Making headlines: Help – I’m on the news!

From a runaway labrador to a pie-throwing comic, Tim Walker recalls those who emerged from obscurity to find themselves thrust into the limelight in 2011

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The Independent Online

Baroness Trumpington

Jean Barker, Baroness Trumpington, gained a measure of notoriety in November when she appeared to stick two fingers up at her fellow Conservative peer the Lord King of Bridgwater after he made reference to her advanced age. Lady Barker is 89, and worked in naval intelligence with the code-breakers at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. During the 1970s she served as the Mayor of Cambridge, and was made a life peer in 1980.

Appointed to the Ministry of Agriculture by Margaret Thatcher, aged 69, she was the oldest female minister in history. "The survivors of World War Two [have] started to look pretty old," Lord King, a former Defence Secretary, suggested to a half-empty House of Lords. As he gestured towards the formidable Lady, she raised her hand in what looked like a lewd version of Churchill's signature wartime V-sign. She later, however, denied it was intended as such.

Sian Massey

Sian Massey's first Premier League appearance, as assistant referee for a Blackpool away win at Sunderland in December 2010, passed without incident. However, as she officiated on the touchline for Liverpool's 3-0 victory at Wolverhampton Wanderers in January, Sky Sports veterans Richard Keys and Andy Gray were bantering off-camera. Thinking his microphone was switched off, Keys suggested, "Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her." "Can you believe that? A female linesman," Gray replied. "The game's gone mad," Keys went on.

The resultant row over sexism ended with the presenting duo losing their jobs. Massey, meanwhile, found her Facebook pictures plastered all over the press. To her credit, she brushed off the controversy and carried on refereeing. In May, she made the news again after colliding accidentally with Cardiff City's Kevin McNaughton. Again, she dusted herself down, and was last seen on the touchline for Newcastle United's draw with Swansea City in December.

Carolyn Bourne

Carolyn Bourne was known to her peers primarily as a prize-winning grower of pinks and dianthus flowers. Until June, that is, when the 60-year-old sent a withering email to her stepson Freddie's fiancée, Heidi Withers, accusing her of a "staggering uncouthness and lack of grace". Referring to the young couple's uncomfortable visit to her home in Devon, Bourne chided Withers for such crimes as poor table manners, laziness and lack of taste. Withers was so shocked by the lengthy rant that she forwarded it to some friends. They passed it on, and it soon went viral.

When the story reached the press, Withers' father retaliated, labelling Bourne a "snotty Miss Fancy Pants". Freddie and Heidi's "brash, celebrity-style wedding" (Carolyn's words) finally took place in November, though Freddie's father and stepmother did not attend.

Rebecca Black

Rebecca Black was 13 when, at the turn of the year, her mother paid a local California music label $4,000 to write and produce a single for her. "Friday", for which the label also made a video, was quietly uploaded on to YouTube in February, but in March abruptly went viral. Black was roundly mocked for what many called "the worst song ever", but within weeks had signed a management deal, appeared on Jay Leno's talk show, and hosted MTV's online awards ceremony. The original clip for "Friday" had been viewed more than 167 million times when it was taken down in June, by which time the song had also featured in an episode of the hit show Glee.

Black is recording her debut album, and recently released her third single, "Person of Interest", which, at the time of writing, boasts a mere 4.8 million views.

Adam Potter

In January, Adam Potter, a 35-year-old amateur climber from Glasgow, scaled Sgurr Choinnich Mor, a mountain near Ben Nevis, with his girlfriend and two other friends. After reaching the summit, however, he lost his footing and tumbled 1,000 feet down the near-vertical eastern slope. Potter was found standing up, studying his map, with only a broken rib and three "minor fractures" to his back. He attributed his miraculous escape to his rucksack, claiming it prevented his head hitting the ground.

In May, a mere four months later, he realised a life's ambition: reaching the top of Everest. Around 1,500 feet short of the world's highest summit, Potter suffered a flashback to his fall. "Given the amount of crumbling snow, a slip would result in falling down a 500m face," he said afterwards. "My thoughts went back to my fall in Scotland. But my Sherpa Chongba helped me through."

