500,000 pounds down, but that's the price of fame

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The Independent Online
HAVING made blanket news coverage this week, former minor soap star Gillian Taylforth might be half a million down and never able to face a sausage again, but at least she has become a fully-fledged member of the 'Famous Club'.

Over the past half-century this figurative club has steadily taken over the functions of the old aristocracy, a global network in which everyone knows everyone else, even though they may never have met. The membership requirement is that everyone should know who you are - it doesn't matter why. Mother Teresa, Koo Stark, Claus von Bulow, Lech Walesa, Bill Wyman, President Clinton, Ivana Trump, the Dalai Lama, John McVicar and the woman who cut off her husband's penis would all find themselves welcome at the openings and first nights, the awards ceremonies and chat shows, which make up the new aristocracy's highland reels, fishing huts and pheasant shoot equivalents.

The celebrity class is now the one with the stately homes, the influence, the dosh, the one-of-us mentality, the network of contacts, the global introduction, the hierarchies and the eccentric etiquette, incomprehensible to outsiders.

Celebrities are always ringing up other celebrities whom they have never spoken to to ask them to dinner, which is perfectly acceptable provided that the more famous one asks first. It would be quite in order for an Elton John to invite a Neil and Glenys round to the house, or for one of the Beatles to ask a Ben Elton; but for a Baddiel or Newman to ask a George Michael or a George Michael a Frank Sinatra would be quite, quite wrong. It doesn't stop at dinner either. The Radio 1 DJ John Peel once had a phone call from John Lennon, whom he'd never met, asking him to donate a pint of blood for Yoko Ono.

Similarly, it is expected that when a handful of celebrities are scattered in a roomful of ordinary people - provided the approach comes from the most famous ones first - they will all end up talking to each other. It stands to reason. Everyone recognises them, but the only people they recognise are each other.

The comedian Griff Rhys Jones tells the story of the 'Man from Motorhead' who turned up at the stage door after the play in which he was performing, introduced himself as Motorhead's bass player and asked if he could come up to Rhys Jones's dressing room. Finding this normal Famous Club behaviour and not wishing to be rude, Rhys Jones felt obliged to invite him up, went for a drink with him and agreed a future dinner-date. On the back of this, the man became friendly with the show's producer, was invited to parties and became a popular member of a group of star-studded buddies who found him beguiling and witty. When the time for the dinner-date came, Rhys Jones, to his relief, found himself double-booked and contacted Motorhead's management to cancel. 'There must be some mistake,' came the reply. 'Motorhead have been touring for months and are currently in Spain.'

When the chap next arrived at the theatre he was challenged by the producer, Andre Ptaszynski, with not being the Man from Motorhead. 'At first he insisted he was, explaining that they didn't need any bass notes during this leg of the tour,' says Ptaszynski. 'I found myself in the ridiculous position of marching him off to Tower Records to prove it. Then he started sobbing and said, 'But you all liked me. I'm still the person I was before, I'm just not the bass player from Motorhead'.'

No different from the old aristocratic impostors of course. But Gillian Taylforth now has an excellent pedigree. She has crossed swords with the great club enemy, the press, and the whole country knows what she looks like and has been talking about her for an entire week. She must proceed carefully, of course. She must not make the mistake of Antonia da Sancha by appearing on the arm of a publicist, nor rush too quickly at spreads in Hello] and adverts for hot dogs or Hamlet cigars. Rather she must remember that a celebrity is someone who works all their life to become well known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognised. By following the excellent example of Koo Stark and drawing attention by apparently avoiding it, and always remembering her place in the hierarchy, she should look forward to a long and fruitful membership. As Griff Rhys Jones wryly confirms: 'Gillian Taylforth is welcome in my dressing room anytime'.

Wallace Arnold is on holiday.