Rebecca Ferguson accuses ITV of 'bullying' and 'brainwashing'
Sobbing Rebecca Ferguson singer accuses ITV of ‘bullying’ and ‘brainwashing’ and demands probe into broadcaster after Phillip Schofield scandal – as she lifts the lid on treatment of reality stars
- The former X-Factor star said she felt reality shows ‘manipulate’ participants
- Rebecca Ferguson said ITV boss Dame Carolyn McCall refused to launch probe
Former X Factor star Rebecca Ferguson broke down in tears today as she claimed people appearing on ITV reality shows were victims of ‘bullying’ and ‘brainwashing’.
The singer, who came second on the 2010 season of the popular programme, said popular reality shows take advantage of people from troubled backgrounds by ‘manipulating’ them.
She also opened up about her own career and said she had been through things ‘I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy’ behind the scenes, adding she was ‘pressured into contracts I didn’t want to sign’.
It comes after she claimed under-fire ITV boss Dame Carolyn McCall fobbed her off to her deputy after she wrote to the channel in 2021 asking it to look into codes of conduct and post-show aftercare for its reality shows after three Love Island stars, including Carolyn Flack, took their own lives.
However, the Liverpool-born musician said Dame Carolyn did not respond to her request and instead she received a letter from ITV’s chief operating officer Sarah Clarke saying there would not be any kind of inquiry and saying the channel follows a duty of care charter, while apologising for any bad experiences endured by its stars.
ITV’s chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall at the Festival of Marketing in London in 2018
But now, after the Phillip Schofield scandal which has engulfed This Morning, Ms Ferguson has reiterated her demand for an inquiry.
Speaking a Twitter Space livestream today, the 36-year-old emotionally lifted the lid on how she feels reality stars are treated behind the scenes.
‘You put that Saturday night TV show on and that is your escape and your like “wow, their lives are changing”,’ she said.
‘And then when someone comes out and says it was very toxic and abusive it’s bursting the bubble.
‘It’s like saying “oh wow your life is s**t too”. The illusion is so beautiful for people and when it’s destroyed people get so riled up.’
Ms Ferguson said while she has had a ‘really good career’ and is living the dream, ‘what was happening to me behind the scenes I would not wish on my worse enemy’.
READ MORE HERE: ITV’s under-fire boss Dame Carolyn McCall faces questions after she REFUSED to probe treatment of reality stars – even after Caroline Flack’s suicide
She added: ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it and only hear the nice stuff and not the abusive stuff. There is this idea that it comes with fame – [that] wanting to be a singer means you want that.
‘It should not come with bullying, pressured into contracts I don’t want to sign.
‘I was a 23-year-old single mum alone – I didn’t have a pot to piss in – I had come from a working class background and I was presented with this opportunity, and it was my dream since I was a little girl.’
The songwriter said she thought it would be ‘the best thing in the world and all your dreams come true’, but while she was on the show she saw ‘things I didn’t like and I tried to say something’.
She added that due to her young age she was ‘not able to understand the business world and those types of contracts’, before hitting out at the lack of support from the show.
She said: ‘But why was I expected to deal with that? Things should have been in place to make sure I wasn’t being exploited.
‘I was just trying to make it out of poverty. You need to ask why are people doing this to people on these shows.
‘It’s often working class people taking part it’s always a troubled background. They are hand picked because they are manipulated and moulded.
‘What I would say is put pressure on ITV because there needs to be an investigation if there is nothing to hide then do an investigation because it won’t cost them if there is nothing to hide.’
Rebecca Ferguson, 36, performs on The X Factor in December 2010
It comes as the Phillip Schofield scandal engulfed This Morning, one of ITV’s most popular programmes
The mother-of-two broke down in tears as she pleaded for the channel to probe into her allegations.
She said: ‘All I know is if I got accused of something and I had the resources I would say that’s not true and say here is the investigation.’
Ms Ferguson said that she felt people on the shows were ‘brainwashed’, but while it’s been ‘so hard’ in the years since she has received support.
She added: ‘A lot of stuff with safe guarding is just basic curtesy and that it is sad that you have tell people to do the right thing.
‘It has been allowed to carry on and people have a fear of calling people out. This new album is being released on my terms and won’t be toxic.
I’ve now named the show instead of being vague and I’m sure will be an investigation. I’m pushing for it and so is Katie [Waissel]. I think it needs to happen because they have got away for it for so long and they have no idea the impact it has had on peoples lives.
‘ITV need to face up to what they have done and say we shouldn’t have treated those people like that and we took advantage of it and it would give us closure. What I need and others need is closure because it was a huge part of our lives.
