The rich and famous don’t always start off that way, but their offspring usually do. In this new series (Channel 4), children of immense privilege go back to see how tough their parents had it back then.
First up was Gordon Ramsay’s son, Jack, who recently turned 18. For his birthday, Jack’s parents gave him a lavish party in his dad’s restaurant, and a Rolex watch made the year he was born (canny: a 1999 Rolex Submariner can be had for as little as £7,500).
Jack was privately educated at Dulwich College, one of the UK’s most expensive schools. He works out with a personal trainer in the basement gym of his parents’ enormous London home. In his bedroom, he stores mementos of “super special” times: ringside tickets for title fights, skydiving certificates, that sort of thing. “Jack wasn’t born with a silver spoon,” said Gordon. “If I had to compare his upbringing with my upbringing, he was born on a silver tray.”
Gordon, by contrast, had a tough, itinerant childhood; in his teens he was living on the Bretch Hill estate in Banbury, Oxfordshire, a place he describes as “notorious”. He seemed gleefully certain that his pampered, clueless son wouldn’t survive a minute there – that it would be a real wake-up call – although at times it was the father who seemed more out of touch. “Uber don’t go to Bretch Hill!” he shouted. It is undoubtedly a deprived and under-resourced part of Oxfordshire, but I’m pretty certain Uber does go to Bretch Hill. I checked the prices.
Ramsay’s reasons for sending his son to the neighbourhood where he grew up were typically bluntly expressed. “Jack needs to get dropped in the shit to get his shit together,” he said.
But here is a reason nobody mentioned: Born Famous is made by Ramsay’s own production company, Studio Ramsay. Even Jack’s ostensible journey into deprivation is just another privilege – a chance to front a TV show produced by his dad.
Jack seems like a very nice fellow: softly spoken, helpful, polite. He hit it off with his Bretch Hill counterpart – George, a sofa-surfing teen desperately in need of a job and a place to sleep. But the episode was a pretty slapdash affair. The bag Jack packed for his trip in one scene was clearly not the same bag he left the house with in the next. Conversations were stilted and weirdly edited – it wasn’t always clear if the answers given belonged to the questions asked.
Jack’s actual role was entirely undefined – was he the reporter, or the subject? If the former, then a scene where he appeared to oversleep, making George late for a job interview, was unforgivable. What happened next was even odder: he accompanied George to his job trial as a dishwasher, did the work alongside him and waited politely outside during the subsequent interview, even though the cameras followed George in and filmed it anyway. At times, you felt it was Jack who needed employment.
If Ramsay Jr had no particular insights to offer into the inequality of opportunity, he wasn’t really supposed to. He was only there to be gobsmacked by it all. But he never seemed that fazed – everybody was so nice to him.
Much in evidence was the unfortunate tendency of fame to smear its influence over everything. In a Bretch Hill playground, Jack was besieged by autograph-seekers. His experience of sofa surfing – where everyone’s really pleased when you turn up – was not exactly authentic. And no amount of lateness, inexperience or lack of an address can scupper a job interview that has been arranged for filming. Jack may not have discovered what it is to be poor, but Bretch Hill certainly found out what it was like to have a minor celebrity hang around by the swings for a few afternoons.
It was, in the end, a false exercise, not helped by Gordon’s subsequent refusal to accept its most basic premise: that in many ways, the young of modern Banbury have it even harder than he did. Back home (this time, the Ramsay’s other family home, in Los Angeles) Jack dared to suggest that without the advantages of the youth club (now closed) and the council flat he was given after his family fractured (good luck), Ramsay Sr might not have made it out of Bretch Hill.
“Bullshit,” said Gordon. “You’re talking out of your arse.” Dad, I’m trying to make a TV show here – work with me.