“The problem is you’ve tried to treat him like he’s a normal celebrity. He’s not. He’s famous because he’s not normal.”
This advice came when I was despairing over dealing with Michael Jackson’s PR when he spoke at the Oxford Union. He simply wouldn’t, or couldn’t, do anything that reason dictated he should have. So I resigned the account. (The “I sacked Michael Jackson” line has served me well ever since).
In the latest chapter of the Jackson saga, he takes not-normal to new heights. His handcuffed, head-in-a-blanket, peace-sign-out-the-window appearance maintains the mystique of the world’s most famous man.
In the same week we hear about a couple eating breakfast beside a transistor radio, feeding scraps to the family pets, and shouting occasional obscenities. This scene is the nadir of normality – but since it’s a queen and her consort, it is as compelling a tale as Jackson’s.
We are all dining out on a feast of damaged goods and human frailty. Feet of clay are now established as a sine qua non of celebrity. Tomorrow’s stars, wise to the system, will manufacture and own the rights to a whole raft of suitable, saleable indiscretions and guilty secrets as part of a pre-planned publicity programme, ready for strategic exploitation when ratings flag.
Perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope that times are changing. Imagine a time when a tabloid captures hidden camera snaps of the Queen on the loo, or reveals Britney is/isn’t/was/would be a drug-smoking non-virgin hardcore porn star, and we just turn and shrug our shoulders and say (in that louche teenage way): “Whatever. And your point is?”.
The optimists among us will suggest the triumphant return and parade of the England rugby team might – just might – signal the beginning of an era in which the public and media obsession with damaged goods dissipates and disappears. Why? Because here we have some genuine, popular heroes who have together created something of remarkable substance, not vacuous style.
It is an opportunity for the media to ignore the standard C-list fodder who are celebrated simply because they are celebrated, and to focus instead on the architects of a solid achievement that is a resonant source of national pride.
The impact of England’s World Cup victory will be lasting, and meaningful at a grassroots level – far more so than the latest piece of fluffy unreality concerning a third-rate Pop Idol reject.
If someone feeds us a new story of commitment, energy and effort which produces truly remarkable results, who knows – we may get a taste for it, and the media might change its tune from the current daily dirge of celebrity sleaze.
Pessimists, however, will say that once the initial euphoria is over, the celebrity machine will lumber into action. Wilkinson will go the way of Beckham, and become one more lump of meat grinding through the celebrity sausage machine. The super clean superhero will be targeted by an unholy alliance of paparazzi, honey-trappers and wide boys, whose grainy shots, lurid revelations and double dealings will feed the prurient tabloid appetite.
And what about the team’s achievement? The pessimists can’t write that off, though they might point out that the celebrity agenda is driven, at its core, by the world’s superstar superpower – and no set of once-in-37-years sporting heroes from quaint old England can derail that monstrous machine.
Some see the glass as half full, some see it as half empty. The third perspective is that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. In which case, we will all enjoy the memorable once-in-a-lifetime gourmet experience of celebrating integrity and achievement.
Wilkinson and co will be installed as unimpeachable icons; then we will gently slip back into our habitual diet – temporarily filling but permanently unsatisfying fast food celebrity fare.