Celebrities – we love them. They wear horny clothes, shag each other, sob at awards ceremonies, and get caught where they shouldn’t, looking dreadful.
They’re magnets for paparazzi, jailbait and kiss ‘n’ tellers – and the attention they live for and love, is the attention they loathe.
Vacuous though it may be, celebrities sell papers and celebrities sell – full stop.
Journalist Toby Young has made a living out of trying to lig around with the stars, and telling us how maverick and iconoclastic he is.
Being a wannabe starf**ker is sad – regularly telling everybody that you’re a starf**ker is even more so.
But if you’re able to hide behind a barrier of ironic self-deprecation, then it’s all right. It’s particularly all right when the media pay good money to hear all about it.
This week, the ruthlessly self-interested, self-promoting Toby has managed to generate exceptional levels of coverage for the launch of his ‘autobiography’, by judiciously leaking shock-horror material from the book.
He recounts how he procured cocaine for Keith Allen and Damien Hirst at 11am in the Groucho Club prior to a photo-shoot for Vanity Fair.
This tale – as Toby well knew – has all the elements necessary to set the presses on fire: celebs, drugs, a famous media haunt, and a vague insinuation that this is the kind of behaviour Vanity Fair condones.
If Toby had decided to tell everybody about how he’d got some cocaine for Jon Smith and Phil Brown at The Queen’s Head before they went off to fit a central heating system for Mrs Green at number 27, it wouldn’t have ignited the frenzy of sales promotion (sorry, news) that ensued.
All that the hapless Groucho Club could do was to fan the bonfire by releasing a sober denunciation (the bog standard, off-the-shelf statement taken from the drugs-on-premises section of the damage-limitation file) and (delightfully for Toby) banning him as a member.
Tabloid sensationalism developed into broadsheet socio-cultural analysis of cocaine consumption amongst the middle classes, and spice was added with some more irrelevant name-dropping relating to the new owner of the club, poor old Matthew Freud.
Meanwhile this week another journalist’s book has slipped silently onto the shelves.
It’s entitled An Audience with an Elephant, and it’s written by Byron Rogers.
Byron Rogers is a man who is perversely uninterested in producing yet another three-page photo-feature about Kylie Minogue’s frock.
Instead, he meanders off round the country, and returns to Fleet Street with strange and intriguing tales about an octogenarian triathlete, or a man who fell off a church, or a wallpaper salesman from Penarth who caught a 9ft sturgeon, or an encounter with a Mr Sparry, whose claim to fame is that he has friends round to tea a lot.
Byron is not wilfully whimsical – he’s just interested in things, and he gives them extraordinary life through the power of his writing.
Most remarkably, he makes a living by recounting these strange stories.
Unfortunately, Byron’s chance of generating a furore in the media to create publicity for the launch of this volume, is virtually nil.
Both Toby and Byron are journalists, but according to two very different definitions of the term.
Toby is a capable journalist in the currently accepted sense – a fairly talented PR who wants to be a celebrity, and so writes about himself and his proximity to the stars.
Byron is a great journalist from an older school – a highly talented reporter who writes about other people.
I’m not going all rose-tinted on you by saying this, because it’s clear that the media pendulum is swinging away from the endless (and endlessly limited) agenda of celebrity drugs/sex/rock and roll.
Whatever people might think of him, when Piers Morgan tells the world he’s wearying of this daily diet and is looking for something more stimulating for his readers, it has to have some significance.
Perhaps we are witnessing the start of a shift in journalism from lifestyle to life.
All the same, congratulations to Toby Young for a great PR job well done. I don’t know what the book’s like. I suspect that I will read Byron’s first. Its £12.99 in all good bookshops now.