Last week, I mentioned a document about Britain’s Got Talent which had been posted to a website called JustPaste.it.
The document was supposed to be from an “insider” at Sony Music and revealed how Ronan Parke had been chosen by Simon Cowell to win Britain’s Got Talent. The document claimed that Cowell had first become aware of Parke two years ago, but Parke’s lack of confidence had meant that he wasn’t yet ready to appear on the show. Parke signed a contract with Syco, a contract it would be almost impossible to escape from. He received special coaching to improve his voice and stagecraft. He was given a makeover, and his effeminate nature was exaggerated (he was “gayed-up” claimed the document). Now though, time was running out, as soon Parke’s voice would break and it would be too late, the investment would be lost. So Ronan was launched. Every part of the process was carefully stage-managed; the reactions of the judges, the way Ronan would wipe a tear from his eye. It was all rigged. The whole thing was set-up, to ensure that Parke would win the contest and Simon Cowell would have his own British Justin Bieber to compete with the original Justin Bieber, Justin Bieber.
I didn’t believe the document was real. It didn’t make sense. It doesn’t really matter to Cowell who wins Britain’s Got Talent. The only person who really wins is Cowell himself. He doesn’t need to bother with these kinds of conspiracies, and it definitely wouldn’t be worth his while signing people up to contracts which are legally unenforceable. There was also a slightly bizarre obsession with Parke’s sexuality, which seemed oddly prurient for what was supposed to be an exposé about a TV talent show.
I did a bit of digging. I found that the person who had first posted the link to the document on Twitter had already made the same allegations before the document had even been uploaded. I also noticed that the same person had been posting dozens of unpleasant comments about Ronan for days. I thought that this person was probably the same person who had created the document in the first place. Suddenly that Twitter account disappeared. It all seemed a bit odd.
Despite this, people continued retweeting the link to the original document. It became front page news, although the tabloids hid behind gutless qualifiers. They vaguely acknowledged there was absolutely no evidence to back up the claims, and this then allowed them to repeat each allegation, attributing it to “the unnamed ‘Sony Music executive'”. They didn’t bother investigating it, they just reprinted highlights seasoned with the odd “according to the anonymous internet source” disclaimer.
The Daily Mail, for instance, published an “abridged” version, in which the two and a half thousand word original was cut down to one and a half thousand words, and headlined “Is this a Britain’s Got Talent hoax or exposé? The devastating indictment from a ‘Sony Music executive'”.
It’s interesting to see what was left out of the Daily Mail version. Some of it was just tidying up the original, making it a bit tighter and punchier. But other bits were left out too. For instance, the following was removed from the section on the contract Ronan signed with Syco:
He’s got little or no chance of ever getting out of it […] Recording contracts are legally extremely complex and usually require input and advice from very expensive, specialist contract lawyers. SYCO knows that such legal advice goes well beyond the means of most contestants.
This is a curious omission, as that was one of the first things that made me question the legitimacy of the document. Syco would be on very shakey ground if they used contracts as arcane and impenetrable as this. It’s likely a court would rule that the contract wasn’t legally binding. It would be devastating for Syco. Yes, the contracts are no doubt slanted in favour of Syco, but it wouldn’t make sense for Syco to use contracts so complicated that people signing them were effectively denied proper representation. It would be a huge and unnecessary risk for Syco.
Also, the references to Ronan being “gayed-up” were all left out by the Mail. The following passages were removed entirely:
Until now Ronan had been encouraged to “boy-up” and it was planned to present Ronan as an everyday skater-boy. But with his girliness still showing through, the image just wasn’t believable. So a decision was taken to encourage and allow Ronan to “release” and enhance his campness . Disgustingly, SYCO planned to sexualise him. They were well aware of course, that if they sexualised a young girl to look sexually older than she is, all hell would let loose. But with Ronan, as one executive put it, “no one has ever seen a ‘gay’ kid before, it’ll be a novelty.” As for the pre-teen market, it was accepted they wouldn’t care if Ronan appeared gay or not…most probably don’t know what gay is anyway. And so, with a total gay- sexualisation of Ronan secretly planned, SYCO got to work. I should stress, Ronan’s parents were not aware of any of this and were never consulted about Ronan’s development or management. When I first met Ronan he was a bit effeminate in his ways, but nothing like the camp, girlie-giggling kid you see now on BGT and this is a direct result of SYCO’s styling. Even his clothing worn at the audition and live semi-final were chosen for him by SYCO to match his new image.
