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Mad, bad and very sad...the 'animals' of Celeb Zoo; SUPERSTARS CUT OFF FROM REAL WORLD LIKE CAGED BEASTS.

Byline: LORNE JACKSON

PAST the stench of dry hay and damp droppings we walk. Past the fur-coated gossip from the monkey house, the sunset glow of listless lions, the white heat of pacing polar bears. None of these attractions interests us. We're heading for the main event.

And here we are at last... the caged superstars.

Jack Nicholson prowls and grunts, grunts and prowls.

But what's this? He's just spotted a nubile young starlet at the other end of his enclosure, thrown in by one of the keepers.

It must be Jack's feeding time. Lolloping over, he starts tenderising his lithesome lunch with a few quips, delivered in that dry, ironic, sleepy twang.

Then Jack raises a Jack eyebrow. He's going in for the kill.

Let's move hastily away from this shocking scene. Clearly nature can be cruel; but the celebrity world is crueler.

The next cage has reinforced glass instead of bars because the exhibits could easily slip through metal poles, no matter how closely fitted. A sign plastered across the front reads: Please Don't Feed The Supermodels.

Inside Naomi and Claudia snarl, hiss, spit and claw at each other. Welcome to the Celebrity Zoo - you'll never be disappointed.

Perhaps you don't believe celebs really live in a purpose-built zoo. But what else would you call Los Angeles?

Celebs are quite clearly held captive, prisoners of the public's ferocious fascination.

At this point I could come over all sympathetic. Commiserate with superstars constantly badgered by the likes of you and me.

But don't be fooled. They aren't swimming in a pool of tears.

They're swimming in an Olympiclength, guitar-shaped pool, built in the grounds of their California mansion, with designer deckchairs, mini-bar and Ramon, an illegalimmigrant handyman from Mexico, paid minimum wages to scoop up leaves.

And it's not as if anybody's forced to be famous.

There's always the door marked EXIT. Just ask Mickey Rourke.

Nonplussed by all the adulation he received, the Mickster came up with an ingenious two-point plan.

Step 1: Star in a series of rubbish movies. Step 2: Mangle good looks with dubious plastic surgery.

In no time at all he was nobody at all. At this moment he's probably grinning with relief because of his lucky escape.

Well, he would be if that tortured Tupperware party he calls a face could contort itself into anything resembling a smile.

Rumour has it that Michael Jackson has also had a small nip and tuck here and there. And the selfanointed King of Pop has certainly made some bad movies in his time. Moonwalker, The Wiz and Captain Eo are bad - they're bad.

But rather than suffering Rourke's drift from stardom, Jacko remains as famous as ever.

I wonder why? Perhaps it has something to do with his friendship with small boys? In one of his songs the pop star complains he just wants to be left alone.

Unfortunately, when it's beddy-bye time, the last thing he wants is to be on his own.

Now Jacko's lawyers are ready to tell the world that there's nothing wrong with a 45-year-old man sleeping with children he's not related to. Plastic surgery only distorts the face. But copious amounts of money and fame clearly twist any sense of propriety or moral rectitude.

Jacko should have seen this court case coming. But unfortunately he's trapped in his cage in the celebrity zoo, blocked off from common sense, common decency and the common people.

He thought he could do what he wanted. For many years he did.

His actions were constantly questioned and criticised, but no-one could get through. Money and music provided a buffer zone. Just like any other animal that's spent its life in a cage, he seemed oblivious to his surroundings, unaware we were watching all the time.

The Celebrity Zoo has many outposts.

No doubt the inhabitants of Primrose Hill believe they're living in one such branch. There's nothing remotely prim about this affluent London suburb.

In the large enclosure you'll find all your favourite celebs at play, rubbing up against one another, picking at each other's glossy coats, searching for fleas.

Queen of the Hill is model Kate Moss.

The gang also includes Jude Law, Liam Gallagher, half of the Appleton sisters, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stella McCartney (when she's not in her Cotswolds hideaway)... the list goes on and on.

And what fun they get up to. Jude Law's marriage to Sadie Frost allegedly collapsed when the pair got involved in kinky wife-swapping sessions with Supergrass drummer Danny Goffey and his lover Pearl Lowe.

Pearl also has a 15-year-old daughter named Daisy. The father is another Primrose Hillbilly, Gavin Rossdale, from rock band Bush, who lives in the area with his wife, American singer Gwen Stefani.

Meanwhile, ageing model Moss is proving that Primrose Hill means never having to admit being over the hill.

She's currently enjoying a ragged romance with Pete Doherty, the crackhead frontman with rock band Babyshambles.

And on it goes, in this affluent suburb's very merry Merry-GoRound.

But, unlike their American counterparts in Hollywoodland, there's something positively twee about all this hedgerow rogering taking place in London, NW1.

When American stars screw or screw up, it has all the tasty trauma of Technicolor.

Whatever happens in the Michael Jackson case, it will be the sensation of the age. After all, the man is larger than life, frothier than fiction. But Jude? Kate? Sadie? Dear, oh dear, oh dear.

I'm sure they're under the illusion that their activities are all dreadfully Bohemian but what they remind me of is those terrible suburban swingers from the 1970s.

Driven into a sexual frenzy after watching too many Old Spice and Flake adverts, Rod and Tracie organise a little soiree with neighbours Terry and June.

Terry and June arrive 7.30pm sharp, nibble After Eights, and chitchat politely.

'Ooh, Tracie, love the rubber plant, is it real?'

'Tell me again, Rod, how does that lava lamp work?'

Then Rod raises the temperature by slipping Tubular Bells on to the hi-fi. Or maybe Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene if he's feeling particularly racy.

Get things going with a little Kerplunk, then it's out with the Twister Mat... and away we go!

We may criticise or castigate them, but in truth we want our celebrities to be mad, bad and dangerous to know.

It's not enough that they thrill us on the stage, screen or catwalk.

We also demand shock and schlock from their personal lives.

No matter the outcome of the court case against him, Michael Jackson is clearly a confused and flawed human being.

Unfortunately the UK's hohumdrum stars aren't in the same class of crass.

Fixtures in the celebrity zoo? They wish.

In reality Kate, Jude and the rest of this lightweight gang are just timid gerbils, living out their days in a backstreet pet shop.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 6, 2005
Words:1140
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