Posts Tagged ‘celebrity’

Celebrity Death: David Bowie, still a hero

January 16, 2016

I was gutted to hear of the death of David Bowie. I loved him growing up. On my wall was a decent sized poster of him in his Aladdin Sane regalia, alongside equally large pictures of Queen, plus a few of Mark Spitz – even then, eclectic heroes. Like many others I’ve loved Bowie all of my life – loved him before others in my crowd knew who he was, so he was special to me, almost like he was mine. His songs form the backing track to my life, from buying records, (vinyl!) to play in the solitude of my room and escape to his strange and wonderful worlds, to a computer full of tunes from up-loaded CDs and Youtube clips.


Bowie, along with the likes of Freddie Mercury, Roxy Music and many other musicians in the 1970s changed the way we dressed, the way we behaved, the way we described and considered ourselves. Men wore make-up and satin and velvet and looked more beautiful than women. Women became wild animals, sinuous and strong – remember Jerry Hall in various Roxy Music video clips? Sexuality became fluid and free and fun. And the music was stunning – it became operatic (Bohemian Rhapsody), transformative, quirky, mesmerising (Avalon) – all things were possible. Even Punk would not have been possible without Bowie et al to rage against, appearing like a puss-filled pimple on the backside of a pierced and tattooed youth with outrageous hair.

Punk faded into history but Bowie survived, he changed and mutated. He created new characters and somewhere in there he became himself, stopped being Ziggy, Aladdin, the Thin White Duke and became finally but not absolutely human. Some comments are noting that he was never really one of us anyway and has finally gone home to the stars – he was our Starman, all those years ago when we only had Five Years, experiencing all our Changes, about the time he was The Man who Sold the World.

Consistent creative people, like Bowie, who push barriers, define moments, change them and keep on growing, are heroes. He struggled to break through, he was not an over-night success, certainly not spawned from the monstrous talent shows that infest our television channels. Remember the Laughing Gnome – how could that lead us to Space Oddity? But it did and then we inhabited all sorts of worlds and experiences through his musical journey. We went with him into film- The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, and of course, Labyrinth. My girls, especially my eldest girl is devoted to all things Bowie, because of listening to him all her life and because of that amazing, wonderful ageless film. Like the Princess Bride it is and will always be a classic – great stories, well told, great acting, suitable for children and adults alike.

Bowie was a chameleon, always changing, evolving, suiting his landscape, the ultimate survivor: the greatest performer. Yes he had dark periods, he was promiscuous and drug addled, but why not? Rock n roll is about hedonism and the 1970s with Queen, Led Zeppelin, The Stones and Bowie, et al was all about excess.

In the end his final act was a tour de force: the final album, with the prophetic title: Dark Star and the amazingly beautiful poignant picture taken on his birthday only a few days before he died. The words on Lazarus, his farewell single, ‘Look up here, I’m in heaven’… He knew he was going and he went in style, as he had lived his life for so many years. He also died with dignity. Did we know he was ill, did we know he had cancer, was it splashed across the media? No, it was not. No it was kept private, as it was with Alan Rickman.

This is what we learn from David Bowie and Alan Rickman, men who were beyond the cult of celebrity. Both were immensely talented men, both are being mourned on all the social media sites of the planet. They were not really celebrities – vacuous no talent creatures who have infected our souls and screens with their unmitigated crap (shall I mention Angie Bowie’s disgraceful carry on on Celebrity Big Brother- she is the epitome of a sad wannabe – once she was famous by association but that was many-many years ago). Bowie and Rickman were stars, men with talent. Rickman was a fine actor much loved by many of us for his brilliance as the nasty man, the evil one, the cheating husband. Bowie was the consummate artist – writer, musician, singer, actor – performer.


We will not see his like again. And so the tributes roll on – Brixton had its night of song, Beckenham High Street has its floral tribute outside Zizzi – the former Three Tuns Pub where Bowie first performed. Sydney Festival held a tribute evening. Tributes flow, events are planned but thankfully the funeral will be a private affair. Bowie was not a celebrity – he was a star, he was from the stars and he has gone back.

