White Dee's diary: From Benefits Street to Downing Street?

Plus: On being Channel 4's biggest hit, and on James Turner Street as a tourist attraction

15 February 2014

9:00 AM

15 February 2014

9:00 AM

There’s no reason why you should have heard of me. No reason why you would have watched a Channel 4 television series called Benefits Street — with a title like that, I’d have changed channel if it came on my telly. But they didn’t tell us the title when they wanted to spend 18 months filming on our street. For reasons I can’t pretend to understand, five million people tuned in. It’s supposed to be the biggest hit Channel 4 have had since The Snowman. A fairly normal bunch of people — myself, Fungi, Black Dee, Becky and Mark — have become reality TV stars. It’s like Big Brother, except no one is evicted. Or paid.

Fungi, who is one of Dee's neighbours (Photo: Channel 4)

Another unlikely reality TV star: Fungi, one of White Dee’s neighbours (Photo: Channel 4)

Since the programme first aired, everything has gone mad. Our street, James Turner Street, has become the unlikeliest of tourist attractions. I went to put something in the recycling bin and saw someone parked outside the house, hoping for a picture. Unbelievable — it’s hardly Beverly Hills around here! I’m nothing special, just a single parent who tries to do the best for her kids. But from first thing in the morning until midnight, there’s cars driving past beeping horns and calling names. Nice names! There have been unpleasant comments, too: the footballer Joey Barton said that watching Benefits Street made him think ‘people should have a licence to have kids’. I think some people should have a licence to open their mouths.

I agreed to do a local radio phone-in the other day. One woman, Laura, called in to say she spent £800 on nursery fees, the same again on the mortgage, and she couldn’t afford to smoke as much as I do. Well, in my defence, they filmed me for more than a year, and spliced lots of bits together. Usually it’s me smoking and sipping tea — so I can see why it looks as if that’s what I do all day. But I don’t! Sharper viewers might have noticed that I had three hairstyles in one episode.

Dee's neighbours Mark Thomas and Becky Howe (Photo: Channel 4)

People who work get less than people who are on benefits. So is it any wonder that Mark Thomas and Becky Howe, above, have never worked?  (Photo: Channel 4)

But I agree with Laura on one thing — more should be done for people who work. I’m not working at the moment, so I don’t have to pay rent or council tax. I’d say my income averages about £200 a week. Now I know quite a few working people that haven’t got £200 a week — and they’re working hard all day. That’s not right. I’ve read about teachers who have to use food banks. That’s not right. But I’m not the one who set up the system. I can see why some people are angry. But I didn’t ask for those people who keep coming to my door, offering loft insulation or a boiler for free because I’m on benefits. Why can’t people who are working, and struggling be entitled to free loft insulation as well? It’s not as if people go to the government and say: ‘I don’t want to look for a job, but I want to receive this amount of money.’ It’s the system. The benefits system does make people comfortable, and certainly makes some people not want to go and look for a job. But that is an issue for the government to tackle.

Tourists come to James Turner Street (Photo: Henry Nicholls/Newsteam)

It isn’t Beverley Hills. But tourists are flocking to James Turner Street (Photo: Henry Nicholls/Newsteam)

I’ll tell you who does tackle problems here on James Turner Street: our local church. It’s invaluable. They have a brilliant community worker down there, called Adella Pritchard. My little boy goes to Boys’ Brigade there on a Thursday, my daughter goes to Girls’ Association on a Friday. They have jumble sales, tea dances, job clubs and all sorts. It seems, sometimes, that the church does more for communities than the government.

My daughter, Caitlin, is 16 years old now but no way in this world would that girl leave school. She knows exactly what she wants to do for a career: sports science. And they’ve just offered her a place at sixth form. She’s determined, she’ll never forget where she comes from but she will do anything she can to succeed. They may be making a documentary about her in a few years, but for very different reasons.

