Working both as a journalist, and in PR, I have met many celebrities over the years, in all different fields, including politicians, musicians, footballers, Olympians, Paraolympians, actors and many, many more.
Some of these celebrities I’ve interviewed for work, and others, I met and chatted with, and two, I fell over at their feet, quite literally!
The first I threw myself at, was at the Labour party conference many years ago. The media room was incredibly busy, packed with loads of press, wires from all of the cameras, computers, and being in hurry to get the studio where we were recording our regional tv programme, I tripped and went flying. I saw a pair of clean shoes in front of me, looked up to see this very tall man who reached down to help me up. He was very friendly, charismatic and feeling a little awkward, it took me a while to recognise President Bill Clinton! Believe me my face was a lot redder than his!
The second celebrity who literally floored me was Glenn Hoddle, former England team footballer, and former manager at Swindon Town Football Club. I was there to interview him about a project to ensure a dedicated fan with a severe disability could attend the match when the club was in the play offs with Leicester City, to move into the top flight of football.
I knew I was going to be interviewing him however not being a huge football fan, I was not overawed. I did expect someone to collect me from reception and take me to wherever he was and, if I was lucky, I might get ten minutes to at least get a decent quotation from him. Having interviewed sports stars previously, I never bothered to pretend I knew anything about their sport because it’s so damn obvious – it’s the one area of journalism where it’s so clear if it’s your passion and very clear if it’s not.
To my amazement he came down to collect me himself. I was so surprised as I got up from my seat, I tripped up, dropped my handbag on the floor, and the contents went everywhere. He was lovely, got down on his hands and knees to help me collect my belongings. Believe me I never thought I’d be sorting out the contents of my huge handbag with Glen Hoddle. We went on to do the interview, he gave me loads of time, sorted out the fan to make sure she would be pitch side in her hospital bed throughout the game. I’ve never forgotten what a gentleman he was to a journalist who will never understand the offside rule (and doesn’t care).
I’ve met loads of politicians; Tony Blair – before he was PM – when he was taking part in Question Time in Swindon (when I was working at the Advertiser). It was pretty forgettable, but I do remember, he spent a lot of his time brushing his hair.
The other I met while working in London, making a regional TV show, was Gordon Brown. He seemed nice, though quite shy, and he wasn’t a great advocate of regional TV – he seemed to only want national coverage. I’ve always found that interesting given that every MP is elected by people in their local community and that community can withdraw that favour at any time. Complacency in politics is incredibly dangerous. It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this, I can think of two other MPs who had this view, one very senior at one time. I’ve also met David Cameron and I remember thinking he looked rather orange and had to bite my tongue about whether or not he’d had a spray tan!
When I was about 14, I actually met Prince Philip, way before my journalistic life began. I was taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme – for me, his greatest legacy.
It taught me about hard work, endurance and an understanding of the importance of giving back. During that year I volunteered at an old folk’s home running bingo evenings and quizzes, I trekked in a forest somewhere and stayed overnight in a tiny tent which was easily one of the worst nights under canvas I’ve ever had, and I learned to disco dance. Yes, this was the era of shiny skin-tight trousers and the Bee Gee’s, ‘Staying Alive’.
Also, during that one year there was a large event in Shepton Mallet for the scheme which I attended. We were all lined up to meet the Prince. As the Prince came along the line, he looked at me (without really seeing me), and passed on by and my enduring memory was simply, ‘OMG why doesn’t he pluck those eyebrows!’.
Other celebs I’ve met or worked with in the more popular fields of sports, and TV are:
Sprinter, field and track sportsman, and gold medallist in the 1990 European Championships, and now business man Kriss Akabusi. I had tea with him at the Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath.
Whilst covering the David Milliband’s campaign trail, I met Eddie Izzard in Bristol who was supporting members of the Labour party. We had a pint together. I talked to him about champagne socialism.
I had tea with Midge Ure in Bath some years ago as we were both working with an organisation in the city. I’ve also worked with Dominic Littlewood and Lucy Siegle when I worked for a short time on The One Show. Both very different, both very knowledgeable and lovely to work with.
Record producer and songwriter, Pete Waterman, of Stock Aitken Waterman song writing team who wrote and produced many hit singles. He is also a huge fan of steam and diesel locomotives and attended the Official Swindon Railway Festival for several years.
The actress, Patricia Routledge, who played Hyacinth Bucket in ‘Keeping up Appearances’ she is a lovely lady and it was a joy to chat to her.
Another key moment was interviewing the late Keith Chegwin who was appearing in panto in Swindon. As I walked towards the Wyvern Theatre, I could hear his booming voice coming down the walk way. My first thoughts were, that I wasn’t going to enjoy it, and how annoying he was. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As I chatted to him, we naturally moved on to talk about business. He shared some of his journey with me.
