Ask me this but don't mention that
This week everybody's talking about press intrusiveness. Now it's famous Martin Amis, publicising his new novel and worrying about his privacy. Anne Treneman doesn't hear him
Thursday 11 September 1997
The news - or is it publicity? - was duly carried in yesterday's papers along with a mention of Amis's new novel. Also in yesterday's papers was news of Harrison Ford and his fear over the invasion of his privacy. "There is an obsession with celebrity in today's culture that is, I think, unhealthy, unreasonable and unwarranted but I don't know what to do about it. I don't know specifically where the blame lies." This quote comes from an "exclusive" interview with Ford in The Express. It is not unrelated that Ford is starring in a new movie called Air Force One (the publicity for which is hardly low-key: "Harrison Ford is the President of the United States", it boasts).
There has been much hand-wringing about invasion of privacy since the Princess of Wales died but there are no easy answers in a celebrity-crazed world in which fame and publicity are inextricably intertwined. "The world takes you over a bit, annexes you," Amis complains in the Esquire interview. "When I was in the papers every day I hadn't done anything. I'd left my wife, but as anyone knows who's been through it, no one wants a marriage to break up."
But the fact is that Martin Amis had done something. The man who is often called Britain's greatest novelist - and whom the Telegraph at least has identified as its sexiest - is not exactly shy. In one of his many forays as a journalist he went to interview Madonna. In fact she wouldn't be interviewed. We know this because Amis told us because, of course, he did write the story of the non-interview anyway: "The reason she seemed to be giving was this: I was too famous. Madonna (I wanted to tell her), don't say another word. I completely understand."
It is no good doing everything you can to make news one day - whether it is aid of a new film or new book or even a non-interview - and then wondering why there might be a market for information about what else you might be doing. As Amis and Ford and countless others have discovered, it can be considerably more difficult to put the genie back into the bottle.
It is something that Amis's father knew too. Kingsley Amis also had a marriage that went wrong and attracted the interest of the press. "In those days all you got was the old-fashioned hypocrisy, some paragon of Fleet Street saying, you know, `He's an adulterer.' Now you get a crackle of schadenfreudian laughter, and scurrility that is gigglingly hurled in the pot." He adds: "If they wrote about you like that in France they'd go to prison."
I'm not sure that Brigitte Bardot would agree but such views make it clear that it is not the publicity, per se, that such stars object to. It is the fact that they cannot control it. There was an interesting moment this week when Sylvester Stallone showed up in Rome to launch another branch of Planet Hollywood. All must have seemed as normal as the photographers jostled each other to get the best position. But then, something happened. The photographers, angry over Stallone's recent anti-paparazzi remarks, decided to stage a mini-strike and lowered their cameras. Stallone ignored them and soon they were snapping away as normal but it did make you wonder what would happen if you gave a photo opportunity and no one came. Later at the press conference Stallone made a joke of it: "I love the press. It's what separates us from the animals." He later explained that it was only a section of the paparazzi that he was worried about.
Sylvester Stallone may indeed only be worried about one specially virulent strain of paparazzi. Most of us are, especially as we learn more and more of how Diana was hunted day and night. But perhaps, if he was honest, some of this is just an excuse to complain about press coverage in general and, in doing so, try to control it just a little bit more. After all, Stallone clearly does love the press on his terms: he was only in Rome to open Planet Hollywood (hardly anti-celebrity itself) because he happened to be in Venice promoting his latest film.
At heart most celebrities - and the Princess was among them - understand this. We know this because Tina Brown, celebrity editor of the star-studded New Yorker, wrote about a lunch she had had with Diana a few weeks ago. She says that Diana tried time and again to get the Royal Family to appoint a political strategist who would do for them what Peter Mandelson did for Tony Blair. She quotes Diana as saying: "They kept saying I was manipulative, but what's the alternative? To just sit there and have them make an image for you?"
And stars like Harrison Ford, for all his reticence, must see that they are not completely innocent. The man is no JD Salinger, after all. In this week's interview he tells an story about the small gold ring that he has taken to wearing in his left ear. Evidently, he first appeared wearing this thing on CNN's Larry King Live show. Ford says he was keen to play down the ensuing fuss (despite having worn it in the first place). "It's just an earring. A lot of people have them, a lot of people don't. But it does seem to be of spectacular interest." Perhaps someone should tell Mr Ford that he is not like a lot of people. After all, as his publicity tells us, he is the President of the United States.
There is one alternative that few ever really talk about. No publicity. This is something that the real president of the United States has managed to achieve for his daughter. He did this by demanding that the press lay off but also by never breaking his side of the bargain and seeking out any publicity. Chelsea does not give interviews, she does not have favourite journalists that she calls with the latest tip, she does not open restaurants or appear on Larry King Live wearing an earring.
But no publicity means, of course, not playing the game and not playing the game is perhaps the biggest risk of all. It can affect both career and income. Publicity generates interest and interest makes for more sales. Not everyone buys Amis's novels for their literary value alone. Many may read a gossipy bit or two - like the item in Peterborough that announced that his girlfriend was pregnant - and decide to give one of his books a go.
Perhaps Martin Amis would do well to look at another man with a genius for words named Thomas Pynchon who truly has shunned publicity. "He's always been an absence rather than a presence," Ron Rosenbaum comments in the Independent on Sunday. "He's been a stealth writer from the moment the publicity-industrial complex first tried to fix him on its radar screen." In 1963, when Pynchon discovered Time had found where he was living in Mexico and had sent someone to cover him. Upon hearing this news Pynchon did something very interesting indeed: he got on a bus and disappeared
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