The quest for fame that went 40 miles too far.

I understand that some people will go to great lengths for fame and fortune. X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Big Brother; they all reveal just how desperate some people are for five minutes in the spotlight. But last week’s publicity stunt by Richard Heene and his wife has got to have set a precedential new low.

The Heene family of course caught the undivided attention of the worldwide media last Thursday when claiming that that their youngest son, Falcon, may have taken off aboard their home-made helium ‘flying saucer’. Millions of people around the world watched the live coverage with baited breath as the balloon floated for more than two hours across Colorado, before it eventually 40 miles away – with nobody on board. Their son was later discovered safe and sound, hiding in the attic of the family’s garage, saying that he had hidden because he was scared that his father would shout at him.

Falcon gave the game away, revealing that the whole thing was a hoax during a subsequent television interview with his father, saying: “You said we did this for a show.” Falcon apparently then vomited repeatedly when he appeared beside his father on breakfast TV shows the following day. I’m sorry. The stunt caused the boy to suffer such extreme exhaustion that he is being sick on national television? Surely the parents are guilty of abuse here – never mind the complete waste of the emergency services’ time and resources?!

Anyhow, Mr Heene apparently protested his innocence at the time telling ABC’s Good Morning America: “I went though an emotional rollercoaster. To have people say that is extremely pathetic. We were holding on to every second, every second, just hoping he might come out OK. I am not selling anything,” he added. “This is just what we do all the time. We have made the Heene family schedule a year in advance, what we’re going to do, where we are going to do it. I do not have a can of beans I am trying to promote. This is just another day in the life of what we do.” Riight.

Unsurprisingly, Heene and his wife are facing criminal charges over this massively irresponsible publicity stunt. They are looking at charges of ‘conspiracy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and attempting to influence a public servant, as well as misdemeanour for filing a false police report and face up to six years in jail for each criminal charge.’ The authorities will also seek reimbursement of the cost of the rescue operation, which could equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. I mean, aircraft were diverted away from the area, and at one point rescuers had even planned to dangle from a helicopter and snatch the boy to safety – the rescue operation was vast.

The family’s previous role on the reality-TV show Wife Swap in the US caused suspicion of the couple from the outset, but of course the authorities had to take the situation seriously given that the boy’s life was seemingly at risk. The local sheriff, who originally supported Richard and Richard and Mayumi Heene changed his views when the scam came to light saying “these people are actors. Not only have they appeared on several reality TV shows and YouTube, we have since determined they met in acting school in Hollywood,” with the county sheriff adding “Needless to say, they put on a very good show for us and we bought it.”

I expect I am not alone at struggling get my head around the fact that these parents could be so desperate for the exposure that they would do something so irresponsible in the name of publicity. A bit of embarrassment on X Factor is one thing, but putting a six year old through that, and not to mention unnecessarily wasting thousands of dollars worth of emergency services time and resources takes it to an entirely different level.

Written by Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd

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