Dee and her daughter

Heading for stardom – Caitlin, with White Dee, outside their house (Photo: Channel 4)

Caitlin hands me a newspaper report. ‘Benefits Street star White Dee is not good enough for the House of Commons, a Tory MP blasted last night. Former Eton and Cambridge University scholar Kwasi Kwarteng told her, you’re not a good role model. “She should give it a go if she thinks she has the qualities, but I’m not sure she’ll get very far”.’ What a cheek! The fuss about Benefits Street means Ladbrokes has made me 50-1 to be the next MP for Birmingham Ladywood, and until I read that patronising nonsense I wasn’t going to stand. Now, I think I will. As an independent, mind. How far will I get? Let’s just see. ‘From Benefits Street to Downing Street’ — now, that would be a headline.[audioboo url=”http://audioboo.fm/boos/1919124-should-white-dee-be-an-mp-fraser-nelson-and-katie-hopkins-discuss”]Fraser Nelson and Katie Hopkins – Should White Dee be an MP?[/audioboo]

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Deirdre Kelly, also known as White Dee, asked for her fee to be donated to Guide Dogs for the Blind.

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Show comments
  • David Lindsay

    Well done to The Spectator for giving you a platform. You should do more of this. Please get in touch, if you are interested. Don’t worry, it wouldn’t affect your benefits; we should be so lucky, to be able to pay.

    • GraveDave

      She didn’t write that. And why does everyone keep calling her White Dee, even when she’s the only Dee we’re hearing about and looking at lately. Where’s Black Dee. Come on out Black Dee.
      It’s racism is what it is.

      • David Lindsay

        Why didn’t she write it? Because she’s a frightful working-claaaass person? That is why some of us want her for other work.

        • HarryRiley88

          “Black Dee” is on trial for the possession of fire arm ammunition and intent to supply cocaine among other drugs. So no, not rasicm, the law.

          • GraveDave

            So no, not rasicm, the law.

            I Know. Know. I was being sarcastic. .

          • GraveDave

            The best reality show I ever remember seeing was something called ‘The Family’. About real working class people. Mid 70s to the late 80s. Anyone remember it?

            When reality TV was in the real world – Telegraph
            http://www.telegraph.co.uk › Culture › Film‎


            ShareView shared post

            12 Jul 2006 – In this context, Paul Watson’s 1974 12-part documentary The Family marked a watershed. This film about the day-to-day life of the Wilkins family of Reading was … Most importantly, it was the first television programme to make …

            The Family BBC 1974 Documentary – YouTube

            ► 117:15► 117:15


            31 Dec 2011 – Uploaded by inferno1971The Family was a 1974 BBC television series made by producer Paul … It followed the working-class …

          • mik keely

            There was also a documentary around about the ’70s/’80s, about a politician who ‘went native’ in a particularly harsh jobless area.
            Started off with no money, tried to find a place to live, tried to get ”dole” money, then tried to get a job.
            Much the same outcome as the Wilkins family, politics never made any great changes to policy, and policy will not change if and when people like WD try to get into politics.
            Nothing has changed, nothing will EVER change.

      • johnnyzooph

        I wondered how long it would be before the race card was pulled out. She is referred to as White Dee as that is her nickname in the program. She is by far the most articulate person in the program and that is why she is getting the attention. Good on her for speaking up. I hope she does well. I would trust her far more than any politician afterall she only stole £13000 and that was for someone else unlike our self serving politicians.

  • Mr Creosote

    What happened to the 69 comments from yesterday??

    • David Lindsay

      That was on the Blogs page. This is on the Magazine one.


    Hello White Dee. I am a long term disabled person. I was born with Autism, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, Asperger Syndrome and other disabilities. I have tried to work. I put myself though college 5 times. I find it very hard to work. I have tried jobs like cleaning, cooking, shelf stacking and laboring. I was not able to last even 2 weeks.
    This makes me depressed everyday and I have the kind of depression where I cannot even look after myself in my own home. I live with parents now. Please speak up on behalf of us in the ESA Support Group. The only thing we know is fear fear fear. I don’t see the point of living anymore because I am so scared that I will lose my benefits one day. Thank you.

  • Donafugata

    Now why did I have you down as someone who would want to build on the attention you got from a notorious TV show?

    Opportunity knocks.

  • Steve Zacharanda

    Brilliant White Dee! Great piece, great idea. I hope she becomes part of the national discourse from now on, the underclass and working lower class need an advocate who isnt public school educated and patronising but who has lived the life that the politicians can only spout about. White Dee serves a cracking bacon sarnie down Stan’s Cafe, Handsworth too! Nice to see Boys Brigade get a mention too as an old boys of 85th I can testify the good they do. I volunteered for Barack Obama twice and I will certainly volunteer for White Dee in any capacity she wants! Let’s do this. FIRED UP!

  • Wangchuck

    White Dee is repulsive and even seeing her face spoils my appetite.

    • truth

      How shallow are you?

  • Eat My Art Baby

    Seriously, you want to run as an MP? If watching your advice on TV is anything to go by, you’re clueless. Mind you, that should stand you in good stead.

  • Gwangi

    TV is a monster.

  • Hod K

    i did wonder about this ambition to run for Parliament, as it appears that WD has never had a real job. I thought this would limit her ability to function effectively as an MP, but then on further reflection i realised that David Cameron never had a real job either, other than a token Directorship at the behest of Lady Astor, and Baron George Osborne didn’t even manage that. So at the very least Dee would bring some leavening of experience to the millionaires on the front bench.

    • johnnyzooph

      She did have a real job with Birmingham City Council but got fired for stealing and giving the money to her crack addict boyfriend. Given that almost all of our politicians were caught stealing from the public purse sorry “flipping” their properties, charging us for moats to be cleaned, putting relatives on the payroll (even when they are actually at uni) forging invoices I would suggest Dee is unqualified to stand for Parliament. She gave the money she stole away… the others spent theirs.

    • mik keely

      There’s not many in wasteminster who HAVE had a real job!
      I only know of one, Dennis Skinner MP.
      There are more perhaps, but certainly not the ”upper elite” Bilderberger types that we have now, so I don’t know.

  • twinkiedooter

    I sincerely hope she DOES make MP!! That would give those stuffed shirts in Parliment something to think about. She would get my vote if I lived in her district. Go for it!!! She has a loud enough voice and a LOT of good opinions and ideas.

  • Britalianissima

    Ha, good joke Spectator, but you put her in the wrong edition – it’s still over a month to go until April 1st..

  • swatnan

    God help Britain with people li,ke Dee standing for Parliament! I can just see her running on a BNP ticket or UKIP Ticket or Tory Ticket. People like her generally do.
    And if Labour are sensible they should shut the door if they ever saw her coming.

    • Donafugata

      I think Dee has been convicted of thieving which would disqualify her from becoming an MP…….
      On second thoughts…….

    • mik keely

      She could hardly run on a bnp ticket now could she?
      Look at the picture and really think about it!

      • swatnan

        I know, but I wouldn’t put it past her to support the far right; her sort are curiously drawn to the far right. She says she’ll stand as an independent in Clare Shorts old seat.

  • Lala

    This woman, who is not unintelligent, was dismissed from her job for stealing £13,000. Is this someone we want standing for election?

  • Lala

    I do like her comments about the role that her local church has played in bringing the community together and offering ways for people to take part and offer their own talents and skills – whatever they may be.

  • White Dave

    bad so so bad to think a person like white Dee who claims she cannot work is to be made into a reality T.V Star .earning no doubt lots of money ..Well lets hope she pays back what me and the rest of us hard working people have paid in taxes to keep these low life,s All they spend there money on is smoke,s and Booze ,,There houses,s are untidy and dirty and there is no need for that as the money they get from benefits is enough to keep a clean and tidy house hold. And as for her depression do me a favor .It don,t seem to bother here when she is sorting out and sticking her nose into everybody,s business ..She new full well by making here self busy in this T.V show that she would gain some kind of stardom and a big wage packet….All them guys and girls who are out there with so so much talent and they just do not get the chance in life to even get the chance to get on t.v and earn a decent pay day.They ought to rename name this t.v show (Who,s laughing now) Well enjoy you 5 minutes of fame and with the money lets hope you can do something with your appearance .

  • Hannah Clemson

    I think you could make a difference. You really understand people. Your background is certainly alot closer to mine than David Cameron’s is, or any of the other tossers in the commons. Go for it Dee. Time for real people to take this country back!

  • Rhonda Merrick

    Stay out of politics, it’s a thankless job.

  • Anna C Young

    There are seriously disabled people who need to be on benefit – I feel sorry for white Dee!