David Lister: Artists could ditch the flattery and be more honest occasionally

 

Sir Elton John was coy this week when insulting Madonna by saying she looked like a "fairground stripper". There are stronger insults. My hunch is that Madonna wouldn't mind being compared to a fairground stripper. In her seemingly never-ending range of personae designed to shock, it's likely that fairground stripper was only a few tours away. Sir Elton might have cut his fellow superstar more deeply if he had said that on stage she looked remarkably like a suburban, middle-aged woman. That would have stung.

His analysis of her music was definitely spot-on, pointing out how she had moved misguidedly from making marvellous pop records to becoming just another purveyor of dance music with few distinctive traits.

But whatever the quibble over the choice of insult, there's something oddly refreshing in the fact that here is a star publicly insulting another star. Normally, we only get adulation in public, and the best insults are saved for private chat. Dame Maggie Smith was once asked if she would be going to see a celebrated performance by a fellow actress. In her inimitable style, and elongating the last two words, she replied: "I would rather drink ink." That deserved a wider audience. When the actress Glenda Jackson was an MP, I was asked unfairly but memorably by a fellow actress, now a Dame and a national treasure, with wide-eyed innocence: "But doesn't one have to be intelligent to do that job?" Alas, such memorable moments tend to be private.

I agree with the theatre director Sir Trevor Nunn that the widely used term "luvvie" is demeaning for a profession that works hard and is bursting with talent, but one of the reasons why the term is used is that people in showbiz are publicly so warm about one another, in contrast to what they often tell you privately.

Perhaps the words of actors, musicians, dancers et al would be more believable if once in a while they said in the morass of interviews published every week how much they disliked a particular performance, despaired of a certain experimental approach, or found working with a much praised artist a right pain. It happens all too rarely, but there's something to be desired in someone who is an expert in a particular field sharing their views about the current state of play and about their peers, even if those views are sometimes negative.

Incidentally, Sir Elton grew up in the London suburb of Pinner, where I happen to live, and every year the area has a big street celebration, Pinner Fair, decreed, believe it or not, in a medieval charter by King John. This fair did indeed once have strippers, but as with all other fairs and fairgrounds, strippers have long ceased to be fairground material. Perhaps Sir Elton had childhood memories of the fair in mind when he used the language he did. That's by way of explanation in case Madonna should be reading and still puzzling over the insult.

The bigger point though is that Sir Elton has opened up a channel of communication between performers that uses ripe and direct language in a world more used to continual insincerity and flattery. One wouldn't want it too often, but once in a while it can be a breath of fresh air.

The woman who had the PM's ear on the arts

It was very sad to hear of the death from cancer of the highly effective and well liked arts PR Helen Scott Lidgett. I, like many in the arts world, knew her well and found her likeable and caring. She had a strong reputation in PR, but what is less well known is that a few years ago she took a sabbatical from her day job to become arts adviser to Gordon Brown in his last couple of years as Prime Minister. I attended one meeting that Helen organised at Number 10 of figures in the arts world to give their views. I also learned that far from the PM's arts adviser being allocated a small office somewhere out of sight, she actually saw the Prime Minister very regularly and even sat on the table of advisers that he consulted on an almost daily basis. I'm not aware of David Cameron giving the arts such a special place at the Downing Street table.

Will.i.am Shakespeare: now that's real comedy

Humour is a personal thing and there's no real explanation as to why some stand-ups on the Edinburgh Fringe can leave you cold and others make you burst out laughing. I had the latter reaction, without even attending the festival this week, when I read of a routine by the new comic Cariad Lloyd, who combined knowledge of the current music scene and English literature to do a sketch about Will.i.am Shakespeare. I fell asleep still chuckling at that one.

twitter.com/davidlister1

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition