Sophie Heawood: Divas in their prime swap talent for tantrums

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The Independent Online

What a delicious week that was for behaving like a diva – indeed, for sommeliers of celebritydom, this one will surely go down as a vintage, with its extensive celebrity whine lists. Repeat offender Naomi Campbell, who recently did community service for attacking a maid, got nicked again, after having yet another "Don't you know who I am?" strop on an aeroplane. After turning abusive at all and sundry she allegedly ended up spitting at a copper – all after being told that some of her baggage couldn't fit on the plane, as it was overweight. (Admittedly, that is a uniquely cruel turn of phrase to use in front of a supermodel. Couldn't they at least have described her suitcase as calorifically challenged?)

Then there was Mariah Carey, the singer whose stay in London has required simple add-ons such as a £50,000 antique table being flown in from New York to sign autographs on (one hopes she didn't sign the actual table), a £10,000 gym installed in her hotel suite at Claridge's (where she has booked every room on the floor to ensure privacy), and a mere 20 humidifiers round the bed to keep her skin and throat moist while she sleeps. Yes, had she been familiar with British weather she would surely have just left the window open.

Even the pearly queen of pop, Madonna, admitted this week that she is damn hard work to be around and that her husband has to tolerate her sleeping with her BlackBerry to use when she wakes up in the night – although at least this is only a sign of being a workaholic.

Of course, you might say it's a sexist world in which men who make similar demands don't get called divas, and that a diva is but a woman expressing sentiments that differentiate her from a doormat. Even the canyon-dwelling and cheesecloth-wearing folk singer Joni Mitchell used to get a hard time for being demanding, while Eighties girl band Bananarama have said that producers labelled them difficult to work with "because that's what you get called when you're a woman who has an opinion".

All true enough – except that today's divas are women celebrating not their strengths but their weaknesses. These are strong women playing at being princesses. And as any veteran reader of Hello! magazine will tell you, such celebrities are indeed the new royals. The magazine used to be full of lords and ladies, but nowadays yer actual princesses, ie Beatrice and Eugenie, have to hang out with Kate Moss and co to keep up their column inches.

The Mariahs and the Naomis are not only as important as the blue-bloods, but they play into the role of being equally needy. They can perform only if seemingly impossible conditions are met – like Salome, who would dance for her stepfather King Herod only if he brought her the head of John the Baptist on a plate.

Like Hans Christian Andersen's Snow Queen, who would let a kidnapped boy only go if he could spell out the word "eternity" from the ice found in her palace. And, above all, like the princess who couldn't sleep because she felt a pea through 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds. This discomfort was the sign of her being a real royal: a commoner would have just slumbered on through.

Yet the Mariahs and Naomis are far from blue-blooded – they're women who have worked their backsides off to come from nothing to be stars. In reality, they're tough as old boots and could probably rough it like the best of us. But an outward display of oversensitivity is the best way to show you've made it.

You have to be strong to get to the top – but once you get there, it's Little Miss Useless all the way.