The cult of Gemma Collins, and why we need celebrities who are ordinary

The reality TV star introduced herself as “best known for too much bronzer and always being on a diet”.

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Our Gemma who art in Brentwood, Hunni be thy name.” So starts a parody of the Lord’s Prayer written in praise of reality TV star Gemma Collins.

The 36-year-old Collins sold used cars until she made her name in The Only Way Is Essex. Like Ed Miliband, she’s become something of a personality cult as fans turn her various TV appearances into viral memes.

If you haven’t come across Collins, I’ll let her describe herself. In her broad Essex accent, she introduced herself on Celebrity Big Brother as “best known for too much bronzer and always being on a diet” (then she burped thanks to “so much Pepsi and Red Bull” while flicking her blonde curls over her shoulder).

She’s a straight-talker who veers from tears to laughter, and it’s impossible not to laugh at her on-screen pregnancy scares, ghost sightings, or an appearance on Sky News in which she insisted: “I’m a massive fan of the dictionary!”

The twitter account @GemmaReacts – which posts short videos of her overemotional reactions with captions such as “when someone asks you how much you spent over the weekend” – gained 24,000 followers in less than four days.

Posts are teasing but fiercely affectionate. It’s easy to sneer at someone like Collins for lacking substance, to mock her for not having a “real job”. But she resonates with thousands of young women because she’s a normal person who, often mocked and insulted, can laugh at, and loves, herself – from her confidence in her size-18 body to her insistence “I am as I am, and I ain’t gonna apologise for it”.

We need celebrities who are ordinary, warm people, in order to make light of our own problems. That’s why we need our Gemma, who art in Brentwood. Forever and ever. Our Gem.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 24 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia