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Singer-songwriter ALISTAIR GRIFFIN hit the headlines when he won runner-up spot in TV's Fame Academy.
IT'S the 18th series of X Factor, or so it seems. To the winner the spoils, the million pound record contract and a place in the nation's heart, but what of the runner-up, the one who, but for a couple of misguided relatives phoning the wrong number, could have been the champ?
Watching this year's hopefuls brings to mind my own experiences of the extremes of instant fame and the perils of coming a close second.
From one day being on stage in front of millions with one of the world's most famous musicians, Bee Gee Robin Gibb, to the next morning catching a train to Hull to take part in a celebrity pickled egg eating contest (which, incidentally, I won, narrowly beating Geoff Capes in a play off).
Such are the trials and tribulations of the runner-up.
One week you're switching on the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, the next opening a handbag department at the Grimsby branch of Oxfam - though they very kindly gave me a (fake) England shell suit for my trouble.
In fact it was there in Grimsby, sat atop a pile of some 2,000 soiled Gabardine Macs - the smell from the local abattoir drifting in - that I realised there are two sides to this strange game of fame.
Being famous (well sort of) is, I realised, not exclusively about falling out of West End night clubs with a Page Three girl on your arm, a la Pete Doherty.
In my experience it was more a case of driving to Dundee in the middle of the night to fill in for the Cheeky Girls and being groped by the local arm wrestling champion, Jean (who, incidentally, bore striking resemblance to Geoff Capes).
And while the winner adorned the cover of Smash Hits, I'll never forget when I got on my first magazine cover - the much coveted Nat West Piggy Savers publication where I wisely encouraged children to invest in the Haribo and Sherbet Dib Dab futures market before stocks plummeted against the wine gum.
They might be skint and have rotten teeth but for a short while I was the Kerplunking Fist in the playgrounds of Britain.
While you are privileged with new and exciting experiences you're also - by the nature of fame - being brought face to face with the real world, real people, and at times, frankly, the bizarre. But these experiences are to be savoured, and meeting the folks who put you on your momentary pedestal is what it's all about.
For all the critics may pan these programmes - and in a lot of ways I understand why - there is something undoubtedly democratic about them.
My advice to whoever triumphs in this year's jamboree is enjoy the highs but make the most of the lows, and if you can get a free shell suit and a pickled egg or two as well as a gold disc you're doing all right - or better than me anyway. I only got the shell suit and the pickled egg
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