Amy Jenkins: Riding through the glen, storming out of the studio

Celebrity meltdown
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The Independent Online

It's well documented that money – beyond a certain necessary level – doesn't make you any happier.

But what about worldwide acclaim? Surely that kind of recognition and success would make one feel better about oneself. And what about rock-solid A-list movie star status? What about an Oscar, a Bafta and a Golden Globe? Nope. Sorry. It just doesn't wash. You're still hanging in the wind with the rest of us.

This week the towering Russell Crowe – gladiator, hunk, action hero-who-also-plays-intellectuals – was felled by one small question in a Radio 4 interview. In fact, he stomped off in a huff like a recalcitrant 14-year-old. Crowe threw his wobbly when, on Radio 4's Front Row, presenter Mark Lawson questioned him about the accent he uses in Ridley Scott's new blockbuster, Robin Hood. Lawson's question was fairly anodyne. He even implied that the tinge of Irish he'd heard in Crowe's accent might have been due to new research into Robin Hood's ancestry.

Crowe responded, "You've got dead ears, mate," before going into a press-release type monologue about the movie's fresh approach to the legend. Spiel over, Crowe couldn't resist coming back to the Irish slur. "I don't get the Irish thing, brother. I don't get it at all...." Lawson tried to start a new question but Crowe swore to himself audibly. When Lawson then asked him whether – as alleged in a new book – he initially refused to say the famous Gladiator line "I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next", Crowe simply got up and walked out.

You'd think that a movie star with this much success under his belt and this much experience would have developed a slightly thicker skin. But then again you'd think that someone on Twitter with nearly one and a half million followers would be able to stomach a bit of carping. Stephen Fry couldn't. When a lone voice said he was a bit boring, he threatened Twitter suicide. Then there was the almost universally adored Ricky Gervais who went ballistic the other day in a newspaper interview when he was asked about rumours that he'd succumbed to Hollywood pressure to lose weight, raving: "Someone said, 'I saw him in The Ivy and he was having a salad.' 'Yeah, I had a salad. I also had f****** deep-fried scampi and followed it with ravioli, you lying f****** c***!"

And what about the recent Gordon Brown example. After a fairly uneventful encounter with a now famous Rochdale resident, Brown called their brief exchange a "disaster" – the kind of over-reaction that is clearly commonplace in this world of huge and fragile egos. But anyone who knows anything about low self-esteem will know that he was really attacking himself. Psychologists tell us that negative feelings are often projected outwards. When cornered, the voracious ego at bay inevitably snarls and attacks.

All of this is because of the pull of the negative. They say that gamblers get a bigger kick out of losing than they do out of winning. Winning – the euphoria is over in a moment. Losing gives you much more emotional turmoil to get your teeth into. In fact, it gives you a problem, and humans are problem-solvers by nature – that's what the survival of the fittest drives us to focus on. There's not much point – in evolutionary terms – in focusing on areas where you're already winning. So we tend not to do it, which doesn't help our peace of mind. And the ego, for similar reasons, is programmed never to be satisfied.

Success, acclaim, wealth – you might have one or two moments in the sun but, after that – be warned – you'll just be back at the coalface digging out problems. May as well take it easy, folks, sit back, put your feet up – have more toast.