The quintessential modern celebrity, hooked on publicity

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The Independent Online

The announcement of Paula Yates's death yesterday was shocking, but not a surprise. She belonged to that band of contemporary women whose vulnerability propels them to live their lives in public, apparently craving attention yet unable to cope with the further demands their selfexposure creates. The tributes confirmed that she was the quintessential modern celebrity, a woman as famous for her tumultuous private life as her achievements.

The announcement of Paula Yates's death yesterday was shocking, but not a surprise. She belonged to that band of contemporary women whose vulnerability propels them to live their lives in public, apparently craving attention yet unable to cope with the further demands their selfexposure creates. The tributes confirmed that she was the quintessential modern celebrity, a woman as famous for her tumultuous private life as her achievements.

When reports of her death described her as a television presenter, they were accurate without really capturing the potent mix of self-revelation and personal drama that made her such a recognisable figure. Yates was attractive, with a finely-sculpted face and dramatically dyed blond hair. But she also seemed perpetually in search of something, moving from an apparently idyllic marriage with the pop star Bob Geldof toan affair with Michael Hutchence, frontman of the Australian rock band INXS.

Whether she was bestowing outlandish (but harmless) names on her children or having an operation to enlarge her breasts, the most intimate events of her life were played out in public, a circumstance that invites comparison with Marilyn Monroe and the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Yates described her childhood as unhappy, and her adult years were marked by a series of profound shocks. The break-up of her marriage to Geldof, followed by Hutchence's suicide, were enough to cast a dreadful shadow over her life, but she also had to cope with the revelation that her father was not Jess Yates but the television presenter Hughie Green. Sadly, Yates seemed unable to find a way of coping with her grief other than continuing to live in the spotlight, whether she was plunging into another affair or taking a job as an agony aunt. What all this suggested, as it does so often with modern celebrities, was a fractured sense of identity that needed the oxygen of publicity to survive.

Women such as Yates, Monroe and Princess Diana have more in common than their hair colour, although that in itself is evidence of an ambition to embody a particular feminine type. No matter how often blondes protest they are tough and sassy, they tend to be perceived as vulnerable and infantile, a perception confirmed when they break down and show their emotions in public.

Yates's despair at Hutchence's funeral was terrible to behold. She looked like a woman on the edge of collapse, which made the presence of the media seem an intrusion. Yet she rarely protested about the publicity she attracted, perhaps because she had become accustomed to it at a more carefree stage in her career. But for Yates, an intelligent woman who never seemed to achieve as much as her talents promised, fame can be an addiction and a poor consolation for a life characterised by genuinely tragic events.

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