LONDON — Indian actress Shilpa Shetty won the British reality TV show “Celebrity Big Brother” Sunday after enduring alleged racial bullying that triggered protests in India and sparked a race relations debate in Britain.
The 31-year-old Indian star won the public’s support after a fellow contestant hurled racially tinged insults at her in an episode that led to a record 40,000 complaints to media regulators.
“It’s truly been a roller coaster ride,” Shetty said. “The highs, the lows, each one has taught me so much.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Treasury chief Gordon Brown and Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram have commented on the incident, which South Asian and anti-racist groups said revealed the face of racism in Britain.
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Shetty received 63 percent of viewers’ telephone votes Sunday, host Davina McCall said. She did not give the number of votes cast.
Contestants on the show are locked in a house for about three weeks and are evicted one by one until someone is chosen as the winner of a cash prize for charity.
Shetty defended fellow contestant Jade Goody, who repeatedly reduced the Indian actress to tears by shouting at her, calling her cooking untrustworthy, mocking her accent and calling her “Shilpa Poppadum.”
Goody became famous after appearing on the non-celebrity version of “Big Brother” and has earned an estimated $16 million fortune through television and magazine appearances, an autobiography and an exercise video — a livelihood endangered by her behavior in the house.
“She is a little aggressive and hot tempered, but she’s not a racist,” Shetty said.
“I don’t want people here feeling they welcomed an Indian here and she created so much trouble. I want to thank the whole of Great Britain for giving me this fantastic opportunity to make my whole country proud.”
Shetty has hired British celebrity publicist Max Clifford to help develop her career in Britain. He estimated Sunday that she could earn $2 million in the next year from new contracts after appearing on the show.
“It’s been a huge success for her because of how she’s handled these nasty attacks with dignity,” Clifford said on British Broadcasting Corp. television.
The program made front-page news for days in both Britain and India, where the show’s producers were burned in effigy. More than 8.8 million people tuned into the show following the racism controversy.
Other participants on the show included former Jackson Five leader Jermaine Jackson and “A-Team” actor Dirk Benedict. Model Danielle Lloyd and singer Jo O’Meara were also seen by the British public as tormenting Shetty.
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