Monday, 13 February 2017

Our confused relationship with celebrities and T P-T

The year I first moved to London, 1965, saw the premiere of what was then a controversial play “The Killing of Sister George”.  The controversy was about the assumed lesbian relationship between the characters but my abiding memory is something quite different.

To set the scene – in South Africa there was no television and there were very few radio serials – I have a vague recollection of my mother listening to one in the morning called “Dr Paul” but it did not have the universal following of, say, The Archers or Mrs Dale’s Diary. (The play is supposed to be a parody of the killing of Grace Archer in The Archers.)

Sister George, a “much loved” character in the radio serial is written out and the various motives and relationships play out.  The part I remember most strikingly was the curtain going up on one scene and the stage is full of flowers sent by devoted radio listeners. Yes, this is a parody but surely people wouldn’t actually do this?  It’s a character in a soap opera for goodness sake.  No one died!

Moving on – how can we think we have a relationship with a famous person who doesn’t even know we exist?  It may be the subject of a teenage girl’s fantasies but surely no more?

There is much discussion about whether celebrities should take advantage of a public platform to make political statements – the BAFTAs, Oscars or even from the stage at the end of a play. I am not sure.

However, famous faces can bring much to the discussion and particularly to charities. The producers of soap operas are very careful to work with charities when they address issues such as cancer, domestic abuse, etc so that not only the storyline is accurate but that viewers know where to get help if needed.

Celebrities speaking out on issues, particularly on those that involve them or their characters can make a difference.  Look at the discussion around domestic abuse accompanying the Helen and Rob storyline in The Archers.  If Louiza Patikas spoke out about abuse would we listen?  – but if we knew that she is the actress that played Helen Archer – we would listen to every word even though that doesn’t make sense.

This brings me on to my own ‘relationship’ with a celebrity. In the early 2000s the IT girls were the thing.  Leader of the pack was Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.  She was everywhere, the paparazzi loved her, she had a column in the Sunday Times and her life seemed there for everyone to see.

A PR company that was advising Breast Cancer Campaign persuaded the Sunday Times and Tara to use her column to promote a lunch with her in the private dining room at Mosimann’s to raise money for breast cancer research.  The lunch sold out, we made money (and recruited a fabulous new committee for our major fundraiser the Pink Ribbon Ball) from the guests.

My memory is of someone who was bright, engaging and full of life.  She charmed everyone. She said all the right things and made everyone feel that they were her friends and she was delighted to be there. Believe me not all celebrities are that gracious! We were all caught up in the fun of it and left the lunch feeling cheerful. That is a great talent.

She repeated this at a Pink Ribbon Ball subsequently, although then the strain was starting to show.  So much has been written about her complicated and tragic life, the flame that burned too brightly:  I just hold the memory of that lunch to remember her by.

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