From a starting point of wanting Ronan to look cute for the pre-teen market, SYCO had totally gayed him up in the process. Ronan’s not a 16 year old expressing his sexuality for the first time, he’s a 12 year old boy. It was horrible and I was very uncomfortable as to where this was going to end
The gaying-up Ronan plan slightly backfired on SYCO when lots of negative comments were being posted on YouTube and Twitter about Ronan’s image and the supposed sexuality that represents. Things got so bad on YouTube that the posting of comments had to be suspended. But SYCO learned from this and dressed Ronan more appropriately for his semi-final show; preferring a much more Bieber inspired look to the ‘gay- kid’ image presented in the audition.
I’ve met Ronan a few times over the past couple of years. He’s a really nice kid with a generous, warm personality and the most wonderfully cute, girlie-giggle. There’s nothing to not like about Ronan. He’s a really sensitive soul and this comes across as him being a bit effeminate. But in a world of thuggish chavs, Ronan’s a real breath of fresh air really and a real delight to chat to. Do I think Ronan’s gay? No, is the short answer to that. SYCO have got a lot to answer for in their initial styling and image for Ronan. Like many 12 year old boys, Ronan may have issues in coming to terms with his sexuality in a couple of years. But right now, he’s just a great kid…a bit different, I admit…but a great kid just the same.
Again, this was one of the things which had made me doubt that the document was true. The tone seemed odd. There was too much of it. It didn’t feel like this was someone revealing corruption, this suggested someone obsessed with Ronan’s sexuality.
The original document claimed that Ronan wiping away a tear during his first audition was choreographed:
And when it comes to Ronan’s tears…well, check it out on YouTube or something. You see Ronan crying and wiping away tears. Only you don’t see any actual tears, not even on close-up and on an HD tv. Yep you guessed it, even that was choreographed, right down to the lip-biting!
This simply isn’t true. By chance, I happened to be watching ITV2 yesterday, and they showed that clip (I haven’t actually watched any of this series, so I’m not really sure why I’ve even got involved in this whole thing) and you can see tears.
The fears for Ronan’s future were also removed:
If you think the music industry is bad in the UK, you haven’t seen anything until you experience it Stateside. With an “anything goes” attitude all morals have long since gone out of the window. There will be no allowance for Ronan’s age and he will be expected to perform on late- night shows and dinners etc. And if he get exhausted, there’s always some sleaze-bag on hand ready to put a line of coke under his nose. I’ve seen it a million times.
Basically, the Daily Mail removed all of the more far-fetched (or demonstrably untrue) claims from the original document and then reprinted the vaguely believable bits. “Is this a Britain’s Got Talent hoax or exposé?” they ask, having heavily weighted the question in favour of the answer that makes a better story.
A couple of days ago, another document was posted to JustPaste.it. The author of this latest document claimed to have been behind the original “exposé” and wanted to apologise:
Firstly, I would like to offer my sincerest and unreserved apologies to anyone who read that document and for all the distress and hurt I’ve caused to so many people. But in particular, Ronan Parke and his family, Mr Simon Cowell, SyCo, Sony Music and everyone associated with BGT. What I did was wrong and I have no excuse for my actions. That said, I think I owe an explanation to all concerned.
I live with Bipolar Disorder. The last 5/6 weeks have been particularly difficult to manage, as I have been experiencing ‘rapid-cycling’, with mood swings every 2 or 3 days, taking me from deep depression into hyper-mania and then back again. It’s an extremely confusing and horrible way to live.
The author wasn’t a “Sony insider” and had come across the original document in quite an unusual way – it had been planted in his head:
The whole BGT thing became much worse; I was convinced a document had been “planted” in my mind. It was a document of such importance, it would prove to the nation how they have been “conned”, but worse, how “evil” Simon Cowell really was. Things are so fucked-up in my head, I thought I was the only person who have this “knowledge” and I had been “chosen” to tell the world. More importantly, I *needed* to save a kid from the “evil” clutches of Simon Cowell. People will probably laugh at this, but to me, at the time, it was fucking terrifying!
