This is a submission for Readwave.com for this week. The remit was to describe an encounter with a celebrity or something similar. I find the cult of celebrity to be a difficult one to accept because, like many 'cults' it is abused mostly by the media. However, there are people who use their fame to benefit so many others and they are to be admired for their generosity as well as their abilities.
In the ordinary lives of many of us we see celebrities as the bright lights that illuminate our humdrum days. The truth of the matter is that they’re often golden images with feet of clay. As one person I knew used to say,
‘They all look the same with their trousers round their ankles’
However, this isn’t true of all people who have achieved great things through a God given talent. I was fortunate to meet Dame Kiri te Kanawa, the classical New Zealand/Maori opera singer, a couple of years ago. I was singing in a choir that was backing Dame Kiri and Jose Carreras at the re-opening of the Scarborough Open Air Theatre. The show was hosted by the iconic Brian Blessed and BBC Yorkshire’s Harry Gration. It was quite an evening but we ordinary amateurs were in the company of four ‘stars’ for a rehearsal and the performance, around eight or nine hours. In that time we saw very different reactions of celebrities to ordinary people from the supremely single minded professional to the common touch. The one thing all four had in common was a high standard of professionalism but their human interactions were very different.
Jose Carreras locked himself away and rehearsed for hours on end. He didn’t interact with any of us at all. Harry Gration remained aloof throughout the time he was there, responding only to his camera crew as he was doing a piece to camera about the opening of the theatre. Brian Blessed was the first of the four to actually talk to us and Dame Kiri was late!
Brian Blessed who has performed on TV, Z Cars; films, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves; and has attempted to climb Everest; was all personality, noise and bluster. He was fun. Brian spoke with various groups of us and agreed to have his photograph taken with a number of different members of our choir. He gave me the impression that wherever he goes he loves being the centre of attention.
Kiri te Kanawa was ‘ordinary’ in the nicest sense of that word. She was an easy conversationalist and a lady without being aloof in the slightest way. In fact she came to the theatre with a small entourage of a couple of people, a secretary and a driver. The organisation at the theatre had supplied everyone with security badges but they were short for Kiri and her group. This instituted my own contact with the singer. She approached me and asked if the young man with her could borrow my security badge to go back to their car and bring something for her. I said that it was ok and was about to take the badge off, which was hanging round my neck on a chain, when Kiri walked up to me and took it off for me. When the driver returned she came and gave it me back and was quite happy to chat with me and anyone else that was around.
Fame is a strange bedfellow. There are no courses in how to handle it or indeed the same for ordinary folk to reciprocate when approached by it. We all have known of some famous people who handle it badly and others who are quite realistic about what it means. The New Zealander was obviously used to her undoubted talent and did all she could to help those who she came across to be ‘ordinary’ with her rather than star struck.
If I had the effrontery to coach stars on how they handle fame it would be based on the mantra,
‘First and foremost you are a human being’
Dame Kiri te Kanawa