Over the years and partly because of the numerous and various jobs I’ve (barely) held, I’ve met quite a lot of ‘famous’ celebrities (actors). And in most of them I have noticed that trying to stay ‘balanced’, i.e. ‘remaining the person they have always been’, is a difficult task. So many of them are unaware that being in the public eye and trying to stay sane, is near impossible. However, this does not stop them from trying. Unfortunately, the effort they put into this, turns them, I’m sorry to say, bonkers. The price of fame, is high.
Many, I know for a fact, have regarded the solution to the price of fame, as developing the ability to become ‘everything to all men’. And in this, they attempt to develop two main personas.
One, a professional personality for fans and those ‘in the business’ and…
…two, their ‘real selves’ kept exclusively for family and friends.
Another way of putting it would be to say…
…there are the ones that cope by believing their own publicity. They become this ‘other’. This ‘character’, this figment of the public’s imagination. These are the ones that pay the price. They lose their real selves along the way.
And then there are the others who believe to survive in this new world of make-believe they must constantly be reminding themselves of where they came from. They fool themselves into thinking they know the game. Totally convinced that they can keep *their actorly ambitions and their roots combined and under control. They believe that their very ordinariness will protect them from the real temptations and excesses of fame. Unfortunately, they are more often than not, wrong. They are fragile human beings and are destined to fail in a myriad of different ways.
*The first rule of Fame…
Beware what you wish for.
The price of fame and the second category.
During my time as a stage hand at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, there were more than one or two actors (no name-no pack drill) who, on the cusp of becoming famous and desperate to be perceived as ‘ordinary’, would make a B-line for our department. Where they would, I’m sorry to say…perform. All in a sad effort to touch base and get their fix. Their reminder of what it is to be, ‘ordinary’.
Long, nonsensical conversations would ensue that never went anywhere. We would laugh loudly at numerous and too-good-to-be-true anecdotes involving famous personalities. There would be an excess of swearing and bad accents, (Northern, I remember (?) a favourite). The conversation continued drunkenly after-show at the Dirty Duck. Always, more often than not, finishing with a request of where to find drugs in Stratford-upon-Avon?
It was all very sad. The pressure of public recognition and the price of fame was too much for them. It was tearing them apart. They needed the public recognition but…
After a lot of patience and hard work to further their careers, they had finally got what they wished for and found out along the way, that the price of fame, really did mean selling your soul.
It all proved too much for one or two well-known actors that I knew, and it was grim watching them self-medicate to ease the pain. Or to put it another way, drink or drug themselves to an early and unnecessary death.
I’ve only ever met one celebrity who struck me as ‘natural’ and that was the famous goon, Harry Secombe. And that was only because he was, in my opinion, mad already. (In Sir Secombe’s case I do not use the term ‘mad’ in a derogatory sense).
Mr Secombe interviewed me some years after I left the RSC to train as a Priest. I was asked to appear on his religious programme of a few years ago, ‘Highway’. The format of the show consisted of Sir Harry visiting a religious site (in this case Coventry Cathedral), interview someone with a connection, (me) and then suddenly burst into (pre-recorded) song. [I think I was asked because, I am a mixed-race man and the producer wanted to make something of it].
Anyway, I was lucky enough to spent some time with Mr Secombe in the make-up (*cough) department (his own Winnebago parked outside the Cathedral) and can honestly say I had a hilarious time. Sir Secombe was the same off-air as on. Bonkers. While I was having my spots covered up, he would regale me with fart noises, tales of Spike Milligan and even weirder tales of Michael Bentine.
What a day.
Once on air it was difficult to keep a straight face. Even when ‘serious’ Harry had this gift of making you want to laugh. The fact that he asked me before the show ‘what questions would you like me to ask’, didn’t help. I knew what was coming. And when the camera stopped rolling for an adjustment or repeat. There was always the funny remark, the inevitable raspberry or an insane giggle.
All in all, a great experience and an honour to meet such a warm and lovely man. A man who had solved the problem of the price of fame.
A man who knew exactly who and what he was.