I think it was a Bank Holiday and I remember sitting up all night, trying to decipher and read the document in my head, but all I could see was snippets and the odd sentence. It was like the most crazy jig-saw puzzle ever. I became totally consumed.
I’m not sure if it was Tuesday or Wednesday when I was first able to “read” and visualise the entire document. It was awful and damning. I *had* to get this document out and although it was anonymous, I felt certain any investigation would show it to be true. We all know what happened next.
At the same time, I got an email from the person claiming to be behind the whole thing (for obvious reasons, he used pseudonym in his email, I’m not sure if there’s any significance behind the pseudonym he chose, so I’ll use a different pseudonym just in case. Let’s call him “Brendon” for no reason other than the fact that Coach Trip is on as I write this). In my original blog post, I concluded by saying:
I am no fan of Simon Cowell. I think there is something nasty about the way these programmes are set up at the expense of members of the public, but I don’t believe a twelve-year old boy should be used as a vector through which to attack Cowell. Whatever valid points you may have had are lost when you start talking like that, and these claims are just silly. There are legitimate complaints you can make, don’t go overboard, and don’t bully a child. That makes you a cunt.
I’d written that because I thought whoever had written the original document had a grudge against Simon Cowell and was using Ronan as a weapon in order to damage Cowell. This seemed unacceptable and mean. There are better ways to attack Cowell. If this admission is to be believed, however, I was wrong. Brendan didn’t have any particular grudge against Cowell, he wasn’t making up lies to damage him. He never even normally watches Britain’s Got Talent:
I have no axe to grind against Simon Cowell or BGT and certainly not against young Ronan Parke. BGT isn’t something I’ve ever watched before this series. I knew about it and X-Factor, of course, but it’s just not my kind of thing. I’m more of a Guardian and Newsnight type person.
He genuinely believed what he posted was true. So, no, I don’t think Brendan is a cunt.
Of course, there’s a chance that Brendan’s story isn’t true. There’s a chance that the person who emailed me isn’t the same person who posted the confession. There’s also a chance that the person who posted the confession had nothing to do with the original document. There could be three different people, connected or unconnected, involved. One who wrote the exposé, one who claimed responsibility and one who emailed me. I don’t believe that though. We’ve exchanged several emails now, and I think he’s genuine. I think he’s telling the truth.
I mentioned the homophobic nature of some of the things he posted on Twitter. He explained:
It’s a really complicated area for me, which is all connected to self-harm. I want people to hate me, in the same way I hate myself. I can’t think of many things lower than a homophobe or racist and so, by my own actions I confirm how I feel about myself. (“Look at me, I’m the lowest for of human life, a fucking homophobe. Now hate me!”)
He’s spoken in detail about his illness and the struggle to contain it. I hope he gets the support he needs, but I’m worried that he’s reluctant to seek help because of the scale of what happened after he posted the document to JustPaste.it. As he puts it, he “acted like a fucking loony on a global basis”.
I think this is unfair. When he originally uploaded that document, there was no way he could have predicted what would happen. He planted a seed, but it was fed by retweets on Twitter which helped it grow. People on Twitter wanted it to be true. They wanted to believe it, so they didn’t question it. Or maybe they didn’t really care if it was true or not, like Stewart Lee’s routine about booking bands for a ball organised by David Cameron and the humiliation Cameron put him through:
Now, that story about David Cameron is not true. But I feel what it tells us about David Cameron is.
I’ve retweeted links on Twitter without giving it much thought about whether I’m linking to something true or not. We all have. I’m no better than you. Well, perhaps slightly better than you, but not much. It’s an inevitable consequence of the fast-moving stream of information the service provides. Each individual retweet doesn’t matter much, but they add up quickly and myths get propagated. What’s worrying is when this meets a tabloid press which has the same instinct and is happy to repeat rumours rather than investigate them. Even more worrying is that we have a tabloid press which will spend time editing those rumours to make them more believable.
A man in the middle of a psychotic episode uploads a document he believes has been transmitted directly into his head and the Daily Mail just correct his spelling.