David Bowie was important to me, as he was to many others, he was a hero for so much more than one day – how could you not love a man who wrote

Under the moonlight

The serious moonlight … from Let’s Dance

Rolf Harris: When Celebrities Fail

July 5, 2014

Australia’s PM, Tony Abbot ‘is gutted’. The rest of us are shocked and appalled, but mostly we’re disappointed. How can this happen, how can someone we think we know, whom we’ve known all our lives turn out to be a criminal? How did Rolf Harris fool so many of us for so long?

Yes, he’s not the only one. But sometimes the fall of particular celebrities hits home harder. Jimmy Savile doesn’t mean much to me or most Australians, nor does the jailing of Andy Coulson for the phone hacking. Oscar Pistorius means little to me – I think he’s guilty as sin and hiding behind his celebrity status. But Rolf Harris, one of our iconic Ozzie blokes, a battler done good? Well, yes, that hits home. There is a sense of being personally let down as well as being disgusted by his behaviour, by his abuse of power and the deliberate use of his celebrity status.

Rolf bbc

What is it about celebrities when they fall from grace that is so compelling to us? Why do we follow certain stories with a passion?

Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong were kings of their respective worlds. Both excellent sportsmen but more than that, they were such good guys. Lance and his cancer, and his foundation to help others. Tiger and his pristine, guy next door, all round good bloke image. Both were rich trading on their sporting prowess and their carefully crafted public image. We admired them, we looked up to them and we believed the image. We did not know the substance. So, when the substance emerged – well, exploded in Tiger’s case – the world was aghast. Just as with Rolf, we were shocked – it can’t be true. Not Tiger. Lance’s fall from grace took a lot longer, had a much uglier side to it. But when the scale of his cheating finally emerged it was breath-taking – the lengths he had gone to to shut people down, to kill the truth of his life.

Both men had large secrets that they went to elaborate lengths to hide from the public and many around them. They seemed to believe they were above it all, that they were both different and the same. Tiger Woods famously wanted to be left alone like a normal man cheating on his wife. But he wasn’t an ordinary man cheating on his wife. Lance Armstrong didn’t really think he was cheating because everyone else was. It took both celebrities some time to accept that they were in the wrong: that they were cheats and liars.

Tiger wiki

Rolf Harris, and many others, traded on his celebrity, lived in a milieu that seems to allow behaviour that is not appropriate. Perhaps it was the times, perhaps it was the company he kept, perhaps he is just a misguided old man who shouldn’t be going to jail…

But the problem with some celebrities is that they hide behind their status, use their status and the power from that status to behave badly. Does something happen to their moral compass when they become famous, or was there something faulty in them in the first place that pushed them to become famous and enabled their faults to have full reign?

We should be in no doubt that while celebrities seem to be like us, they are in fact nothing like us. Their trick is that they seem to be, which encourages us to connect to them, to buy their products, see their movies, follow their lives, which increases their power, status and wealth. But they live in different circles, they do not work as we do, struggle as we do. Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t get divorced, she ‘consciously uncouples’.

Fame and wealth make you different to your fans, your followers. It has to, otherwise why would it be so attractive? Being famous is one of those things we can all aspire to. It’s not accident that many of the big names in the world of sport and entertainment came from humble origins and have such big fan-bases – Tom Cruise, David Beckham, Johnny Farnham and Rolf Harris.

Whether they like it or not, their rags to riches stories resonate for us. It means we can too, if we work hard and have enough talent. It’s also why we admire them: we understand their struggle and we appreciate how hard it was for them to climb their stairways to heaven. Thus when they fall we are crushed. Somehow their journey has been our journey. Their successes ours and therefore their failures ours. We know them, that’s the point of being a fan, a follower – we have a special relationship – albeit incredibly one-sided, but as important for some people as their every day relationships.

So, when they let us down, as David Beckham did a few years ago with his affair and Tom Cruise embarrassed us on the couch with Oprah, and now Rolf Harris, we feel personally affronted. We didn’t know them at all.

No, we don’t know them, we know a version of them, the one they want the world to see. What hides beneath none of us really know. We see the product, the manufactured entity; the version sent out into the world, not the one that lives at home. Rolf Harris’ wife and daughter tell a sad tale of a man they hardly saw, didn’t really know, who saved the cheerful daftness for others, not them. He was away from home at key times, didn’t recognise his wife and new baby, was somewhat self absorbed. His letter of contrition to the family of the friend of his daughter is pathetically about himself, not his sorrow for the damage to her or her family.

