OPINION: Celebrity say-so left in ruins

Peter Stanford, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

Restoration, the BBC's much-derided attempt to cross Fame Academy with the National Trust, once again demonstrated the limits of the public's interest in celebrity endorsements. Most of the the 10 buildings battling for the £3.5m prize were owned by charitable trusts, and most of them had brought along a celebrity to champion their cause. So we were variously implored to cast our votes for their favourite ruin by Joan Bakewell, John Peel and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

Four million people rang in - quite a result. In second place was a crumbling but golden country house in Northern Ireland, endorsed not by a name but by its erstwhile owner, an elderly woman who looked as if she had come straight out of a PG Wodehouse novel, but who spoke with simple dignity and passion of her fight to keep alive her family home, Lissan House, in mid-Ulster. She won my vote, but first place went to Victoria Baths in Manchester, a massive public swimming pool complex from the 19th century.

Its star advocate again was not a celeb, but an even older woman who had trained there many moons ago before going on to swim the Channel.

It's hard to avoid concluding that we respond best to honest, ordinary-but-extraordinary people. It may, of course, have been that the two winning entries were better than the rest of the field, but I don't think anyone who watched Restoration could say that with any authority. In fact, the triumph of Victoria Baths was all the more remarkable since it failed another basic fundraising rule. It needs £15m to make it usable again.

Restoration's £3.5 m won't even re-open it. Most of the other projects could have been completed within the budget on offer. Fundraisers tell us time and again that donors have to see that their money will make a real impact if they are to give, but in this case the voters ignored this basic rule.

So, for me at least, Restoration was both compelling, innovative television and an object lesson in the unpredictability of appeals to the public.

I do hope the BBC will be doing a second series.

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