It's better to have a personality than to be one

The only way to survive when all normality has been removed is to erect a protective carapace
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A prevailing fantasy in these disgruntled times is that, under the right, favourable circumstances, the niggling dissatisfactions that mark our daily lives will fade like a bad memory. A dollop of serious cash might offer an escape. Professional success could soothe our frayed nerves. Maybe even fame itself will lift us above the grey banality of everyday life.

With every day's news, this innocent little dream receives a battering. This week, for example, two public figures, both of whom would seem to have the world at their feet, have been confessing to feelings of profound restiveness. It turns out that the more successful they've become, the more they've wanted to change their lives.

Kelly Holmes, whose two Olympic gold medals must make her a shoo-in for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, has confessed in an interview that at the moment she has no particular desire to do the thing which has brought her fame - to run in, and win, races. "I have no more goals," she has said. Lacking the old hunger to compete, she is now interested in exploring other things. "It would be silly not to take up opportunities."

No prizes for guessing the source of those opportunities. The tinselled streets of Celebrityville are beckoning Kelly: red carpets, film premieres, flashing cameras, presenting prizes at awards ceremonies, appearances on TV quiz shows, the odd stint of presenting a documentary. As Steve Redgrave discovered four years ago, there is no limit to the number of openings where the sweat, pain and agony of winning is replaced by the relative ease of simply appearing.

Before following up those opportunities, Kelly Holmes would be well advised to read recent interviews and press reports concerning another restless public figure, Hugh Grant. Making the film sequel to Bridget Jones had been "pure purgatory... a miserable experience", we learn. Neither the film business nor acting itself are of much interest any more. What he really wants is simply to have his private life back. As if to confirm that he is suffering from a bad case of celebrity malfunction, Grant has followed the time-honoured (and rather laudable) tradition of bashing a photographer who was bothering him.

The generally accepted view, invariably to be found in magazines and newspapers that batten off celebrity, is that this is the behaviour of those who have become spoilt and corrupted by success, that it is graceless and ungrateful for a man with looks, money, acclaim and beautiful women to complain about his life. To belabour an honest photographer as he goes about his business is an act of unforgivable arrogance and brutality.

But anyone who has encountered the sheer insanity that attends big-time fame will quickly conclude that, while the novelty may be briefly enjoyable, only a fool could enjoy it on a permanent basis. Ten or so years ago, at about the time when Hugh Grant was propelled into public life rather in the way that Kelly Holmes may now be experiencing, I would see him every Wednesday afternoon when he played in a football team that we both ran. It was an odd business, his overnight fame: one moment, he was just another team member, a rather tigerish right back, the next, his face seemed to be on every hoarding, in every newspaper.

Frankly, as a footballer, he was finished. As his film career went into the stratosphere, he would appear just now and then to run out for his old team, his last appearance being in a mighty 2-1 victory against a team from The Independent. Yet somehow fame had taken him away. Through no fault of Hugh's, the atmosphere in the changing-room was different, the banter forced. It seemed that the only way to survive the pressures of a world in which any kind of normality had been removed was to erect a self-protective carapace.

Maybe it was once possible to be well-known and retain some kind of ordinary, sane life; not any more. Gingered up by the creepy obsession of the media, the outside world wants a share of fame, to pick at it and enjoy any reflected glitter that may be available. No wonder that so many of those who have spent a lifetime in that world of idiotic false values - Liza Minnelli, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Prince Charles - end up becoming so strange and out of touch with any kind of normality.

But the mini-crises in the lives of Kelly Holmes and Hugh Grant are more than just a question of fame and its seductive perils. Both of them have revealed that the very success which made them famous now bores them. One of them hankers after "opportunities", probably of the showbiz kind, while the other longs to escape into privacy, perhaps with a new career.

In this at least, they are not only normal but are rather good role models. Once, not so long ago, persistence and doggedness were regarded as essential virtues for a happy life. Now we know better. We realise that, at some point, many - perhaps most - people benefit for some kind of major, seismic shift in the way they live. It reminds them of what they truly enjoy, of who they are and, in some cases, that it is better to have a personality than to be one.