Now we can see the showbiz misery memoir for the fraud it is

We're used to tales of celebrity hardship, sharing stories of destructive youth and how they've overcome all the addiction and bullying. But now it's time to move on.

Share

It is going to take a while to get used to the idea that we have just lived through a summer of love, and that London has briefly been the world capital of caring and happiness. Already, though, what we have seen and heard over the past two months has had some surprising side-effects.

It will be difficult, for example, to consider bravery – and self-pity – in quite the same way. Reading this weekend an extract from the memoirs of Pamela Stephenson, the New Zealand comedian and shrink, I found myself wondering whether real courage in the face of adversity has not exposed the tearful, show-biz  version to be something of a fraud.

Tales of childhood misery are a staple of the celebrity memoir. If there is a creative writing course for such things, its first rule would be: pile on the agony in early life, and then show how you have triumphed over the odds to be the successful person you are today. The traumas of the famous are as varied as life itself. There is child abuse, of the type revealed in Stephenson’s biography of her husband Billy Connolly. There are cruel parents and, later, addiction, rape or psychological trauma.

Stephenson’s childhood was horrible, as she recalls it. The daughter of two academics, one who had “poor mothering skills”, the other who was too ambitious for her, she lived, unloved, in an ugly, concrete-sprayed house in an arid suburb of Sydney. At school, her classmates ganged up on her. Yet she came though, and can write today, “Thank God that resilience never left me, despite the punishment I took – and not just for my braininess. I was just never liked.”

Worse followed. Miserable as a teenager, Pamela hung out in the dodgy Kings Cross area. There, aged 16, a heroin addict lured her to his flat. “I had an inkling that it might be the route to my desired destruction,” she writes. “I suppose it was rape. What was the age of consent back then? I don’t even know.”

There is something strangely tentative about the way this miserable episode is told but, by this stage, it is clear that the story of little Pamela is one of the beastliness of the outside world against her own plucky innocence.

There is no loneliness quite like the loneliness of childhood, but memoirs like these seem to be competitively miserable. Since Princess Diana, queen of all our hearts (and, as we learn amidst much name-dropping, a pal of Stephenson’s), shared her pain back in the 1990s, vulnerability and unhappiness have become assets on the road to fame. The more successful a person is, the more he or she seems to feel obliged to reveal the personal cost paid.

Tales of celebrity hardship are almost always propelled by vanity and ego. The message to the rest of us is a simple one: if you thought it was easy becoming me, think again. This is what I have had to overcome.

Until this summer, self-pity has been accepted as part of the culture, an almost obligatory part of a famous person's memories.

Until this summer, self-pity has been accepted as part of the culture, an almost obligatory part of a famous person’s memories. Even someone as tough as Edwina Currie will, in her writings, show herself to be lonely and misunderstood by all around here.  Now all that suddenly seems silly and out of date. There are few people who have not been through hardship and unhappiness; being famous does not provide an excuse to blub about it.

As we have heard so many times in the past few weeks, suffering and disability need not define a person. If those who have come through unimaginably traumatic experiences can move on without recalling their pain and congratulating themselves on overcoming it, the famous should  be able to manage it too.

 

The BBC is too indulgent to religion

Although the voices of religion and spirituality are heard, endlessly it seems, on BBC discussion programmes, the nags and zealots of organised faith are becoming ever more vocal about what they believe is the creeping secularisation of the corporation.

Their campaign has worked a treat. Tomorrow, at a major conference on ethics and religion organised by the BBC, its head of religious programmes Aaqil Ahmed will confirm that Radio 4’s Thought for the Day on the Today programme will remain untainted by the thoughts, however virtuous and interesting, of anyone deemed to be a non-believer.

What nonsense it is. The Today programme frequently allows religious leaders to comment on issues of the day. Then, at 7.50am, they are also given the exclusive run of the airwaves to preach their message.

Why should an intelligent non-believer be barred from delivering a sermon about morality? At its  major conference on religion, it would seem that the BBC might usefully discuss whether it is not becoming a touch biased in its determination to be fair to those within the club of organised faith at the expense of listeners – and also of intellectual freedom.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
 

Costa Rica’s wildlife makes me mourn our paradise lost

Michael McCarthy
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence