In all his perverted glory, Mick Philpott first arrived on our television screens in 2007, when he appeared on The Jeremy Kyle Show, a programme that — like its now defunct American equivalent The Jerry Springer Show — has won notoriety by giving its audiences the vicarious thrill of gloating over the lifestyles of the truly desperate and degenerate. In a bizarre inversion of normal morality, he appeared to think that the deeper his fecklessness, the greater the macho hero he was — as if he had somehow beaten the system.
He was obviously untouched by the ethical codes that govern civilisation. Yet there is no doubt his involvement with reality TV worsened several of his darkest traits.
One was his all-consuming belief that everything in his life, including even his partners and children, was a commodity that could be traded for gain.
Reality TV also fed his expansive sense of narcissism. Lacking any empathy, he always had to be the centre of attention. The gaze of the cameras, the inquisition by TV presenters, only deepened that self-centredness, as he came to view himself as the star of his own soap opera. ‘I’m the biggest thing to come out of Derby since Brian Clough,’ he boasted.
His ‘celebrity’ status in his hometown meant that friends, neighbours and even officials were wary of tackling him over his behaviour, which can only have reinforced his sense of being untouchable. In a perverse way, the chuckles of the TV audience could have seemed to Philpott an endorsement of his lifestyle.