Crazy for attention

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Michael Barrymore may have given a poor performance at the Challenge TV Game Show Awards on Tuesday night, but the point is that it was a performance. He put his behaviour - giving a garbled speech before emotionally lying down on the floor - down to nerves: not first night nerves, not pre-wedding nerves, but award ceremony nerves.

"I get nervous at these times. I'm not very good at them," Barrymore said afterwards, by way of an apology. He had embarrassed the evening's host, Bob Monkhouse, who was using an Autocue, asking him if he fancied "a chat without it being scripted" and generally talked gibberish. Despite only having drunk half a glass of wine and half a glass of champagne (according to his agent), he saw fit - from his recumbent position - to speak about the plaster on the ceiling, still holding his awards.

He is not alone. (With his nerves.). Inappropriate behaviour is a condition which strikes even the most experienced, sober celebrity prize winners. Somehow they feel compelled to say or do something shocking or insulting when they clamber onto the platform.

The comedian Julian Clary famously walked onto the stage of the British Comedy Awards and said: "Oh, you've recreated Hampstead Heath for me. I have just been fisting Norman Lamont. Talk about a red box." Mr Lamont was a member of the audience and presented an award. Noel Gallagher snarled at Michael Hutchence of INXS, who was presenting prizes at the Brit Awards: "Has-beens shouldn't present awards to gonna-bes." Tom Hanks accidentally outed his former teacher in an emotional acceptance speech after winning the Oscar for his portrayal of a gay lawyer dying of Aids in Philadelphia.

Tracey Emin became very emotional and stormed off the set of Channel 4's The Turner Prize Discussion. Oliver Reed tipped a plate of ham on his head and shouted obscenities at other guests on This is Your Life. And almost every other live show, for that matter.

Although it might look as if all that is required of a celebrity at an award ceremony is to troop up to a platform, collect a gong and say a few words, the event is apparently stressful. Dr Geoff Scobie, senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Glasgow, explained: "The problem is that we move into a conflict situation. One is, in fact, caught between elevating oneself and diminishing oneself and one does not know where we should stand in that particular instance. What does one say? `I deserve this award (otherwise you wouldn't have given to to me,' or `I've not really done anything to deserve this'."

Dr Scobie compared the stress for celebrities in this situation to that experienced by a bridegroom before giving his speech, although the latter generally lack training. The severity of the condition depends on how secure they feel in the eyes of their colleagues.

Barrymore, 45, who was picking up two awards for his show, Strike it Lucky, had every reason to feel insecure. It was his first public outing with his boyfriend, Steve Platts, following his divorce in January. When the family entertainer came out, some commentators wondered whether his sexuality would demolish his career.

People deal with stressful situations in different ways - and Barrymore has, after all, a history of alcoholism. "With somebody like Barrymore, the stress would push him into what he is trying to get away from," said Dr Scobie. In 1993 he booked into a stress clinic after collapsing after a show. In May the following year, he dried out in an American detox centre and confessed that he had been an alcoholic for years. In August 1995 he tore off his wedding ring in a gay club and admitted his marriage was a sham. In May 1996 he had a nervous breakdown and, six months later, was taken to hospital complaining of voices in his head.

Maybe it is just another manifestation of the price of fame. "Everyone is watching you even when you don't want them to," says Dr Scobie. We've gone through it with Princess Diana. How do you escape and be a private person when you're wanted by everyone? In the case of Barrymore he's made a thing of getting off alcohol and putting it behind him. People are watching, and sometimes to see if you're going to fall."

Barrymore was anxious to keep himself together. He said before the ceremony: "If someone breaks down or does something newsworthy it will take off, if not it'll be off the face of the earth. I'll be pleased to win and try to accept them normally, instead of going into one... Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm a schizophrenic, so am I."

On the other hand, perhaps Barrymore was simply having a knees-up/ face- down with his showbiz mates. Think of the last time you were at a party with your friends. You got drunk; you said stupid things. The only difference was that you didn't have ten cameras trailing you.