Angie Bowie’s decision to stay in the U.K.’s Celebrity Big Brother “house” is her own, her manager has insisted.
But viewers have rushed to criticize Channel 5, the British TV station which transmits the reality entertainment show—featuring C-list (and below) celebrities self-obsessing, squabbling, and drinking—for exploiting Angie’s grief over ex-husband David Bowie’s death.
Bowie, 66, was told of her ex-husband’s death off-screen, and then filmed responding to the news on screen in the program’s “diary room” where contestants go to talk confidentially to Big Brother, or receive news privately, or be told off for infractions of the show’s rules.
“I haven’t seen him for so many years,” Angie Bowie said in footage at the end of last night’s show trailing the next episode tonight. “I can’t make a big drama out of it. I just feel like an era has ended with his passing. I’m so very sad.”
At this point, overwhelmed with emotion, Bowie doubled over with her head in her hands.
The unseen “Diary Room” voice then suggested gently she take “all the time” she needs—while it carries on filming her sobbing.
The next scene saw Bowie, flanked by two other celebrity housemates (the former EastEnders actor John Partridge and Liza Minnelli’s ex-husband David Gest), saying, “The stardust is gone.”
“Following the very sad news of David Bowie’s death, we can now confirm that Angie Bowie has been informed off camera by her representatives,” Channel 5 said in a statement. “She has taken the decision to continue in the program.
“The decision to remain in the House is entirely her choice,” the statement continued, “and she has been given the option to leave at any time if she changes her mind. Appropriate support will be available to Angie at any time if needed.”
In a clip shown on a BB spin-off show, Angie said of her decision to either stay in or leave the House, “If I don’t leave, I look callous. If I stay I look callous. I’d prefer to be here but I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
The TV critic Ian Hyland was among many who tweeted against Channel 5’s decision to use Bowie’s grief as a ratings hook.
“Still can’t believe C5—even C5—did a ‘Coming up tomorrow, David Bowie’s ex-wife weeps in the diary room at the news of his death,’” Hyland wrote.
However, Angie Bowie’s manager has said she had made the decision to return to the house and be on camera, after being informed of David Bowie’s death.
“She had plenty of time to consider her position,” Ray Santilli told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Afternoon Edition show, as reported by the Mirror. “She made the decision to go back in the house, she made the decision to be interviewed afterwards.
“Obviously when Big Brother was talking to her and asking questions, it is emotional. The whole Big Brother experience is emotional and she knew that before she went in to the house.”
Channel 5 had been “magnificent” in how it had handled the situation Santilli said. “They’ve left it entirely up to her to make the decision. She had no pressure. She’s an intelligent woman and she knows what she’s doing.”
Of the Big Brother house, Santilli said, “It’s a sanctuary for her there. She’s now part of a family, for better or for worse, and it seems to be working out quite well.”
Up until the news of her ex-husband’s death broke—the couple divorced in 1980—Angie Bowie had spoken extensively about their marriage, and her feelings towards him, and her ongoing estrangement from their son, Duncan Jones.
“I go to great lengths to avoid him,” Angie Bowie had said of her ex-husband. “It was terrible when we broke up, it was awful.”
Mother and son, meanwhile, have been estranged since Duncan (known as “Zowie Bowie” when younger) was 13. Now a film director, he won critical acclaim for his films, Moon and Source Code.
When I interviewed Jones, 44, for The Times of London in 2011 he told me, “I don’t miss her and don’t feel I have missed anything by not having her in my life. I don’t remember my mother and father being together.
“I remember going between houses for holidays, and at 13 I stopped having contact with her. It wasn’t healthy. Over the years I’ve attempted contact but it’s like getting a shock to my fingers. I know now not to bother.”
Last week, Angie Bowie, who had been a significant force in her then-husband’s rise to fame, told David Gest that Duncan “hates me… I guess David told him not to [talk to me]. It does seem odd.”
In a Daily Mail interview before she entered the CBB house, Angie said David Bowie, who was awarded sole custody of Duncan after the couple divorced, had “poisoned” Duncan against her.
“My job was managing David,” Angie said, “and when I was offloaded I couldn’t work with anyone else as a manager. That’s the reason why I was heartbroken; I had no work and a son. So I wasn’t interested in fighting David for custody because I didn’t have a job.”