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Christina Patterson

Christina Patterson: Samantha Brick - The woman whose brief fame showed us that self-confidence can be a curse


Andy Warhol would have been amused. Andy Warhol, who hardly ever smiled, at least in photos, surely would have when he heard about a woman called Samantha Brick. He might even have laughed when he heard the tale of how a woman almost no one had heard of became famous, not just for 15 minutes, but for nearly two weeks. And not for anything she'd done, or even for being beautiful, but for thinking she was beautiful when quite a lot of people thought she wasn't.

Samantha Brick's article last week, about how she could hardly go to a restaurant, or bar, without strangers handing her bouquets of flowers, or sending over bottles of champagne, and about how women couldn't cope with her beauty, seemed to cause a bigger fuss in the media than last year's earthquake in Japan. On Twitter, and on radio and TV, the story, if you can call something where nothing really happens a story, ran and ran. And yesterday, Samantha Brick and the Daily Mail tried to make sure it would carry on running for a while.

Why, she asked, a little bit ungrammatically, does her "cup runneth over with self-confidence"? The answer, apparently, was simple. The answer, apparently, was Daddy. "Ever since the day I came into this world," she said, "my dad has showered me with love and affection. His love has been the key to my being able to love myself." That, she said, was why when she looked in the mirror she didn't see "a 40-something woman with crow's feet", but a "twinkly-eyed temptress ... with masses of va-va-voom".

Some of us might feel, as we're brushing our hair, that what we're looking for, when we peer in the mirror, isn't really "va-va-voom". Some of us might feel that what we're looking for is things like spinach in our teeth. We might feel that what we want our boss, or colleagues, to see is someone who looks clean, and pleasant, and competent, and not someone who's trying to "tempt" them into our bed.

Samantha Brick seems to think that her father's praise was a precious gift. She seems to have forgotten that the article which made her famous was actually a lament. And that what she'd said was that she'd suffered because half the population didn't like her. She doesn't seem to have realised that although she said they didn't like her because of her looks, she has now made it clear that the real reason was her confidence.

Samantha Brick seems to think that being very, very confident is something that will make your life better. In this, she's like an awful lot of parents. She is, for example, like the parents that teachers at some of the teaching unions' conferences have mentioned in the past fortnight. She's like the parents that Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, talked about, who praise their children all the time, and wait on them "hand and foot", and turn them into "little Buddhas". She's like the parents whose children don't know "how they should behave in school" because they haven't learnt anything about "give and take", or "proper authority".

It must be very nice to have parents who tell you you're beautiful, and clever, and brilliant at everything you do, even, and especially, if you aren't. It must be nice to be told, as Samantha Brick was by her father, about the "special life" you're going to have. But it must be quite strange to turn up for your first day at school and discover that everyone else thinks they're special, too. And it must be quite a shock when the people who teach you, and who mark your exams, and who allocate places at university, or offer interviews for jobs, don't just take your parents' word about your brilliance, but actually judge you on what you do.

If you're very confident, and tilt your head in a way that makes people think you're a "temptress", then maybe you'll get flowers and champagne. And if you speak in an interview as if you're absolutely sure what you're talking about, even when you aren't, then maybe you'll beat someone else to a job. If what you want, in other words, is attention from strangers, and jobs you're not really qualified to do, then confidence might well make your life better. What it won't do is make people like you, or help you do a job well.

If you want people to like you, and if you want to shine at what you do, then what you need isn't confidence, but doubt. You need to know, if you want to make friends, that you aren't more special than anyone else. And you need to know that to do something well, you need to be constantly trying to do it better.

"Fear," said the actress Charlotte Rampling in an interview this week, "is a great motor." The "greatest things", she said, "are done through a sense of adrenalin". Charlotte Rampling is famous because she's very good at what she does. She's also, by the way, beautiful.

A lesson in justice and manners

Of all the shocking images from last summer's riots, one shocked more than most. It was a woman leaping from a building, a black shape framed against a wall of flame. She didn't die, but might have. And this week, the man who started the fire, and boasted about it, was sentenced to 11 years in jail. The fire destroyed a furniture shop in Croydon which had been run by one family for 140 years. "I lived there as a child," said Trevor Reeves, "and played there. When you lose something like that," he said, "it's like a bereavement."

Usually, the victims of a crime say that any sentence isn't tough enough. But the Reeveses didn't. Maurice Reeves, who worked in the shop from the age of 16, and who's now 81, said he thought it was "fair". He also said, in a breathtaking lesson in manners, that he didn't have "a great deal of sympathy" for the man who had wrecked his life's work, but that he "accepted his apology".

Think before you propose in public

You can watch it on YouTube. One minute, the people milling round the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus look like ordinary passers-by, and the next they're standing in rows, singing. They are, it turns out, serenading a bald bloke in a suit who looks quite cocky, and a pretty girl in black who looks surprised. When the song finally ends, the bloke goes down on one knee, and asks the girl, in front of the choir, in front of the passers-by, and in front of whoever's watching it on YouTube, to be his wife.

This "flashmob" proposal, which took place in London last month, is just one of many on YouTube. There have been proposals at sports stadiums, at parties and on planes. Usually, the girl says yes. Sometimes, she doesn't. But the play, as Shakespeare nearly said, is clearly the thing. Or perhaps he meant the show.


Twitter: queenchristina_