My team-mate was worried by a surprising development in his life. He had been receiving anonymous calls on his car-phone. This sudden, inexplicable curiosity of strangers made him feel uneasy. Almost two decades later, he is rather more militant in his views about intrusion. Watching Hugh Grant testify to the Leveson Inquiry this week, it occurred to me that early signs of the nasty side-effects of celebrity we see today were evident all those years ago when our right-back suddenly became famous.
Character is revealed on the football pitch. Hugh and I were part of – indeed at one point jointly organised – a ragtaggle team of freelancers (this paper's distinguished sketch writer Simon Carr was at one point a central defender) who played on Wednesday afternoons. On the pitch, Hugh was rather different from what was to become his screen persona: he was, shall we say, robustly competitive.
Shortly after he mentioned the mysterious calls, he went off to make a film, and I was away from London for a few months, teaching creative writing at a university. When I returned, Hugh's face was on posters on every street. The film was Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Although he would occasionally play for us after that, everything changed, and in a way which the evidence to Lord Leveson has helped to explain. There was a guardedness there, a distinct sense of separateness. The easy, unthinking view is that becoming well-known tends to give people airs. The truth is that it is not fame that screws up the famous so much as the attitude to fame of the outside world.
A self-protective bubble is required. Nothing is normal any more. No one can quite be trusted. There is always a danger that something said or done in a relaxed moment can be leaked to a gossip column, with miserable consequences. It seemed a shame that Hugh now had to be so cautious, so unlike himself.
The last time I saw him, we were playing in a tournament together and he seemed slightly unfriendly in a way which I found bewildering at the time. Now I realise that the problem was that by then I was writing a newspaper column. I was among the ranks of the enemy.Reuse content