Listening to him, I realised, he was a savvy business man and he was very clear about what people thought of him, yet he didn’t care. He had a TV persona, and another life where he was a successful musician. I did a turn-about-face from my initial decision about him and he won me over completely when he talked about how some of the other panto performers would moan about what hard work it was. He replied to them, ‘when you are up at 5 am or all night digging up roads, then you can say it’s hard work; this is easy.’
This is just a snapshot of the well known people I’ve interviewed over a long career. In most cases these people were absolutely lovely for the short period of time I talked to them. There were a few who were awful – no, I won’t be naming names as frankly I have no interest in engaging with them again.
Do celebs have a right to privacy?
It has been part of my job to interview celebs, and even in my own business now, I meet up with celebrities at various functions. They are not always in the right head space to be open to an interview, or a photo – but should they be? I’d say it rather depends.
I’ve met a few people who want to pick and choose what ‘part’ of ‘famous’ they want. They want to be on the tv for example, yet they want to be private on social media (the only way you can do this is to NOT BE ON SOCIAL MEDIA). Or they want to be this person publicly, and guard their privacy in another way. This is very difficult to manage – and it hardly ever works on social media. You cannot pick and choose the ‘best’ bits of being well known eg. Being recognised, being well paid, being sought after, being adored, making more money – and then avoid the nastier bits eg. Being followed by the media, being followed on social media, being scrutinised and being approached in public even if you are taking part in a private or family event. With celebrity status can go with ‘fandom’ where fans think they have a right to a ‘piece of you’. You have to accept this to an extent.
I’ve personally seen both sides of this equation. I’ve seen celebrities who cannot even visit the bathroom without being followed, who are asked 20 times a day to be a supporter of this charity, or that cause, to the point where it’s exhausting to watch. When I was a full-time producer and working with a celebrity, I used to sometimes put myself between them and over zealous members of the public who were ‘over the top’.
On the other hand, I’ve seen the celebrity who wants a social media profile – but then has another social media profile in another name and assumes that the two will never meet. Also that all of her contacts would know (by psychic ability) not to give the game away. Frankly that’s totally unrealistic. It’s called ‘having your cake and eating it’.
With privacy and celebrity – consider the law and also common sense. What is reasonable? What is unreasonable? What will a court or judge think is ‘reasonable’ behaviour?
In 2012, a picture of the Duchess of Cambridge appeared on the front cover of a French magazine, she was topless, sunbathing at a private villa. The picture had been taken by a photographic, long lens. In the UK that would probably be deemed an invasion of privacy as this was not in a public place. The French court awarded the duke and duchess compensation, because it was about a distinction betwen what the public are interested in and what was in the public interest. Just wanting to be nosey about Royalty on holiday wasn’t a good enough reason to capture the photos.
The problem is that celebs often need media attention for their careers to grow, develop and to be maintained. But it is about getting the right balance. JK Rowling describes the attitude of many paparazzi as, ‘you’re famous, you’re asking for it’. I’ve seen that in action and it’s not always fair. I first met Midge Ure, for example, years before I ‘met’ him properly when he was loading something into his car in Lacock. I noticed him straight away and he looked at me as I walked along with my family. In that instant, I knew that he didn’t want attention, I just knew it so I smiled, nodded and moved on, he smiled back and that was that.
Social media has given us even greater platforms to exercise our freedom of expression, but our right to privacy remains though context is important.
Would you photograph celebrities when you’re out and about?
Some things to think about:
- How would you feel if some complete stranger invaded your space, trying to capture a selfie, or a photograph of you when you are out and about with your family?
- If you think that’s intrusive, then why wouldn’t it be for a celebrity out and about with their family?
- Yes, celebrities sign up and often court fame, but it doesn’t give you the right to take pictures of their children, of their family members without permission.
- However technically anyone in a public place can take pictures of anyone else in a public place unless that person is deemed vulnerable eg. Children.
- If you must approach a celebrity who is ‘out and about’ , just say how much you appreciate what they do. The days when we would ask for an autograph have long gone.
- If you get on well and are received with warmth and you want to ask for a photo – ask politely and if they say ‘no’, then take that as final.
- The only time to be pushy for a photo with a celebrity is at an event where they are probably expecting to be photographed and may be paid to attend. Often offering ‘selfie’ moments and ‘photo opps’ will be a condition of the fee they receive.
- Remember not all celebrities are lovely people. Being famous is not a given that they are polite or well mannered. Also don’t think that you know them just because you are a ‘fan’. You don’t. Your expectations may be exceeded – or they may be shattered.
Next week I’m going to talk about ‘My life on Flog it!’ and some of the celebs I admire in the world of antiques and collectibles.