So, this weekend another celebrity has fallen. Rolf Harris sits in jail, notionally for 5 years and 9 months. His family sit somewhere, broken and shamed. His victims have some justice. He is 84, my father’s age. Should he be in jail for crimes from over twenty years ago? Yes, justice has to happen and be seen to happen – war criminals from WW2 were pursued and jailed in their 80’s many years after their heinous crimes.

Will Rolf Harris be rehabilitated in the public eye, will we forgive him after he’s done his time? Will we do what we normally do with celebrities and forgive them once they’ve been publically humiliated and punished and sought our forgiveness? I have my doubts. Perhaps finally we are sick of celebrities and their extreme behaviour, their lack of contrition, lack of shame for what they have done, only sorry because they have been found out. Perhaps we are tired of their duplicity, being something they very much aren’t.


So, look to your favourite celebrity. Are you sure they’re all they seem to be? Are Brad and Ange as solid as we think? Are they as nice as we think – like us only infinitely more beautiful and rich, or is there some dark secret waiting to find air, to be exposed… (Images: Rolf Harris, BBC; Tiger Woods, Wikipedia; Brad & Ange, Guardian)

*For a more in depth consideration of the Rolf Harris story read this article by Peter Conrad from The Monthly – ttps://

Celebrity Death: are we all vultures?

April 12, 2014

People die every day. And mostly we don’t think about that, only when it directly affects us because it is a loved one. We pause for the victims of natural disasters, and political up-risings but we don’t tend to pour over the bones of those innocents the way we do the famous and dead. The death of famous people has famously stopped nations – you know: I remember where I was when JFK was shot, I remember the day Lennon died. But in our increasingly celebritised world we know the moment another is gone, usually at their own hands, always well before their expiry date.

Several questions arise: do we need to know about the untimely demise of Peaches Geldof and L’Wren Scott? Do we need to know the why and the how? (And we were told the how of L’Wren Scott) Do we need to see the suffering and pain of the ones left behind? Because let us be in no doubt both Bob Geldof and Mick Jagger are in extreme pain. Both men made eloquent, heart felt and loving comments in the wake of their loss. The Stones acted as brothers and their Oz tour was cancelled.

What is it about the way we live that people feel free now to not just offer sympathy and sadness about the recent losses from celeb-land but almost obligated to vent their spleens with vile outpourings of bile?

For all that Peaches Geldof and her family, and L’Wren Scott and Mick Jagger live a life in the public eye, we don’t know them. We have some idea about them as projected onto our screens and in our magazines, but we only have a version of them, a manufactured version of them that suits their and the media’s purposes. We, the audience, the fan, only get a highly mediated version of these people. We never, well hardly ever, meet them. We only know them in a very specific and artificial way.

So why might we feel as sad for Bob and Mick as we would for others we know who lose loved ones in tragic circumstances?

For me it’s simple: Bob Geldof is one of my heroes. I loved the Boomtown Rats when I was at uni and have a best of on my iTunes, often running through the set, so much more than I Don’t Like Mondays. Like a lot of other people I remember Band Aid and Live Aid and where I was when that concert happened. I’ve always appreciated his off-beat ways, his intensity, his devotion to causes and his adoration of Paula Yates and his oddly named girls. He is a man much blighted by tragedy and it seems to me that to be anything other than heart-broken for him at this time is to be inhuman.

bob g 1

When he was a child his mother went to bed one night and never got up again. He was brought up by sisters and aunts and suffered through the Irish Catholic Education system. We know what happened to him and Paula, how they were blissfully eccentrically happy but then she fell insanely in love with Michael Hutchence, left Bob, had Tiger-Lily, and then self destructed not longer after Michael Hutchence had, leaving Tiger-Lily alone in the world, the centre of a very ugly custody case.

Whatever you may think of Peaches Geldof, her being in the papers for all the wrong reasons, her desperate need for attention, her wildness and foolishness, there is no reason to wish her ill, then or now. She was clearly a deeply unhappy lost soul. To lose your mother young (as too many in the Geldof clan now have) is one of the worst things to happen. Paula Yates died on the birthday of her third daughter, Pixie, on September 17, 2000. She was forty and seemingly had much to live for but clearly troubled too. A life in the spot-light, often sniped at and reviled by the media she, overdosed on heroin. Was it accidental? You never know these things, do you?