Jonnie Marbles

Jonathan May-Bowles, a 26-year-old comedian and anarchist, interrupted the Media Select Committee "hackgate" hearings in July to thrust a foam pie into the face of 80-year-old Rupert Murdoch. May-Bowles, who prefers to be known as "Jonnie Marbles", thus generated sympathy for Murdoch, turned the mogul's quick-fisted wife, Wendi Deng, into a cult hero, and earned himself a fortnight in Wandsworth prison. During his incarceration, he wrote a blog about his experiences, including sharing a cell with "Splinter", a serial offender and fan of Jeremy Clarkson. Watching Top Gear, Marbles mused, provided "a reminder, if one was needed, that there are far worse people than the ones you find in prison".

In September, following his release, Marbles/May-Bowles continued his activist activities, joining protesters trying to halt the eviction of travellers from their homes at Dale Farm in Essex.

Nafissatou Diallo

When Nafissatou Diallo entered the presidential suite at Manhattan's Sofitel hotel on 14 May, she was walking into a political firestorm. As the 32-year-old maid told it, she encountered Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund and prospective French presidential candidate, emerging from the shower naked. She alleged that he wrestled her to the floor, tore off her underwear and forced her to perform oral sex. After a series of inconsistencies were exposed in her evidence, however, Diallo's credibility was called into question. Strauss-Kahn insisted the encounter had been consensual, and the rape charges against him were eventually dismissed. Following his release, Diallo gave a television interview arguing her case. Some still believe the Frenchman was framed for the crime by his rival Nicolas Sarkozy. In December, CCTV footage of the aftermath of the incident was released, showing Diallo – who has since filed a civil suit against Strauss-Kahn – explaining her ordeal to the hotel's security staff.

Grace Van Cutsem

Pippa Middleton's arse may turn out to be a more enduring meme, but the second breakout star of the Royal Wedding in April was tiny bridesmaid Grace Van Cutsem, Prince William's goddaughter. Three-year-old Grace was photographed on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, covering her ears to block out the racket of the cheering crowds as the happy couple kissed behind her – thus adding an amusingly sceptical footnote to the day's happiest image. The Duchess of Cambridge did her best to cheer little Grace up during the RAF flypast, but to no avail. No doubt her breeding will instil her with better manners as she grows up to be ribbed by her boarding-school chums about this famous snapshot. Her parents are William's great friend Hugh Van Cutsem and his wife, Lady Rose Astor, which makes Grace the great-great-great-granddaughter of William Waldorf Astor, the first Viscount Astor.

Carine Patry Hoskins

Carine Patry Hoskins was called to the Bar in 2000, after graduating from Cambridge with a first-class Masters in law. She is bilingual, and has practised law in New York, and at the European Court of Human Rights. In 2011, she was appointed as junior counsel to the Leveson Inquiry, perhaps the most high-profile legal proceedings of the year. She will be remembered, however, for being "the Woman on the Left": during the November testimony of dashing actor Hugh Grant, she was seated to the left of fellow lawyer Robert Jay, who was questioning the actor. Twitter users suggested she was making eyes at Grant, and #WomanOnTheLeft swiftly became a trending topic, earning her more than one mention in the subsequent news coverage. She didn't comment on her unexpected fame, preferring instead to focus on the job in hand: questioning footballer Garry Flitcroft the following day.

Wael Ghonim

In late 2010, Egyptian Google staffer Wael Ghonim set up a Facebook page, "We Are All Khaled Said", to commemorate a young man tortured to death by police in Alexandria. It became an online meeting place for Egyptians inspired by the revolution in Tunisia. Ghonim's next Facebook event: "January 25: Revolution against Torture, Corruption, Unemployment and Injustice", was used to organise the subsequent Egyptian protests. Ghonim returned to Cairo from Google HQ in Dubai to take part, but was soon incarcerated and interrogated himself. Released after 11 days, he gave an emotional television interview that was broadcast worldwide. On 9 February, he addressed the crowds in Tahrir Square. Ghonim has since quit Google to set up an NGO and write a book, Revolution 2.0. Arabian Business magazine named him the second most powerful Arab, after Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal.

