By Katie Begley
“Come any closer and I’ll stab you with a needle” were the words Penny Lancaster had screamed at her by a runaway drug addict during her first shift as a volunteer police officer.
Penny Lancaster, the wife of musical legend Rod Stewart came down from her self titled princess tower to experience frontline policing on the beat in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, and it wasn’t long before she was shown the harsh reality of life in uniform.
Her dramatic confrontation with a criminal was captured as part of a gritty new documentary series called Famous And Fighting Crime which started on Channel 4 on Monday.
The programme follows Penny, Strictly’s Katie Piper, former Googlebox star Sandi Bogle, comic Marcus Brigstocke and Made In Chelsea’s Jamie Laing as they leave their luxury lifestyles behind them to see what life is like for those answering our 999 calls.
The team of famous faces were thrown into the deep end to get a no holds barred look at modern policing in Britain, from tackling drug addicts and drunks to kicking down doors on drugs raids, the crime fighters had to face their fears in one of the most challenging celebrity based shows on the box. Forget any idea of these pampered personalities watching the action from the safety of a police car, instead they are in the thick of the action, putting their lives on the line just as thousands of volunteer officers do every day.
Each celebrity had their own reason for taking on this project and for Penny it was about seeing a different side to life, something she confronted on her first shift. Talking about tackling a drug addict, she said: “I’m chasing after this girl who’s screaming at me that she’s going to stab me with a dirty needle but I just kept a row of parked vehicles between us. I thought, ‘If she decides to lunge or go at me, I’ve got to stay at a safe enough distance’.
“The training we were given was pretty severe, it wasn’t a fun day out, it was full on but in that moment it just kicked in. I called for backup, kept the distance, made sure she was in sight so I could relay information of where she was. Fortunately, she got caught. It wasn’t until the moment she was in handcuffs that I fell apart.”
Katie, who swapped her dancing shoes for boots, knows all too well what it’s like to be on the wrong end of a 999 call after suffering a devastating acid attack in 2008 which left her partially blind and needing life saving treatment. After that horrific assault she vowed she would never put herself in danger again, but on this show she was forced out of her comfort zone.
She said: “The single thing that stuck with me from the first day was I’d vowed I would never put myself in danger again, and then here I am putting myself in the thick of it. I was really going outside my comfort zone, but I always believe that that’s a healthy thing.
“You should do a handful of things each year that make you go outside your comfort zone if you want to progress and grow as a person professionally and emotionally. I think it’s really important to keep pushing your boundaries.”
In 2017 Sandi’s life was turned upside down by the senseless murder of her nephew Bjorn Brown, who sadly became yet another statistic in the knife crime epidemic that’s gripping London. To date his killers have never been caught and as Sandi’s family try to pick up the pieces of their devastating loss the telly star is using her public profile to try and bring an end to the bloodshed in the capital.
She wasted no time tackling a young offender in his prison cell, warning him that the life he’s living would only end in bloodshed. “I was just thinking about what’s going on with these kids now, they need a role model,” said Sandi.
“Even though I have a uniform on, I am still a mother, I’m still an aunty, and I’m still a grandmother. I just needed to come across like I would do if it was one of my own children.
“I chose to go in the cell with him just to have a one-to-one chat. I just needed to look at him in the eye and make him know that the road that he’s going down is not the right road. He needs to change.”
For Marcus and Jamie showing up for work in Peterborough was returning to the scene of their crime as both have been arrested in the region, while Marcus was done for speeding, Jamie was busted for being a nuisance on a train which he admits “wasn’t very bad ass”. Both men had a low opinion of the force but admit they’ve had their eyes opened while working alongside them.
Jamie said: “They told me they get paid £24,000. They literally put their lives on the line for that, I was pretty taken aback by that actually. I just don’t think it is enough, and then you realise that on top of all of that there’s simply not enough of them. When you’re being paid that little to put your life on the line, where’s the incentive for people to sign up?”
Marcus added: “It’s definitely changed my perception of both the police and us, the public, who give consent to be policed. I suppose it’s changed me a bit in that I avoided trouble as much as I could at all costs, and truth be told that would still be my first option, but if I found myself in a situation where I felt like I could help then I would.”
In the next episode Jamie takes part in a drugs raid on a £100,000 cannabis farm, Sandi emotionally opens up about her family tragedy after joining an armed unit called out to confront a man wielding a knife, and when police are called to the home of an ex-soldier struggling with PTSD, Katie helps the team by drawing on her own personal trauma.
Famous and Fighting Crime continues on Channel 4, Mondays at 9pm. Catch up on the first episode on All 4 via Freeview Play.