Forensically picking through the PR damage that is left after Heather Mills McCartney’s Halloween PR onslaught, I can only conclude that it was an emotionally crude crusade of her own design. The harm inflicted on her tattered brand after sweeping across media Ville was nothing short of catasphrophic. The screaming banshee is now a textbook example for any wannabe celebrity wrangler who can learn so much from the beleaguered star’s mistakes.
It’s a fact that those who seek fame soon become addicted to its seemingly endless powers to generate admiration, adoration, approval and awe, but this addiction mutates into an uber ego. The role of a publicist is to protect the client from itself. Undoubtedly driven by frustration and manacled by the legal process of her divorce battle, she has had to take the brutal knocks whilst her estranged rock star superstar hubby has not been subject to the same tabloid media vitriol. She has looked on with a sense of incredulity as her self-created fame has metamorphosed. Now she pathetically clutches a file of cuttings that reveal that she is a hollowed out husk. In her own mind, she is humiliated, wrathful, discriminated against, deprived, neglected, and treated unjustly and so on. Her reaction is to hit out. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Negativity breeds negativity. She is in desperate need of a highly effective and respected mercenary to manipulate a strategic charm offensive. Outbursts don’t turn events nor obtain positive attention. It was a car wreck – sound bites spat out through choking tears, comparisons to Diana and the McCann’s, hate plots and thoughts of suicide… the tell tale call of celebrity martyr complex. All it achieved was manna for the following day’s papers and empowered them to continue to gnaw away at her fragile self-esteem.
A good publicist knows that in times of crisis it’s suicide to be at the heart of the debate. Rule one, when the going gets tough go deep, pop up for highly crafted moments and never allow your charge to become the centre of attention or even a figure of controversy. Instead, Heather Mill’s McCartney, the peace activist and model who survived a horrific accident and captured the heart of a Beatle, has become the new textbook example for students of publicity.
The foolish exercise was completely out-of-touch; a wholly wild endeavour that seemed to be a bid to reassure herself that she is not losing the battle. Does she believe that she has the magic touch to turn the tide and make her public engage in her pain? Alas, a grandiose but foolish defense mechanism driven by hubris. A celebrity or even a consumer brand needs flawless integrity. If there are any anomalies or imperfections, they will be accentuated. There are discrepancies between her own narrative and the perceived facts. There is so much on the record that it will be a colossal mission to turn it around. Her celebrity character is one of being famous for being famous, so she is stuck in an endless and self-perpetuating food chain. For her to rebuild this she has to end the modern-day equivalent of the medieval morality play. Her journey from rags to riches and from fame to wretchedness should be a starting point for a new story. It seems crazy to write this but it’s not impossible to turn it around. A deft and clever creative campaign playing to her strengths still might outwit the cynics.
However, to start again she must grasp that the public and the media have a sadistic pleasure and a morbid fascination in vicarious suffering. The media understand that it’s a circulation and audience winner and that’s how they feed the hungry mob. The editor “represents” the “bloodthirsty” public. Belittling celebrities or watching their comeuppance is the modern equivalent of the gladiator coliseum. Gossip has always fulfilled this function and now the mass media broadcast live – the slaughtering of fallen gods is the order of the day. There is no question that she has reverted to type. As a publicist one of the key tasks is to show the celebrity “who’s boss” for their own sake. Without respect there is so little the flak can do. I fear many might have tried to tell the Lady but failed and instead let a very powerful personality take her own lead.
It’s the duty of a publicist to use all its skills to persuade his or her client to understand what the public feed on. As far as their fans are concerned, celebrities fulfill two emotional functions: they provide a mythical narrative that the fan can follow and identify with. They function as empty screens onto which the fans project their dreams, hopes, values, and desires. The slightest deviation from these prescribed roles provokes enormous rage and makes us want to punish the deviant celebrities. This taste for watching a person being humiliated has something to do with the attraction to cataclysm and calamity. The higher the celebrity rises, the harder they fall.
She should have been told, no matter how hard, not to take seriously all the things her critics say about her. There are fantastic examples of women in her position who have been kicked in the most hurtful way – Yoko Ono, Victoria Beckham – women who have been held in such opprobrium for being the wrong woman to marry the right man. They have not attempted to lash out. Unfortunately, for Heather, Paul McCartney is like Cliff Richard, a national treasure to be installed in the pantheon of public regard. It’s not the media she is fighting but Paul’s “peppers ghost” haunting her and prowling the media with events driven by his talent. If she is to move on and win over the public, she must comprehend the fundamentals that the media is sadistic, ambitious, narcissistic, lacking empathy, self-righteous, pathologically and destructively envious. I suggest she reads The Cosmic Ordering Handbook, realizes that McCartney is greater global celebrity and stops listening to the voices inside her head and moves on -she has self-determination but she can’t rewrite history but can perhaps forge it.