Terence Blacker: Showbiz misery shown up

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It is going to take a while to get used to the idea that we have just lived through a summer of love, and that London has briefly been the world capital of caring and happiness. Already, though, what we have seen and heard over the past two months has had some surprising side-effects.

It will be difficult, for example, to consider bravery – and self-pity – in quite the same way. Reading this weekend an extract from the memoirs of Pamela Stephenson, the New Zealand comedian and shrink, I found myself wondering whether real courage in the face of adversity has not exposed the tearful, show-biz version to be something of a fraud.

Tales of childhood misery are a staple of the celebrity memoir. If there is a creative writing course for such things, its first rule would be: pile on the agony in early life, and then show how you have triumphed over the odds to be the successful person you are today.

Stephenson's childhood was horrible, as she recalls it. The daughter of two academics, one who had "poor mothering skills", the other who was too ambitious for her, she lived, unloved, in an ugly, concrete-sprayed house in an arid suburb of Sydney. At school, her classmates ganged up on her. Worse followed. Miserable as a teenager, Pamela hung out in the dodgy Kings Cross area. There, aged 16, a heroin addict lured her to his flat. "I had an inkling that it might be the route to my desired destruction," she writes. "I suppose it was rape. What was the age of consent back then? I don't even know."

There is something strangely tentative about the way this miserable episode is told but, by this stage, it is clear that the story of little Pamela is one of the beastliness of the outside world against her own plucky innocence.

Until now, self-pity has been accepted as part of the culture, an almost obligatory part of celebrity memories.As we have heard so many times in the past few weeks, suffering and disability need not define a person. If those who have come through unimaginably traumatic experiences can move on without recalling their pain and congratulating themselves on overcoming it, the famous should be able to do it, too.

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