‘You need to treat the participants with respect.’
Love Island host Caroline Flack (pictured in London in 2019) took her own life in February 2020
Love Island contestants Sophie Gradon (left) and Mike Thalassitis (right) also took their own lives
She has also appealed to the chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Dame Caroline Dinenage, to launch an inquiry into safeguarding and other practices at the channel.
In a statement ITV said it has since introduced guidance for show producers about how they should treat participants.
‘ITV is committed to having in place suitable processes to protect the mental health and welfare of programme participants,’ it said.
‘We have continued to evolve and strengthen our approach, and we expect all producers of commissioned programmes to have in place appropriate procedures to look after the mental health of programme participants as well as their physical safety.
‘Those processes and procedures will differ from programme to programme, to ensure that the welfare of all participants in ITV programmes is appropriately safeguarded.
Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on the sofa of ITV’s This Morning last month
‘Whilst the practical detailed processes required to manage participant welfare in each programme must sit with producers themselves, ITV as a broadcaster and commissioner of content provides guidance on what we consider to be best practice: in the selection of participants before filming, in supporting them during filming, and in continued support up to and after the broadcast of the programme.
‘In our correspondence with Rebecca we stressed that the welfare of participants is of the highest priority at ITV as reflected in our Duty of Care Charter and the detailed guidance, introduced in 2019, we now have available for all producers, to ensure that the welfare of participants is adequately safeguarded on all our programmes.
‘ITV responded to Rebecca with information provided to us by the producers, detailing their arrangements regarding welfare, aftercare, legal advice, and management, at the time of her participation.’
A spokesperson for The X Factor said: ‘Duty of care is of the utmost importance to us, and we always take contributor welfare extremely seriously.
‘During the 2010 series of The X Factor, there were robust measures in place to ensure everyone involved in the making of the programme was supported throughout their experience and beyond including a dedicated welfare team made up of psychologists, doctors, welfare producers and independent legal and management advisors with no time limit on aftercare once the show had aired.
‘These measures were under constant review, and we have always been proactive in adapting and updating them for future series to reflect the requirements of the show.’
It comes after Phillip Schofield’s shock departure from This Morning over his relationship with a young runner on the show, leading to questions about ITV’s handling of the affair and allegations of a ‘toxic’ culture on the show.
ITV bosses had been under pressure to admit what they knew and when about the veteran presenter’s fling, and they had refused to answer questions from the Mail about the investigation they claimed to have carried out in 2020.
Then, in a humiliating climbdown after a crisis staff meeting last week, the broadcaster said it was now bringing in a barrister to ‘carry out an external review to establish the facts’.
Dame Carolyn insists she was lied to by the presenter. She has been called to give evidence in Parliament about the broadcaster’s approach to safeguarding and handling complaints.
Rebecca Ferguson has tweeted screenshots of the email she sent to ITV about her experiences
Rebecca Ferguson also tweeted a reply she sent to ITV’s chief operating officer Sarah Clarke
In her letter to Dame Caroline on the culture committee, Ms Ferguson, who says she is bound by non-disclosure agreements after appearing on ITV, said: ‘I’m bound by multiple NDA’s but I cannot continue to not live in my full truth, being silent is worse I’ve lived through hell for years.
‘March 11, 2021, I emailed the senior leadership team of ITV including Carolyn McCall asking for an investigation of reality shows including codes of conduct, post-show aftercare and freedom of choice of management.
‘On March 24, 2021, ITV COO Sarah Clarke came back apologising about any personal bad experiences but declining to investigate any further – assuring that there is commitment to have these procedures in place already and insisting that they follow a duty of care charter.’
Dame Carolyn’s apparent refusal to probe the channel’s reality shows came after Love Island host Ms Flack took her own life in February 2020.
Before that, Love Island contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis also killed themselves in June 2018 and March 2019 respectively.
A source close to Ms Ferguson said: ‘She firmly believes that over the years that ITV has been putting out reality shows, some people have been treated really badly.
‘ITV has benefited from high ratings and huge advertising revenue off the back of these programmes but that has, at times, meant that people haven’t been treated so well.
‘Rebecca was distraught that Carolyn wouldn’t look into it, it was like she didn’t want to hear it and got her deputy to just fob her off with the same old nonsense. It isn’t good enough any more.’
Ms Ferguson went to the Metropolitan Police in 2021 to report allegations of harassment and coercive control against a senior male industry figure following her appearance on the X Factor.
She claims she was targeted while working to build her career. She also met with former culture secretary Oliver Dowden to discuss problems within the industry.
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