To me, there is little doubt that Peaches was a deeply troubled soul. She had tried all sorts of things to make sense of her life and seemed to be settled and safe. But from her comments, over time and just before she died, it seems Paula was ever present in her life: a mystery that Peaches couldn’t sort through in a way for her to make sense of it. Why would your mother leave you if she didn’t have to? Weren’t you enough for her, wasn’t your love and need of her enough to keep her here? Has Peaches spent most of her life trying to feel okay about herself in the absence of a loving mother, despite a clearly loving father? But how ironically tragic is it that she has doomed her boys to her own feelings of abandonment all their lives. It is hard to believe she was in a hopelessly dark place. This is a girl who seems surrounded by love – father, sisters, husband, sons. But what do any of us ever know about the heart and mind of another?

So, from this unutterable sadness, what can we learn?

We should keep our own loved ones close, watch the signs that things may not be quite as well as they seem to be.

We should respect the grief of others, be they ordinary mortals like the rest of us, or the famous.

We should not presume to know anyone, we should keep our judgments to ourselves.

We should remember always and forever that being famous does not inure you against pain and suffering and being mortal. That being famous is a twin edged sword that both elevates and decimates.

Rest in peace, Peaches. Stay strong Bob. (Images courtesy  News BBC: Bob & Paula; cover of Is That It?)

Johnny Depp: Why?

April 28, 2012

Last night we watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because of the story and because of Mr Depp. We all like Johnny and over the years have seen many-many of his films. This morning beloved baby girl asks why and when? Indeed it was before Pirates of the Caribbean, as he was the hook that got me into the movie theatre.

Dragon: Pirates of the Caribbean, Mum, what do you say? It’s holidays, time for a movie.

Me: A pirate movie, dragon, me? Get a grip.

Dragon: No it’ll be good, the trailers look cool.

Me: No, not interested. Disney, pirates, predictable plot, mooshy ending: not for me.

Dragon: It’s got Johnny Depp.

Me: Ah. In that case. Yes.

Clearly from this interchange I had been fond of the actor before the wondrous adventures on the Black Pearl with the exquisite Jeffrey Rush.

So, this morning as the eggs boiled, I needed a little think – what had we seen before the pirate adventures that made me change my mind in an instant once I knew he was in it?

Perhaps it was Edward Scissorhands, or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? He was fine in Chocolat but not the reason I watched it – that was because of the book. I loved him in The Ninth Gate and From Hell, and perhaps that was when he settled into being one of my preferred actors, not my favourite, but he was edging up my list. Certainly Captain Jack Sparrow has ensured I see most of his movies these days – Finding Neverland, Sweeny Todd, Blow, Dr Parnassus, Alice in Wonderland. And I do love Once Upon a Time in Mexico.

Why Mr Depp? Yes, he is devilishly handsome and appeals to all the women in my family (a bit David Bowie in that regard) but beloved paramour likes him too, so it’s not just about the superficiality of his good looks or his seeming niceness – visiting hospitals and schools as Captain Jack. He seems a devoted father and cool with Vanessa – good luck to her. He seems to be one of those famous types who only does the celebrity bit when he has too, not one who revels in the adulation of the fans.

We love his fearlessness as an actor – his variety of roles, his brilliance with eccentricity. Sure he’s rich enough and famous enough now to pick and choose and who cares if he makes a dud movie, but his career right from the start reflects oddballs, weirdos, those outside, those who are other and strange. You know you’re watching Johnny Depp the actor these days, but you lose the man and find the character very quickly: you believe and you go along for the ride. It doesn’t matter who he is, he is brilliant, you are within the story, with him, no matter what.

Isn’t it wonderful to see a handsome actor not restricted to being a Romantic hero, or to superficial roles in Rom-coms – to eschewing any sort of stereo-typed roles at all? But a handsome man who can do anything he sets his mind to. Isn’t it reassuring to know that his longevity in movies is assured and that watching him age will be a pleasure? (George Clooney too, I guess) (Images courtesy Google Images)