There’s a lot of ‘Celebrities doing things they are not qualified’ for shows on TV. Most of them are vacuous puddles of nothing, in spite of all the talk about ‘journeys’ and the like. The fact is nothing has improved for that celebrity except their bank balance. The fact that the same celebrities appear on each one makes it even less of a treat. I mean, how many journeys does a person need before they are journeyed out?

Every so often though, one comes along that is actually worth the time. The Real Exotic Marigold Hotel is more than just a travelogue or celebrity show. It is one that asks fundamental questions about ageing and retirement, showing that the slow ebbing of life escapes no one, yet is easier to deal with if you surround yourself with the right things.

Whilst some of the participants have done other reality programmes (Rosemary Shrager and Jan Leeming has done I’m A Celeb, Roy Walker and Bobby George Come Dine with Me), there isn’t a feeling that there is a grasping for the limelight from any of them. Largely perhaps because Miriam Margolyes, who adds both stature and humour, is in it most of the time, but also because you actually feel that for once the journey is for real.

Take, for example, Margolyes herself. Like many, she has no reached an age where bits of her body need replacing. During a health check, it is confirmed that she needs at least one, if not two knee replacements, as well as an operation to remove her gallstones. What is most startling though, is that while in the UK she will face many months of waiting and a bill for tens of thousands of pounds, India can offer a turnaround of just over a week for a fraction of the price, with no compromise on quality of care.

It is when discussing the medical realities of aging that this show most serves its purpose. Aging is all down to philosophy it seems. Bobby George, for example, has never allowed himself to see himself get old in the mirror, so has therefore aged less in the mind as well. Margolyes knows in reality she has to go at life slower, but is no less determined to reach all the same destinations she originally planned. All that happens is that your priorities change. Your health moves from the periphery of your vision to the centre. Being comfortable and well becomes more important than the other qualities of life.

This is actually a surprisingly thought-provoking programme, once you get past the fish out of water humour that was going to be inevitable. The beauty of India is shown alongside its poverty and backward social attitudes (class is more important here than even the UK, homosexuality is still treated as ‘don’t ask, ‘don’t tell’). It is a weird blend of tradition whilst still looking to the future full of optimism. Perhaps, that’s why it is so good at looking after their elderly. It remembers that its past is the key to its future.

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