Spacey's curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Embarrassing things happen. Try to move on with as much dignity as you can muster
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The Independent Online

It is surely incontrovertible that, of all actors, young, old or in between, Kevin Spacey has one of the nicest, most open faces. It is not particularly beautiful or unusual; it is a face of natural, intelligent curiosity, one whose features have been interestingly etched by experience, good and bad. You would be happy to be seated next to Kevin at a dinner party and would soon be telling him all sorts of stuff about your life and probably, out of politeness and good breeding, he would be adding a bit of stuff of his own to make you feel at ease.

Unlike those Hollywood stars who come here just to show off in a West End play, he has made his home in London and has raised thousands of pounds for the Old Vic where, as artistic director, he aims to support new writers. In a world where those cursed with fame so often prove to be egotistical nutters, he gives every appearance of being a relatively normal person.

So when, recently, Kevin walked out early one spring morning and ended up in trouble and on national radio, it is worth the rest of us learning from his experience. The time was 4.30 and he was taking his dog for a walk in the park in south London near where he lives. Something happened - something swift, nasty and urban - and it left the star with a bloody nose and without his mobile phone.

Bleeding, he went to a police station to report a mugging. Two hours later, he unreported it, downgrading the alleged smash-and-grab incident to one in which someone had asked to borrow his phone and then run away. Giving chase, Kevin had tripped over the animal, whose need for an early- morning walk had caused the problem in the first place, and bumped his nose rather painfully on the ground.

Heaven knows, we have all been there. The details of our experience may be different from Kevin's curious incident of the dog that tripped him but the general drift of events will be familiar. Something embarrassing takes place, an episode that reveals us as sillier, weaker, more vulnerable to temptation, perhaps more generally fearful, than we should be. In a moment of unthinking panic, we try to cover it up with a small lie which then spreads with the speed and venom of a computer virus.

Because Kevin Spacey is a celebrity, the progress of his untruth was unusually fast and dramatic; most of us, when the slide into deception begins, do not have to appear on the Today programme a couple of hours later in order to set the record straight. He had not actually been mugged, he confessed. He had lent the mobile to a stranger and the stranger had run off with it. "I fell for a con and I was incredibly embarrassed by it."

As human as the rest of us in their frailties, the famous have to pay the penalty for living in a star-struck age: their smallest sins and indiscretions tend to be held up as moral exemplars to the rest of us. Normally these lessons have a join-the-dots simplicity to them: do not over-indulge in addictive substances, avoid making an enemy of your spouse, be careful when sending hot text messages to someone who is not your wife.

Kevin Spacey's non-mugging is more complex in that: in suspicious minds it raises more questions than it answers. What was the stranger doing in the park? Was the mobile full of compromising information of a Beckhamesque kind? Was 4.30 not slightly early, or late, to be taking the dog for a walk? Was there an iffy subtext to it all?

Doubtless, there are innocent answers to all these questions and the fuss about Kevin Spacey will quickly pass over, in which case a simple truth about untruth will have been demonstrated. When you are caught out in a small lie (a big lie is different, of course), confess immediately.

Reality may be twisted and distorted all around us, in the company reports of multinational corporations, on every page of the muckier national newspapers, but, in the case of individual lives, it is better to come clean, take the rap and move on.

Those who hang on, building a vast but infinitely fragile network of lies to keep the original one airborne, are almost always delaying a much greater fall. They find that that a sort of truth-filter has had to be installed in the brain and that, even before they speak to a friend or family member, they must run a careful, instant check on precisely what lie has been told to what person.

Some, even more disastrously, go on the attack. Remember poor Gillian Taylforth, the actress whom a snooping policeman caught in a lay-by performing on her boyfriend an act which, she later told a libel court, was a medical procedure on his lower abdomen. When a jury, after due and serious consideration, decided that what had been happening was just a sweet little blowjob, Taylforth's humiliation made front-page news.

Embarrassing things happen. You blush, wince, and then you try to move on with as much dignity as you can muster. Assuming that there are no more revisions and corrections to come, we all owe a debt to Kevin Spacey for reminding us of this homely but significant truth.

terblacker@aol.com

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