Friday, 16 September 2011

Sleb Spotting

Today I had a chance for some bonding with my son, as his wife went shopping with my daughter for some last-minute uni essentials and we immersed ourselves three consecutive episodes of The Sopranos. I am on the second series, having been given all six by my generous brother, but It was my son’s first exposure to the topsy-turvy morality of this great work of American TV fiction. So visceral are the responses of many of the characters that they are like those of overgrown children and I constantly ask myself why the lives depicted make for such engrossing drama. They are not without honour and yet they extort and murder; they also enjoy some of the most appetising food you can ever hope to see depicted on screen and enjoy a conviviality that is enviable. The expression “loveable rogues” sort of covers it, but I am still trying to work out why one desires the best interests of these dangerous individuals.

Tony Soprano (as played by the wonderful James Gandolfini).
Once heard to say "Even a broken clock is right twice a day."

Before we settled down to watch the telly, we walked int Twickenham to fulfil the double purpose of giving me my daily exercise and a trip to the supermarket for some white bread flour and table salt. Crossing the road in the opposite direction to us near the shops I saw the craggy person of Leslie Grantham, the former (or is it forever?) “Dirty Den” from EastEnders.

When I worked in the West End ten or so year ago, I was celeb spotting the whole time. The proximity of the Broadcasting House helped, as there was a constant stream of actors, politicians, popstars and famous broadcasters in and out of the building. I used to see Morrissey in the Post Office and once nearly bumped into Eric Clapton as he left his dentist’s in Cavendish Square. I saw Bob Geldof taking his then diminutive and neatly uniformed daughters to school. Heck, a famous artist once held my gaze, perhaps sizing me up for addition to their oeuvre.

Now that I work in the City I quite often get opportunities to see famous people and over the years I have met a few, including a couple of royalty. On occasions I have spoken to celebrities without being introduced, sometimes on public transport, and only one—someone I particularly admire—has ignored me. Mind you, I was then in my gauche early twenties and had just careered out of a pub in Chancery Lane and narrowly avoided walking into him, my greeting being a slightly drunken “Oh, hello”. As a boy of seven I wrote a fan letter to the American astronaut John Glenn and was overjoyed eventually to receive a reply, signed personally although the text was no doubt standardised.

Celebrities we will always have with us and I believe it is entirely normal to take a measure of interest in those who have maintained a position in the public eye. Often this has been because of particular talent or hard work and such people naturally have an aura of attractiveness. We may not envy them their relative lack of privacy, but we would perhaps like some of their skill or charisma to rub off on us.

Watching an episode of The West Wing last night I reflected on what is the appeal of this uniquely engrossing series and came to the conclusion that, alongside the strong acting, sharp scripting and breathtaking editing, one thing it offers most strongly is the sense—even in the midst of incomprehension of many of the intricacies of American government—of being at the heart of something really important, at the centre of things. Maybe we imagine that celebrities are gifted with wisdom as well as talent and that they can illuminate at least some aspect of “the centre” for us. This could be the fundamental flaw of celebrity gazing.

Another personal sighting: the left leg and well shod foot of Peter Hain MP,
Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, seen on a train into Waterloo May 2011.
Call me shameless...

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