Madeleine Pulver

On the afternoon of 3 August, a man in a balaclava broke into the Sydney home of William Pulver, one of Australia's richest men, and came across Pulver's 18-year-old daughter Madeleine, in the kitchen. He fitted what he claimed was a bomb to her neck, then fled, leaving a note that said the bomb collar would detonate if the Pulvers did not accede to his demands.

Nearby streets were evacuated and the media waited, but after a tense 10-hour ordeal, police finally released the teenager, revealing that the device, in fact, contained no explosives. The attempted extortionist, Paul Douglas Peters, was arrested the following week in the US. Three months later, Ms Pulver sat her final school exams and, in December, learned that she had made it into the New South Wales "Distinguished Achievers" list, making her one of the state's top students.

Sohaib Athar

Though the members of Seal Team 6 remain anonymous, the raid on Osama bin Laden's hideout did produce one unwitting celebrity: 33-year-old Sohaib Athar, an IT consultant in Abbottabad, Pakistan, who began tweeting about a bothersome helicopter hovering near his apartment on the night of 1 May. "Go away helicopter," he wrote, "before I take out my giant swatter." The following day, the reason for the chopper's presence became clear. "Uh oh," he tweeted, "now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it." Athar, who had moved to the town from Lahore in search of the quiet life, soon became Pakistan's first Twitter user to attract more than 100,000 followers. (He now has around 77,000.)

Despite his sudden fame, he turned down all the book offers and says life returned to peace and near-normality in Abbottabad after a few days, but he has accepted an invitation to appear at the SXSW festival in Texas in March 2012.

Fenton!

Fenton, an 18-month-old black labrador cross from Chiswick, South London, briefly became Britain's most notorious hound in mid-November, when a video appeared on YouTube of his owner stumbling after him as he chased deer through Richmond Park. The unfortunate man's cries of "Fenton!" and "Jesus Christ!" went viral, quickly becoming a trending topic on Twitter and even a T-shirt. The original clip has now been viewed around 3.5 million times.

The Sun tracked down Fenton's owner, a well-spoken architect called Max, reporting that Fenton had been rejected as "unsuitable" by Guide Dogs for the Blind. Max didn't wish to capitalise on the mutt's fame, for fear of being prosecuted for breaking the rules on pets in Royal Parks.

A friend, however, told the newspaper that he was mortified. "Max won't be taking him back to Richmond Park any time soon and is considering giving him a new name if the fuss goes on."

Adam Werritty

Businessman Adam Werritty is, as almost everyone must now be aware, a close friend of the former Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox. Werritty lodged rent-free with Fox for a time and, in 2005, was best man at Fox's wedding. However, the two were also business associates and, in October, it emerged that Werritty, though not a civil servant, had accompanied his friend in an advisory capacity on at least 18 official foreign trips since 2009.

The revelations were investigated by Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell, but not before Fox was forced to resign, on 14 October.

Meanwhile, images of the pair in morning suits or matching linen jackets were plastered across the press. In December, Werritty finally broke his silence to write a column about the affair in The Spectator. He insisted that nothing inappropriate had taken place, but said his future lay far from politics. He also revealed that he'd be spending Hogmanay with the Foxes.

Alessio Rastani

"I go to bed every night dreaming of another recession," self-styled City trader Alessio Rastani told the BBC in September. "It's an opportunity."

His slick financial patter and conspiracy theory that "Goldman Sachs rules the world" quickly made him a viral villain and by the following morning he was beseiged by reporters. It soon emerged, however, that Rastani was not quite the expert the BBC had claimed. He didn't work for a City institution, nor was he authorised by the FSA. In fact, he lived and worked in a £200,000 semi in south London as an "independent trader", who delivers motivational lectures to amateur investors. "I'm an attention-seeker," he said.

In a recent Christmas message to his website's regular visitors, Rastani reflected on his brief notoriety and appeared to have undergone a Damascene conversion.

