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?

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmWhat makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes hobby look 'dysfunctional'
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
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

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week