The 'best celeb' awards
Many award shows are shams, with the gongs going to the most famous faces who can be persuaded to turn up on the night. So says old hand Anthony Noguera
Tuesday 01 June 2004
At about 7.30 tonight I will be on a stage in front of 88 men to present the inaugural
Arena/O2 X Club Awards. I'm excited about this because we'll be rewarding a handful of men who have genuinely enhanced the lives of
Arena's readers; I am thrilled that we are going to recognise the world-beating talents of home-grown architects, chefs, writers, comedians, designers, actors and musicians. But more than anything else, I am relieved that we do not have to give any awards to David Furnish.
At about 7.30 tonight I will be on a stage in front of 88 men to present the inaugural Arena/O2 X Club Awards. I'm excited about this because we'll be rewarding a handful of men who have genuinely enhanced the lives of Arena's readers; I am thrilled that we are going to recognise the world-beating talents of home-grown architects, chefs, writers, comedians, designers, actors and musicians. But more than anything else, I am relieved that we do not have to give any awards to David Furnish.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Most award ceremonies are a soul-destroying pain in the arse. Incredibly complicated to arrange, almost prohibitively expensive to stage (champers and nibbles for 100 or so guests won't leave you much change from a hundred grand - and you can add at least 20 grand more for a safe pair of Jonathan Ross-like presenter's hands), they're also almost never much fun - whether you're organising, attending or presenting. I know this because over the past 10 years I've organised, presented, been nominated, cruelly overlooked, and occasionally even rewarded, at enough good, bad and ugly gong-giving evenings to know what distinguishes an award-winning night out from one spent in bad-catering-and-cheap-gag purgatory.
Appreciating this distinction, tonight I will be inviting the cream of UK men's creative talent to join me on stage to receive a hug and a nifty plastic statuette - which is unusual. Not the hug bit, but the "creative" and "talent" bit. You see, the bulk of magazine award shows are about rewarding celebrity, not talent. And the not-so- secret dirty truth is that too many award ceremonies are shams in which the winners, their PRs and the organisers are co-conspirators in a well-oiled scam. This is because most such shows are based around the appearance of one or two top-end celebrities. But celebrities, as opposed to worthy winners, don't like getting all dolled up and driving into town only to be shown up as a loser in front of their peers and the press, so they often don't agree to turn up at all unless they are guaranteed to win something - anything.
To be fair, all but the most media-illiterate punters can spot a sham award show. (Dead giveaways: David Furnish/Liz Hurley/ Victoria Beckham or anyone with an album or film out that week who just happens to win stuff.) And if you're hosting a show and discover that a Britney or a Christina or a Bowie is in town and at a bit of a loose end for a couple of hours, then you invent an award for them and - hey presto! - "Please be upstanding for the International Star of the Year!" Kerching! Guaranteed front page news the next day!
The problem lies largely with the fact that you can't afford to stage a decent-looking night without the aid of a cash-rich sponsor - and most sponsors base their criteria of what constitutes money well spent not on a meritocratic distribution of honours, but on a complex mathematical equation involving the number of celebrities who turn up on the night multiplied by the number of photos of them in front of the sponsor's logo in the next morning's "red-top" papers. It's no surprise that the most hotly contested details in any negotiation between sponsor and magazine are the size and positioning of corporate logos on the boards that line the "walk-up" red-carpet area, because this is the only bit the public sees in the papers. And it's why you find Page Three girls and no-mark, reality-TV bums getting red-carpet treatment at otherwise respectable events. We were lucky to team up with O2, a sponsor who didn't stipulate any such nonsense. After all, why wouldn't a prestige brand want its logo as the backdrop for several bona fide high-achievers - instead of behind some orange-faced people most of us can't quite place?
Now, I am reliably informed that Mr Furnish is a genuinely lovely, lovely man, but isn't it surprising that legions of (mostly straight) men's magazine readers jammed letterboxes and internet sites to register their support for him as the UK's Most Stylish Man of the Year?
But give David an award and Elton John will come. They might even bring along a few of their megawatt celebrity muckers. Bingo - guaranteed gossip-column fodder.
There are at least two dozen celebrity-based magazine award shows in the UK. In every conceivable magazine sector there's a fistful of competing ceremonies, all resorting to increasingly desperate means to attract the same small pool of beautiful people. So ubiquitous have these ceremonies become that there is even an Awards Awards night, which I look forward to attending, so long as it includes "Best Obvious Fix Award".
I've attended at least two ceremonies where engravers were backstage, ready to scratch the names of winners onto award plaques only when the recipients had been spotted entering the venue. One well-regarded industry professional was denied his rightful winner's medal (after a landslide judging session in his favour) when his firm refused to buy a 10-grand table at an industry bash. How about the time when two feuding celebs turned up at the same women's style awards having both been promised the same award (the smart money said only one of them would actually attend), or the fact that one ailing men's magazine was so blatant that it faxed category lists to power PRs, inviting them to tick the box of the award they fancied for their clients to win - in return, of course, for their attendance?
Unfortunately, promising someone a gold rosette is only the start of your concessions; the inch you give as a reward is taken as a mile of demands. Once the "talent" agrees to come, you have to get them there. As Barry McIlheney, ex-editor/publisher of Q and film title Empire and an awards-show veteran, says: "We have had the most ridiculous 'riders' [celeb demands] over the years for our awards shows. One international superstar would apparently only come to the Q Awards if we a) brought him in and took him out through the kitchens to avoid any press, and b) we were totally clear that he would be out of there and gone within one hour of arriving - maximum. He came in through the kitchens OK, but left through the front door six hours later, by which stage the cleaners were sweeping up around his feet."
Another editor tells the legendary tale of a famous American director "who demanded that he be flown into London on Concorde to pick up his gong. It was fine, though it busted the budget. We were then rather surprised to get an irate phone call from his people complaining on his behalf that "the windows on the plane were too small".
You could of course do something original (as we have with the Arena/O2 X Club Awards) and not invite any talent-free celebrities and opt instead for people who actually deserve to win. Indeed, awards-industry insiders cannot help but nod in appreciation at the most successful young pup on the gong circuit: The Daily Mirror Pride of Britain Awards. Its genius is in its devious simplicity - it gives awards to "civilians". They'll be pleased as punch to turn up, won't make outrageous demands, won't mind posing for photographs and won't demand "four grams of chisel and two bottles of brandy" (as Oasis once memorably did) before agreeing to get up on stage. Nor will they get arseholed and start fights.
So why bother? Why put oneself through the misery? Because if it is done right, and if luck is on your side, then there's no bigger ego boost for a magazine editor than to see a hero - someone you truly respect and rate - standing and grinning in front of a big white board with your magazine's logo on it.
The writer is editor-in-chief of 'Arena'
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