Stephen Hawking, Go Compare and a brief history of selling out

Great reputation versus a fat fee? Some celebrities should go compare their options, says Simon Usborne

Stephen Hawking, internationally-renowned theoretical physicist, has apparently been inspired by Sue Barker and Louie Spence to appear in the latest episode of the world’s most annoying adverts. No really. The professor stars in a new, one-minute spot for Go Compare, the website better known for its opera-singing mascot Gio than whatever it sells (something to do with insurance).

The Cambridge cosmologist tells a rapt audience that he has “calculated and formalised the exact conditions needed to generate a supermassive black hole”. A man asks what the professor will do with it. Cut to Gio, who aurally assaults a couple on a high street before a black hole appears and consumes him. Hawking, the latest celebrity to dispatch the singer (Barker did it with a rocket launcher) ends the ad with a computer-generated “Ha ha ha.”

It is approaching funny, to be fair to Hawking, but that a figure of his stature is shilling for a price comparison website shows how pervasive the celebrity ads have become. Why? There are the obvious financial incentives. Kevin Bacon’s “six degrees” (of exasperation) adverts for Everything Everywhere, which are grating enough to make one skip the cinema and switch phone contracts, may have something to do with the loss of his life savings to the fraudster Bernie Madoff. But Hawking? Surely he’s still raking in Brief History royalties.  Just last month he won a £2m  science prize after earlier confirming his eminence with a stirring plea for curiosity at the Paralympics opening ceremony.

The professor explained his appearance, possibly via Gocompare’s marketing department, thus: “I am a fan of the Gocompare.com adverts, but I am also an opera fan, so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to help save the nation and silence Gio. I hope the public find it as funny as I did.”

As a scientist beyond compare, it’s hard at least to imagine the ad harming Stephen’s rep. But does Bacon’s current banal ubiquity enhance him as a film actor? What about Robert Webb? Just as the comedy actor’s latest series of Peep Show gathers top praise even by its own high standards, he steps in for that meerkat in an unfunny ad for another insurance website. In a “touchy” rant on his Twitter feed, Webb responded to the grief he said he’d received as a result: “Might make a NYR of not checking replies first thing in the morning. Turns out that pissed critics can really spoil a good poo.”

Perhaps we should pause before upbraiding celebs for banking millions for a couple of days’ work. Wouldn’t you? But we cannot excuse Brad Pitt, whose mumbling turn for Chanel has been so rightly ridiculed because it’s not only rubbish but, unlike marginally less nauseating cameos such as Bacon’s or Hawking’s, it commits the gravest crime of taking itself seriously. In the meantime, you creatives, if not fewer dignity-sapping celebrity ads in 2013, please may we at least have better ones?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn