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Channel 4’s Born Famous: From Beverly Hills to Hyde Park, Leeds

Words by Megan Thomas

The Spice Girls once said: “If you want my future, forget my past.” Well, not in this show!

Born Famous, a 2019 series available on Channel 4, follows the privileged children of A-list celebrities as they trace their parent’s humble roots to see what life may have been like, had they not been born into fame and money. Episode Two provides an entertaining insight into Leeds, with its focus on Phoenix Chi Gulzar: the daughter of Spice Girls’ Mel B. Phoenix moves from her Beverly Hills mansion into a small student house on Harold Grove, and the challenges she faces prompt awe at her Mum’s success as part of one of the best-selling girl groups worldwide.

The episode brings some laughter as Beverly Hills born Phoenix tries to navigate the confusing rows of back-to-back Hyde Park streets which we know all too well. Phoenix is staggered by the difference between Leeds and California and becomes torn with deciding whether she can even manage to stay a night in her Mum’s old room (a room which was shared by Mel-B andher sister). Viewers of the show were divided on whether Phoenix was a classic example of a spoiled child born with a silver spoon in her mouth; or merely experiencing a culture shock with the power to unsettle the best of us.

Whilst the start of the episode does not particularly work in her favour, Phoenix’s personal growth as she confronts her own privilege is clear. Eventually, she dives deeply and enthusiastically into the tasks she is assigned, keen to get an understanding of her Mum’s past.

Small history lessons are interspersed within the episode, providing an educational focus on Hyde Park's predominantly working-class roots. These sections depict the succession of Hyde Park homes into student housing-- today accounting for a staggering 90%. The show is unfairly critical of the high velocity of students in Hyde Park, ignoring the main cause of this change which is irrefutably the presence of exploitative landlords. One long term resident’s testament of antisocial behaviour leaves Phoenix aghast that people her age might act in certain ways. Whilst rude behaviour, we hope, is confined to the minority of Leeds students, the show powerfully acts as a reminder for us to have respect for everyone within the community. It is, after all, these community values which Mel B remembers from her childhood that students can resonate with today.

The episode also explores local cultural production, contrasting the art industry of Mel B's era to that of her daughters. One fact sticks out: the number of people from the upper middle class in creative jobs has doubled, whilst those in the working class have dropped by a third. This is a stunning statistic which prompts the question of whether the creative industry is unobtainable for working class children and students. Of course, we have seen a substantial hit to the creative sector this year specifically, by virtue of the recent COVID-19 pandemic. It seems that this question of accessibility is becoming ever more pressing for young people who desire a career in the arts, and so the show asks Mel B the question: if you tried to make it in today’s circumstances, would you have found success? Verdict: She would have given it a hard try.

This episode is a must watch for students in Leeds. Not only because it gives you a chance to spot your own home and favourite hotspots (such as Coffee on the Crescent and the Hyde Park Skatepark) onscreen, but because insight into the history of the place we call home is so beneficial. You will never see Hyde Park in the same way! Long term Leeds residents also get to see their opinions being voiced, footage of the now closed Yorkshire Copper Works, and the annual Unity Day. The Unity Day showcases the talent and culture of the local community, with the culmination of local music, art, sport, food and drink highlighting the vibrant community values of Leeds and Hyde Park.

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