There was a time where our heroes were something to genuinely admire, a beacon of talent, wit, bravery, achievement, or beauty. They were someone we could daydream about, imagine being like them or, simply to worship as we pinned their face to your bedroom wall.
The object of our affection or veneration came largely unaccompanied. That is to say, while one might have known Paul Weller or Glenn Hoddle had a partner, it wasn’t important and not something that affected their output unless they forced them upon us.
The most I knew about Glenn, outside of him being a god-like figure on the White Hart Lane pitch, came from the back of a souvenir card. On the back of the card was a reassuringly banal 1980s Q&A which included probing queries like ‘Favourite food?’ (it was fish and chips I seem to recall). Yet it was sufficient. To walk down Seven Sisters and watch him from the stands as he beguiled with his skill was privilege enough.
Some of the biggest stars of the past 100 years didn’t provide much superfluous information and insight about them. In fact, they needed to make quite an effort for those things to puncture our consciousness.
Paul McCartney liked being a vegetarian, pot and hanging out with Linda. John Lennon spent a long time in bed, and was into peace more than war. Jagger had beautiful girlfriends and enjoyed cricket, and George Best liked to drink, have sex and not turn up for training.
Those days are gone, the heroes of today have the threat of their privacy being invaded due to an apparently rapacious public appetite, but if they don’t get enough of that, strangely they’ll simply log in to social media and tell us their opinions on everything from the refugee crisis, to who deserves to go through on Strictly.
Pick a celebrity on social and many of them will provide you with a piece of virtue signalling, a self-serving and ill-informed opinion, or hideous platitude underneath a carefully curated image of themselves.
There are the obvious examples; ex-footballer and star BBC / BT pundit Gary Lineker, or ex-pop star and daughter of Keith, Lily Allen. They both regularly dive into politics, whether it’s supporting something like The People’s Vote or calling for more compassion towards a group.
Lineker’s no idiot, but is not the most subtle of ‘debaters’ but it barely matters to his faithful of sycophants. While Lily, she’s like someone the right wing invented to demonstrate the hypocrisy and derangement at play in much of showbiz.
We now appear to have a gossipy little gaggle of Mary Whitehouse celebrities, telling us what they like, what they don’t, and what we should all like, how we should be, and how we can ‘be better’. Comedians become half-baked polemists, and we all watch as they rub each other’s bellies and say ‘good boy’ and play the new version of wank word bingo, Trump, Brexit, Gammon, Trump (again), Tories, Trans rights, Trump, Foreign Policy, HOUSE!
Even those you’d like to think have a handle on such things fall into the terrible trap. One LBC presenter and well-known and brave advocate of free speech has an Instagram account that is mildly depressing, consisting as it does of humblebrags, and fairly hackneyed self-help bollockry.
Did the famous people of the past think less about politics, or did they simply think people didn’t want to hear what they had to say about those things? Or was it just a lack of access?
Sadly the latter is most likely, but wouldn’t it be nice to imagine they thought (as some must now) that being a millionaire, living in a huge house away from the rest of the world, never having to go shopping, get on a train, a bus, and sending your kids to the finest schools, can actually lead you to have a an opinion that might be a little out of whack with the rest of us. That’s right, the dreaded bubble.
I’m not sure about some of the others but John Lennon would have been toast now. He had a room for his furs, cheated on a pregnant Cynthia Lennon, and Yoko, and he beat women.
It seems odd too that this upsurge in celebrity’s with ‘opinion’ seems to have come at a time where songs with political or social messages, or comedy acts with real bite or satire, are rarer than a ham sandwich in Amjem Choudhary’s cell.
Maybe it’s because all that opinion and fury is spouted on Twitter and not into their artistic channels. But then, how would Gary Lineker work his musings on #MeToo into another pun on Match of the Day? Or perhaps their opinions are as crafted and curated as their wardrobe, put together with the help of a publicist and manager rather than a stylist.
It’s true what they say, never meet your heroes. Sadly though, there’s no need any more. They’re out there already, hanging on the line like next-door’s washing.
Tom James’ new book Your Children Are Boring is available to buy on Amazon in paperback and kindle in the UK, US and worldwide.