that the sniping was racist, was quoted by the channel as saying: “I don’t feel there was any racial discrimination from Jade’s end.”
The company ordered Channel 4 to remove its name and branding from the programme with immediate effect.
As the number of complaints about alleged racism and bullying climbed to a record 27,000 to Ofcom, the media watchdog, and another 3,000 to Channel 4, Charles Dunstone, Carphone Warehouse chief executive, said in a statement: “Our concern has rapidly mounted about the broadcast behaviour of individuals within Big Brother House. We are totally against all forms of racism and bullying and indeed this behaviour is entirely at odds with the brand values of the Carphone Warehouse.”
He added: “As a result, we feel that as long as this continues, we are unable to associate our brand with the programme. We had already made it clear to Channel 4 that were this to continue, we would have to consider our position.”
He emphasised: “Nothing we saw last night (Wednesday) gave us any comfort. Accordingly, we have instructed Channel 4 to remove our sponsorship name and branding with immediate effect.”
Two housemates — Shilpa and Jade — have been nominated for eviction tomorrow night, Channel 4’s chief executive, Andy Duncan, disclosed today. “Jade and Shilpa will face the public vote,” he announced.
Despite Carphone pulling the plug, Channel 4 would not end the Big Brother programmes, he said.
He added that Shilpa herself, spoken to by Big Brother apparently, felt the differences were based on class rather than race.
Duncan said at a news conference: “In the seven years it has been on air, Big Brother has seldom been far from the headlines. The reason it commands so much attention, intentionally or unintentionally, is that it goes to the heart of who we are as individuals and as a society. The latest series of Celebrity Big Brother has strayed into particularly controversial territory — the issue of racism and whether or not it remains ingrained in British attitudes despite all the progress we have apparently made towards becoming a truly multi-cultural society.”
He went on: “The level of complaint and comment shows the programme has touched a real nerve. The debate has been heated, the viewing has at times been uncomfortable but, in my view, it is unquestionably a good thing that the programme has raised these issues and provoked such a debate. These attitudes, however distasteful, do persist — we need to confront that truth.”
He also said: “We have already intervened with Danielle and, as viewers will see tonight, again with Jade where we felt their comments might be construed to have racist overtones.”
In edited highlights broadcast yesterday, Jade was shown questioning a clearly uncomfortable Shilpa about whether and when she had lost her virginity. The 31-year-old Bollywood star said she came from a conservative background and would not discuss the issue.
Jade later told Shilpa: “Go back to the slums.”
Jade also said: “You’re not some princess in f***ing Neverland. You’re not some princess here. You’re a normal housemate like everybody else. Everybody else.”
Shilpa hit back: “Oh, please, learn some manners. You know what you need' You need elocution classes Jade.”
Jade replied: “I don’t want elocution. I don’t want elocution. You know what you need' Some real life in your life….”
Jade went back to the lounge, telling Danielle Lloyd and Jo ’Meara, who are part of her gang: “You need a day in the slums. F***ing go in your community. F***ing go in your community and go to all those people who look up to you and be real. You f***ing fake.”
Danielle also weighed in and, out of earshot from the actress, muttered: “I think she should f*** off home.”
More politicians waded into the controversy today, urging Ofcom and Channel 4 to act without delay.
The former home and foreign secretary, Jack Straw, now Leader of the Commons, urged Ofcom to launch an immediate investigation into alleged racism on Celebrity Big Brother.
Straw, whose Blackburn constituency has a large number of Pakistani and Muslim voters, said in the Commons: “I don’t think any of us should have a casual approach to racism. We have managed to change the climate of opinion in this country by being very tough and unequivocal on the issue of racism in public and in private. It is very important that we maintain that approach.”
He was replying to Labour MP Keith Vaz who warned the row was damaging Britain’s reputation abroad.