Stars behaving badly: Rebels with a cause

'Trouble' is their middle name and almost every week they have another headline-grabbing scrape with authority. But, says Liz Hoggard, while some of these household names are true iconoclasts, others are merely posh boys who drink too much
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The Independent Online

It's been a high-profile week for the usual cast of "celebrity rebels". Disgraced pop star Boy George was sent out to sweep the streets of New York dressed in a vile orange outfit. Grace Jones, once the epitome of cool, was accused of trashing a flat in Chelsea - and doing something unspeakable with the spoons. And Pete Doherty was picked up by the police again.

But are they true rebels?

Phillip Hodson, fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, thinks their behaviour is more to do with modern celebrity culture, which, he says, "is about adolescents who haven't really grown up, who haven't got a life".

Jon Savage, author of England's Dreaming, a definitive history of punk music, agrees. "True rebels are by definition charismatic people who stand out against the grain. They're outsiders, extraordinary people - and in a way, pop music as a whole has become ordinary. That's its great problem."

A real rebel, they agree, refuses to accept authority, attacks cherished beliefs and disdains established dogma. He or she may be a dandy, a poser. But they cannot be managed or bribed.

Rebels are a curious mixture of shyness and arrogance, gaucheness and charm. They overturn society's narrow codes of behaviour: in the past Boy George made it possible for men to wear make-up and Tracey Emin exploded important taboos around abortion and depression.

Rebels also oppose the imposition of authority itself rather than any particular policy or action.

"A rebel is different from a revolutionary," argues Hodson. "A revolutionary believes that society is perfectible, something no society really truly wants. Rebels are people we need to kick against the pricks of authority.

"Generally they're a good thing, because if you don't have rebels, you're going to find that you're, in some way, living in a Taliban society."

Of course, a rebel image can do wonders for a medium-sized talent. Otis Ferry was just another chinless posh boy until he broke into the House of Commons with fellow hunt protesters. "Dirty Harry" (our favourite prince of the royal blood) is shaping up nicely as a brawler and nothing seems to deter him.

"That is the only function of celebrity," insists Hodson, "which is to do things for us that are slightly worrying or dangerous on our behalf, so we can get the feeling without the responsibility."

Rebel girls always have a harder time, which is why Lily Allen looks so promising. She doesn't watch her weight and is an unapologetic pleasure-seeker. And she thinks Madonna is "over-rated". But she's another one who doesn't realise that drugs talk is dull.

Once upon a time we also looked to politics or the trade union movement for our rebels. But we've rather lost our appetite for class warriors. They seem to spend more time in court and on the sunbed (cf George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan) than on the picket line. Which is what makes Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, so remarkable. A man who spends a week camped out in his cathedral, without food, to demonstrate solidarity with the victims of the Middle East conflict, suddenly makes the church of England look quite groovy.

True renegades change the culture, just by challenging the status quo. The trouble is we often don't get to hear about them any more. "The real rebels are those who say, 'We need a cashless society' or 'We've really seriously got to think about internal combustion engines,'" says Phillip Hodson.

"We need rebels, politically and socially. Unfortunately the useful and serious ones are squeezed out of the public eye by all this faff."

Tommy Sheridan

Thrown out of the Labour Party, the Scottish MP was a prominent member of Militant Tendency, campaigned against the poll tax, wrote a book called A Time to Rage, and was jailed for six months for his protests. He fought an election from his cell, and obviously liked it so much he went back, twice, jailed for protesting against the nuclear fleet at Faslane. This year he charmingly claimed he would support anyone but England in the World Cup, but it's his wife who is the scary one. Supporting him in his libel trial against the News of the World earlier this month, she told him what would happen if he had really had an affair, as claimed. "You would be in the Clyde with a piece of concrete tied around you," she said, "and I'd be in court for your murder." Katy Guest

REBEL RATING: a tartan terror ****

Richard Ashcroft

No music journalist dare claim to have earned their stripes until they have gone through the rite of passage of being told to F-off by Richard Ashcroft. The former Verve frontman and self-confessed friend of Noel Gallagher, calls himself "the best support act you'll ever see". He claims that he has always been "someone who suffers from depression". At the Isle of Wight festival in June, he urged Tony Blair to bring British soldiers home from Iraq. Later he asked to work with teenagers at a youth centre and refused to leave. He was arrested and fined £80 for disorderly conduct. KG

