Big Fish Ents have come under fire from student groups for their decision to book Jo O’Meara for the launch of The Place’s new Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender (LBGT) student night ‘Allsorts’.
The new night is a rebranding of club night ‘Thrust’, a night which faced a lot of criticism for its overtly sexual name. ‘Allsorts’ was intended to provide a more inclusive feel for clubbers, however some fear the choice of guest will only alienate students further.
O’Meara was the lead singer of the successful pop group S-Club 7, but is now perhaps better known for her involvement in the Celebrity Big Brother racism debacle. Along with others in the house, O’Meara was reviled internationally for her behaviour towards fellow housemate Shilpa Shetty, a Bollywood actress. At one point O’Meara was heard to say that Indians are thin “because they get sick through eating undercooked food”.
CUSU’s Black Students, International, Women’s and LBGT campaigns wrote a letter to the Cambridge Evening News stating that they stand together in opposition to Big Fish Ents’ choice of guest, in response to an article printed by the newspaper describing her appearance which was seen to be “a free advertorial” showing “no awareness of the controversy surrounding the invitation of a proven racist as a “celebrity guest” and the entire history of the club night.”
In response to this issue, Natalie Szarek, CUSU’s Women’s Officer, said that Big Fish Ents “knew exactly what kind of history Jo O’Meara had when they hired her, and choosing to go ahead with inviting her to come was a very irresponsible action, and not the kind that students want to see.”
Mostafa Al-Mossallami, Co-Chair of CUSU’s Black Students Campaign, was also dismayed by the choice, saying “The decision to invite Jo O’Meara is nothing short of tactless; she is a guest of honour but not an honourable guest.”
Simon Burdus, Managing Director of Big Fish Ents, felt this criticism to be unfair. He said “I am totally unaware of any controversy over the decision to use Jo O’Meara. Not one student has emailed me to complain or show any dissatisfaction with our decision”.
He felt that the problem CUSU had with the event was not the choice of guest but rivalry between LBGT club nights in Cambridge. Cambridge currently has two LBGT club nights, one, “Rendezvous” at Revolution organised by CUSU, and the other, “Allsorts” at The Place which is run independently. He alleged that the officers who made the complaints “are abusing students’ trust by trying to smear our new night just because they are worried about their night being damaged.” Burdus, once Business Manager of CUSU, also said that he felt this to be a personal issue. He said that “Jo O’Meara appeared at Soul Tree at the end of Michaelmas Term and there was absolutely nothing said about the appearance from CUSU. This is because it wasn’t my night. As soon as it is my night CUSU sabbatical officers continue with their childish and personal vendetta against me. It makes them look stupid and shows again just how pathetic they are.”
This is not the first time that Burdus has been involved in controversy over club nights. He has been criticised in the past for hiring actors with dwarfism to dress as “Oompa Loompas” for a Willy Wonka themed night at Ballare night club.
Jen Mills – Deputy News Editor