I was with a couple of mates in London near Shaftsbury avenue today when I saw someone I thought I recognised. She had black hair, a pale face and worldly eyes. In an attempt not to be rude I mumbled “hi,” and she looked through me with a bit of a puzzled expression. At that point I realised I don’t know her personally, I just recognise her from that one episode of this final edition of Celebrity Big Brother that I watched*.
She’d already walked on by this point having identified me as a nutter. In fact I don’t think she even stopped when I greeted her. I wasn’t particularly forthright in doing so as there’d been part of me that was worried I was going to have one of those conversations where both sides are politely trying to suss out how they know each other.
“That’s that woman off Celebrity Big Brother,” I announced to my mates.
Clearly neither of them were viewers either as they had no idea what I was talking about.
“You know, the one who used to run a brothel for famous people,” I pressed.
The penny dropped for one of the chaps stood with me and he shouted after her “Heidi!”. The poor woman, who was on her own, turned round and we all waved. She waved back and carried on her way.
Not knowing how she came over in Celebrity Big Brother it’s hard to imagine what she might be expecting from a little walk round the nation’s capital. I’ll hazard a guess that she was booed by the baying mob on her release, that seems to be the norm these days. It’s one of the reasons I’m so bored by the show. I imagine, given that she’s from America, she’s treating this as a little holiday but I was surprised to see her walking about unaccompanied at 10pm**.
It made me wonder what exactly the term “celebrity” really means. Technically she’s one but when I imagine a celebrity I don’t picture them walking about on their own on a saturday night. I picture them at a party in a VIP room all the time, surrounded by ‘their people’ and being chased by the paparazzi. Perhaps I’m mixing up the term “star” with “celebrity”?
Supposedly though we live in a ‘celebrity culture’ where celebrity worship is blighting ‘broken Britain’. If, in my guise as a cultural commentator, I can’t easily define a celebrity where does that leave me? We almost discussed it on the radio show but other news events overtook me and there wasn’t time.
I’ve reached a point in my career where I now know a number of people who have, in one context or another, been described as celebrities. Although this observation seems trite, it’s obvious to me that they are no more or less special than any of the other people I know.
The word only seems to be in such common usage because it decorates a tired title. Come Dancing, Cooking, Singing, Origami, whatever. Add the word celebrity and you can base a magazine article or TV show on it.
I suppose the term means that they are someone whom we, as a society, celebrate. Hence celebrate-ees. What doesn’t quite add up here though is the fact that most of these ‘celebrities’ are not celebrated at all. They’re viciously slagged off and character assassinated on a regular basis. We let them walk alone round London or slag them off for perceived racism and then act surprised when the stress turns to cancer.
It’s not celebrity worship or culture that’s dead, it’s the word itself.
I defy you to define what a celebrity is in the comments section to this entry. Four letter words are not a definition.
*Remember? I vowed not to watch this series and have kept to that promise after this entry here.
**Strangely reminiscent of the time I bumped into Johnny Vegas.