After losing two loved ones this year, he said, he'd realised: "What I've thought is important probably isn't and what's really important is spending quality time with people you care about."

Natalie Kenly/Rachel Oberlin

Natalie Kenly and Rachel Oberlin are perhaps better known by the title that was bestowed upon them collectively by their ex-boyfriend, Charlie Sheen: "The Goddesses".

In January, production of Sheen's sitcom Two and a Half Men was halted so that he could undergo a home rehab programme. But when an increasingly crazed Sheen criticised show creator Chuck Lorre, he was fired.

With his private life under the spotlight, Sheen showed off the two women with whom he'd been enjoying a ménage à trois: Kenly, a model who was previously his children's nanny, and Oberlin, aka porn star, Bree Olson. The two shared Sheen's Los Angeles mansion and accompanied the actor on his "Violent Torpedo of Truth" live tour. But Oberlin – who later admitted she was uncomfortable with the arrangement – dumped the former Platoon star by text in April. Kenly finally departed the scene in June, Sheen reportedly demanding she return a Mercedes he had bought for her as a gift.

Robert Bailey

Among the many tales of quiet heroism to emerge from the wreckage of Japan's earthquake and tsunami in March, one was of particular interest to British readers. Robert Bailey, a 27-year-old English teacher from Lincolnshire, had sent his parents a text when the quake struck, saying he was heading for a shelter in the town of Ofunato, on the country's northern coast. They did not hear from him again until four days later. As the tsunami approached, he had been teaching a class of 42 students at the local high school. He ushered them outside onto the playing fields to avoid any falling debris. Luckily the school was on a hill and unscathed by the wave. Many of its pupils, however, perished in their homes.

Rather than leave in the wake of the disaster like many ex-pats, Bailey stayed to help with the reconstruction. In December he was awarded a Royal Humane Society Testimonial for bravery.

Pauline Pearce

As riots broke out in East London in August, 45-year-old jazz singer and community radio host Pauline Pearce was in a sound-proofed recording studio in Hackney. When she left to walk home, she was shocked by the scale of the violence confronting her. She asked some teenagers why they were destroying property and one replied that the owners "got insurance". Pearce erupted. Her impassioned, impromptu speech was captured on a journalist's cameraphone: "Why are you burning people's shops that they have worked hard to build up? We're not gathering together to fight for a cause – we're running down Foot Locker and thieving shoes!"

Two million people watched it on YouTube overnight, Boris Johnson presented her with a citizens' award and she was invited to the Tory conference in Manchester. Now, she says, she hopes to use her unexpected fame to set up a community centre, to help improve the lives of both looters and victims.

"Ray"

In September, a 17-year-old boy calling himself Ray walked into Berlin City Hall and told a story that captivated the world (for a week or two).

After his mother, Doreen, died in a car accident five years ago, said the English-speaking teenager, he and his father Ryan had started living in the forest. When Ryan died suddenly, Ray – who became known as "Forest Boy" – had buried him and walked to the city.

His story, however, soon began to unravel: police records showed no Doreens had died in car accidents in that timeframe and Ryan's grave was never found.

The boy adapted to city life suspiciously quickly and his clothes and tent seemed too pristine to have been in use for five years.

In November, Forest Boy finally agreed to donate his DNA in an attempt to find his relatives, having previously said he had none.

A Swiss couple has now claimed that he may be their grandson.

Anastasia Richardson

Seventeen-year-old Anastasia Richardson had only just sat her AS level exams when she organised the SlutWalk demonstrations in London this summer, protesting against the culture of blaming the victims of rape.

Richardson, who lives with her parents in Oxfordshire, was driven by the belief that rape conviction rates were too low and inspired to act by a Canadian policeman's suggestion that women should "avoid dressing like sluts" to protect against sexual assault.

Around 3,000 people (of both genders) joined the march on 11 June, which Richardson addressed. The movement morphed into a campaign group, Slut Means Speak Up.

A natural activist, Richardson also blogs on other subjects such as education cuts and the Occupy protests – and is presently studying for her A-levels.

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