REBEL RATING: more sad than bad ***

Lily Allen

She sings like an angel and talks like a navvy, went to a posh school and acts like a hard girl, wears pretty frocks with big, dirty trainers - for many Lily Allen is just a privileged thug. The 21-year-old daughter of comedian Keith Allen first started taking drugs at 13. At 15 she left school and spent a summer in Ibiza popping "millions of pills"; at 18 she was in the Priory. The gobby little darling made No 1 with "Smile" and has managed to offend almost everyone. She called Madonna "the most over-rated person in pop history", and, asked who was her favourite in Girls Aloud, said, "Nicola, the ugly one. For that reason." SH

REBEL RATING: middle-class hooligan ***

Russell Brand

As the name suggests, Russell Brand is the ultimate media creation: an intoxicating mix of Mick Jagger, Dot Cotton, Keith Richards, and Willy Wonka. His rebel status is more style than substance and has been carefully manipulated by a succession of canny agents. He certainly did a good job of playing the rogue rock star during his formative years as a presenter at MTV. He was notorious for bringing drug dealers and piglets into work, for dressing up as Osama bin Laden after 9/11 and setting himself on fire when high on crack. Having made his name as the swaggering prancing presenter of Big Brother's Big Mouth, Brand, 31, is now reportedly living on an altogether more natural high - doing yoga, drinking green tea and practising Buddhism (praying for fame no doubt). SH

REBEL RATING: synthetic rebel *

Prince Harry

He stays up late, drinks too much vodka, smokes too many cigarettes, gets caught at posh London clubs with busty gals on his knee... Prince Harry's "hell-raising" would hardly raise an eyebrow among his less blue-blooded age group, but some expect the third in line to the throne to behave a little better. Past escapades include reports of smoking cannabis, taking a swing at photographers and visiting a lap-dancing establishment. And then there was that swastika... The prince was in the spotlight after The Sun published pictures of him fondling Natalie Pinkham - so what if they were three years old. SH

REBEL RATING: standard tof **

George Michael

Scandal sticks to George Michael almost as tightly as those crotch-hugging tennis shorts in the "Club Tropicana" video. There was that unfortunate incident in a Beverly Hills public lavatory with an undercover cop, but 2006 has been George's golden year for racking up points in the rebel ratings. In February he was found asleep at the wheel of his Merc in possession of cannabis; and in April he drove his Land-Rover into three parked cars. Putting a final feather in his peacock's plume, the singer was photographed last month cruising among the bushes on Hampstead Heath. George insists that the bad publicity is ultimately for the good: "I take crap for a couple of weeks but then it promotes me and my music." Spoken like a true rebel. Sarah Harris

REBEL RATING: truly reckless renegade ****

Grace Jones

Now more famous for her volcanic temper and tempestuous love life than her periodic stabs at singing and acting, this snarling ex-model has made a career out of breaking the rules. Jones, 58, sealed her fate as the grand dame of the nuclear tantrum when at the peak of her fame during the 1980s, she hit chat show host Russell Harty. Age and experience have done little to quell Jones's passion for controversy. Last week she hit the headlines accused of "wilful" damage to a rented £1.5m Chelsea apartment. Of the £16,737.26 being demanded by the owners, £168 is to pay for replacement cutlery after the allegation that several spoons "had been blackened" on the underside, apparently having been held in a flame. SH

REBEL RATING: veteran hell-raiser *****

Irvine Welsh

At nine he was ingesting glue; by 12 it was home brew; at 25 he was on heroin, sleeping rough and playing in a band called Pubic Lice; by his thirties he preferred Ecstasy and writing eye-watering novels about drugs and rape. "I'll sleep when ah'm dead, ya know?" he said. Now, he says he has cleaned up and discovered sobriety and yoga, ostensibly thanks to his new wife and perhaps stung by sweetie-pie author Alexander McCall Smith calling him "vulgar and aggressive". Still, his latest novel features a phallic vegetable-based cover and was launched amid scenes of debauchery this month in a Soho club. Two years ago he acted as a character witness for a friend, who had stabbed a man in the chest as he tried to break up a fight. The judge gave the friend four and a half years. KG

REBEL RATING: trouble clings to the man ***

Naomi Campbell

The bad-tempered supermodel and enemy of communications technology has allegedly whacked her staff with a mobile phone, a BlackBerry, a passport and a pair of Stella McCartney jeans. She is currently charged in America with hitting one maid on the head and last month was sued by another for false imprisonment, assault, battery and emotional distress. Amanda Brack said Naomi attacked her in Brazil, Morocco and New York. Now Naomi has added Italy and chefs to her list by throwing £30,000 of crockery at staff on her lover's yacht for producing an offensively "eccentric" starter (tomato, mozzarella and prosciutto). She was arrested last month for breaching the peace outside a former boyfriend's flat in Belgravia but later de-arrested. Probably had a phone on her. KG

