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Wednesday 23 January 2019

Worth every penny - The Secret Millionaire

MULTI-MILLIONAIRE John Concannon is in West Dublin, clearing burnt rubbish from the squalid changing rooms of a children's football team, when he's joined by a keen-to-help drug-addict.

Watching an addict help a plastics entrepreneur clean a children's play-area is a weirdly touching moment in a programme designed around touching moments. It's heartening that both junkies and millionaires want to help make society better.

I used to be sceptical of The Secret Millionaire. Placing a wealthy individual anonymously into a community to have them later reveal themselves as a benefactor, seemed like a way to shoehorn social problems into a fairy-tale and put the rich on a pedestal.

In reality, the best episodes reveal ordinary volunteers as the real stars and make it clear that charities need on-going help (help to, as Cathy White of the Clondalkin Carers Association says here, "keep the kettle on and the door open").

In the first instalment of the Irish version, warm-hearted Concannon volunteers with an under-funded football team and a carers group. But it's only after meeting suicide-campaigner John Quinn that his emotions really come to the fore. After hearing about the suicide of Quinn's son, Concannon is visibly moved and recalls his own experience losing a friend to suicide. "Money, life, business means nothing if you get stuck into the middle of one of these catastrophes where someone takes their own life," he says, his voice cracking.

Such are the emotionally cathartic moments on which programmes like this thrive and there are plenty more. John Quinn seems shell-shocked when Concannon's identity is revealed and he's given a ¤25,000 cheque for the suicide prevention charity Pieta House. "That's 25 peoples' lives saved," he says in disbelief. "It takes ¤1,000 on average to save one person," he adds, before asserting that Concannon is still an "ordinary Joe". In his eyes this is a compliment. And rightly so. Because The Secret Millionaire is a heart-warming tribute to people who care . . . millionaires or not.

Made in Chelsea, a scripted reality show about independently wealthy twentysomethings, also features philanthropists. After a badly executed mugging, Francis, a sad-eyed "entrepreneur", decides to "teach inner city children the value of good grammar" and is soon correcting badly punctuated graffiti before a group of preteens.

"If the mugger was more loquacious," he says, "I might have given him my wallet."

Francis is also a businessman. He has a company called Francis Boulle Enterprises, but I suspect this was handed to him by his family in the same way car-bound toddlers are given bright plastic steering wheels.

I have yet to see him doing any actual work, although he does give an inspirational business-talk to some identically dressed mini-Francises.

"Capitalism is beautiful," Francis tells them. "Not only is capitalism beautiful, but capitalism makes you beautiful" (fans of Warren Buffett's swimsuit calendars and George Soros's exotic dancing will know this to be a fact).

At least he has a "job". While he's doing it, Fabio-lookalike Ollie takes his chums fishing and they have a maggot fight (yes, that's what the rich do in these days of austerity: they throw maggots at one another and chuckle).

Of course they have their problems too. Hugo, who looks like a pencil with an overbite, can't decide between monogamy with his glossy-haired girlfriend Millie or a life of sexual predation alongside baby-faced buffoon Spencer.

"I want to have my cake and eat it!" whines Hugo, who, incidentally, owns a massive oil painting of his own head.

"You can go to a love bakery and have a taste of the whole lot," suggests his cherubic yet bestubbled sex-pest pal. While this sounds like a metaphor, I suspect Spencer is talking about a literal Love Bakery. He looks like someone who might be sexually aroused by pastry.

Such are the ways of the idle rich.



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