Former X Factor star Rebecca Ferguson has called for an investigation into reality TV shows, to “protect future contestants”, claiming there are “terrifying” things going on behind the scenes.
The 36-year-old posted a series of tweets on Twitter, telling her 645,000 followers: “I’m bound by multiple NDAs but I cannot continue to not live in my full truth, being silent is worse. I’ve lived through hell for years.”
She went on to call on Dame Caroline Dinenage, the chair of parliament’s culture, media and sport committee, to ask for an independent inquiry, interviewing herself, and all previous X Factor staff between 2004 and the present day, adding “what you’ll uncover is beyond terrifying!”
In 2010, the Liverpool-born singer came second on the seventh series of the show, which was won by Matt Cardle.
Ferguson has previously campaigned for the introduction of a regulatory body for the music industry, in a bid to ensure artist welfare.
She went on to share a screenshot of an email which she said she sent to ITV and Ofcom in 2021 calling for an “urgent inquiry” into the treatment of contestants on reality shows, but said she had been “fobbed off”.
Ferguson wrote: “I was refused by ITV and OFCOM, no investigation was taken place and my concerns appeared to be fobbed off.
“I am open to communication should they now wish to follow up with my private complaint now that I have made my complaint public.”
In the email, she listed reasons for her complaint including contestants being “mentally manipulated and abused whilst having mental health problems” and being “reduced to tears due to pressure/bullying”.
She said contestants were also “forced into contracts without independent legal advice” and made to “sign to a management company with no freedom of choice”. She said contestants were told if they refused, they would be “kicked off the show”.
She said her reason for making the “formal complaint” to OFCOM in 2021 was “to ensure the future safety of contestants and ensure adequate safeguarding measures are put in place to protect future contestants”.
An Ofcom spokesperson said that they did reply to Ferguson and met with her virtually in 2021.
They said in a statement: “We listened carefully to the extent of her concerns about the treatment of contestants during her time on The X Factor in 2010.
“During these exchanges, we explained our powers and how our broadcasting rules apply in detail. We confirmed that new rules introduced to protect participants in programmes were not applicable to programmes broadcast before April 5, 2021.
“We also clarified that our statutory remit, as set by parliament, means that our fairness rules do not extend to contractual matters or conditions imposed by broadcasters on participants, and only to content as broadcast.
“We suggested to Ms Ferguson possible routes to escalate her complaints to ITV and the appropriate authorities.”
A spokesperson for X Factor told Sky News: “Duty of care is of the utmost importance to us, and we always take contributor welfare extremely seriously.
“During the 2010 series of The X Factor, there were robust measures in place to ensure everyone involved in the making of the programme was supported throughout their experience and beyond including a dedicated welfare team made up of psychologists, doctors, welfare producers and independent legal and management advisors with no time limit on aftercare once the show had aired.
“These measures were under constant review, and we have always been proactive in adapting and updating them for future series to reflect the requirements of the show.
ITV said in a statement: “We are committed to having in place suitable processes to protect the mental health and welfare of programme participants.
“We have continued to evolve and strengthen our approach, and we expect all producers of commissioned programmes to have in place appropriate procedures to look after the mental health of programme participants as well as their physical safety.
“Those processes and procedures will differ from programme to programme, to ensure that the welfare of all participants in ITV programmes is appropriately safeguarded.
“Whilst the practical detailed processes required to manage participant welfare in each programme must sit with producers themselves, ITV as a broadcaster and commissioner of content provides guidance on what we consider to be best practice: in the selection of participants before filming, in supporting them during filming, and in continued support up to and after the broadcast of the programme.”
ITV said that in its correspondence with Ferguson it had stressed contestant welfare was of the “highest priority”, as reflected in their duty of care charter and “detailed guidance” which was introduced in 2019.
They said: “ITV responded to Rebecca with information provided to us by the producers, detailing their arrangements regarding welfare, aftercare, legal advice, and management, at the time of her participation.”
The broadcaster has faced criticism in recent years following the deaths of former Love Island contestants Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis in 2018 and 2019, and the death of a guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show in 2019, which resulted in the show being axed.
After rising to fame on X Factor, Ferguson has gone on to release four albums and became a panellist on ITV’s Loose Women.
In 2021 she met with former culture secretary Oliver Dowden to discuss discrimination in the music industry.
Last month, ITV announced it had instructed a barrister to carry out an external review of the facts after Phillip Schofield’s departure from popular breakfast show This Morning, following an affair with a younger employee.
ITV chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall will be questioned about the Schofield scandal by the DCMS committee in parliament on Wednesday.
Chair of the committee, Dame Caroline Dinenage, told Sky News the meeting will not be a “witch hunt” against the former presenter, but is intended to ask wider questions about workplace culture and practices within both ITV and other public service broadcasters.