REBEL RATING: low - just not very nice *

George Galloway

As John Prescott has shown, it takes a lot to be expelled from the Labour Party, but Gorgeous George was kicked out in 2003 when he "brought the party into disrepute" by calling the Government "Tony Blair's lie machine". He was already controversial - he hadn't won many friends back home by telling Saddam Hussein in 1994: "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." Or by saying, in May, that Tony Blair's assassination would be "morally justified". Or by reiterating his support for Hizbollah this month. It was onCelebrity Big Brother in January, when he licked Rula Lenska like a cat, that he really turned people off. But he did wipe the floor with the US Senate, "Christian fundamentalist and Zionist activists" who accused him of making money from a charity in Iraq. KG

REBEL RATING: the real thing ****

Archbishop of York

When Ugandan-born Dr John Sentamu was enthroned as Archbishop of York last year, some conservative Christians must have spluttered in their Communion wine. The first bishop to play African drums and distribute picnics at his enthronement in an English diocese, he had fled to Britain in 1974 when his independence as a judge incurred the wrath of Idi Amin. He was never going to be a mere figurehead. In the past year he has criticised the concept of multiculturalism, prayed at a Sikh temple and spoken out against Guantanamo Bay, which he says is symptomatic of "a society heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm". He is currently holed up in York Minster, fasting in solidarity with those caught up in the Middle East conflict. KG

REBEL RATING: one holy renegade *****

Boy George

Recent pictures of a chubby 45-year-old pop star dolefully sweeping rubbish off a New York street capture the essence of Boy George's appeal: he is the domesticated rebel. He falsely reported a burglary and was found with cocaine in his home, yes, but he turned out to be ever so good with a broom. During the 1980s his colourful homosexuality, flamboyant dress sense and heroin addiction were always set against a sweet smile, clever one-liners and a repertoire of heart-felt love songs. At the height of his fame he declared, "I prefer a nice cup of tea to sex", so endearing himself permanently to the Battenberg cake brigade. SH

REBEL RATING: a housewife at heart *

Pete Doherty

No matter how much crack he chuffs or how many times he gets caught in dodgy motors with pockets full of heroin, Doherty always manages to emerge from the scene of a crime like a sorry-looking schoolboy. There's something about the chubby cheeks and twisted tie that gives his bad behaviour a Harry Potter charm - even after burgling the flat of his fellow band member (2003), fighting on stage and getting chucked off the Oasis tour (2005) and numerous drugs charges and court appearances. Doherty, 27, received his latest ticking off from the British Passport Office which said his photos "didn't meet their criteria" - others said he looked as if he was "nodding off". He says he is trying to beat the drugs for the sake of his on-off relationship with Kate Moss. SH

REBEL RATING: schoolboy rebel ****

Kate Moss

It seems that Kate Moss is dead set on starring in "Sid and Nancy, the Remake". She's just taking a long time to audition her Sid. We thought she had him with Johnny Depp, but he dumped her and created a monster. She branded Jefferson Hack, the sensible father of her invisible child, "the babysitter". Heroin addict Pete Doherty was chucked after leading her astray. There was some bad business with coke-fuelled lesbian orgies and Kate lost several modelling contracts, but made a comeback promoting a complexion-renewing foundation. She hooked up with crap-haired sex addict Russell Brand, but soon got bored, and was last seen wearing Pete's ring and bidding to play Paula Yates in a movie. "Sid" and Kate are now trying the clean thing. That foundation must be good stuff. KG

REBEL RATING: rich enough not to give a damn ****

Peter Tatchell

The Australian-born campaigner has dedicated his life - and risked it - to human rights. After 20 years of fighting homophobia, he founded OutRage!, outing gays who publicly condemned same-sex relationships. He stood for Labour in the 1983 by-election in the safe south London seat of Bermondsey, but was defeated when his sexuality was made the principal issue. He attempted a citizen's arrest on Robert Mugabe in Brussels and in a courageous and highly effective campaign won police action against homophobic rap artists. His widening remit has won him new friends. Even the Daily Mail likes him.

REBEL RATING: tenacious campaigner *****