It's so tough being a member of the celebrityhood

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The Independent Online

It is a sad but undeniable truth that a single word dominates the daily life of the freelance worker, and that word is "yes".

It is a sad but undeniable truth that a single word dominates the daily life of the freelance worker, and that word is "yes".

I know, I know. It sounds unprincipled, maybe even a touch tarty. You may disapprove as you travel to your salaried work or take your paid lunch-break. But for those of us edging forward on the frayed tightrope of self-employment, the occasional glimpse of the abyss below can be damned terrifying. One false move, the wrong offer declined, and we're gone. Too snooty, too busy, too lazy, they'll say - won't ask him again.

So when in doubt, we say "yes". We take the cheque and count the cost to dignity, self-esteem and respectability a bit later.

Such a positive approach can lead one to strange places. Courtroom summaries for BSkyB's live coverage of a Joan Collins trial in New York? No problem. A down-the-line debate on the question of television chefs with Radio Scotland? Of course. A picture of me with a hen on my head for a Me and My Pets column? Couldn't be easier.

Yet when the BBC recently invited me to take part in a major live televised debate, I found myself hesitating. The theme under discussion was sexual harassment at the workplace, a subject I had discussed in these pages. My argument - that for a grown woman to have a man sacked or sued for a chance remark or a pat on the bum was a denial of equal rights, girl power and all that was good and fine in gender relations - had caught the eye of a programme researcher.

Now, apparently, something of an authority on the subject, I was invited to join a panel of opinionated types on stage. There was to be a feminist, a psychologist specialising in workplace abuse and, in the harassers' corner, me.

Heaven knows it was tempting, but the timing was all wrong. I had a children's novel to finish. To fly up to Manchester to appear on television as the groper's friend seemed oddly inappropriate to me.

Now, I'm suddenly not so sure. It is not that difficult to appear on television, but to be up there on stage, as a pundit - even with groping as my special subject - represented a notable career step. If it all went well, I could then graduate to office politics on Kilroy, infidelity on Esther and maybe even the new morality on Heart of the Matter.

In the television debate, as in life, the biggest divide is between the experts and the punters, between those on stage and those in the audience. One well-known film director refused at the last minute to appear on an Esther Rantzen show when he discovered he was to sit among the ordinary people.

He would be appearing not as the well-known director and television personality, but as an old bloke with a silly grin and an annoying voice, in row D. Unsportingly, Esther revealed his change of heart during the show, but she must have known, as a member of the celebrity club herself, that the director was right. If you are a personality, you cannot be seen among ordinary people. It's unnatural.

Celebrityhood is tough, or so we are told by every moaning Minnie whose life goes pear-shaped in an inferno of flashbulbs, but being an ordinary person must be worse.

What else could explain the revelation in a recent survey that the very reason why people volunteer to appear in television audiences is that they dream of being famous? They have become semi-professional ordinary people, or at least television versions of what ordinary people should be like - characters without being nutters, outspoken without being a bore.

Maybe it's not too late for me. I am well known for my ordinariness. Perhaps there is an agency for ordinary people that would put me on its books. After all, I do have rather an interesting line on groping.

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