Help me, I want to stop being famous

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The Independent Online
IN A TELEVISION interview last night, Paul Gascoigne complained: 'I have to take more than Lady Di . . . I have to take a lot of pressure, and I can't cope with it.' This remark is intriguing, because it identifies Princess Diana as a kind of star-martyr, a symbol of the destructive effects of fame in the modern age.

In the same interview, Gazza hinted that he might go and live in Australia, a nation less famous for its football teams than for being a long way away from anywhere. He has clearly reached the stage in the cycle of celebrity in which the star, now suffering adverse publicity, comes over all huffy, and says: this isn't worth it, you can stuff it. The Princess reached this moment last year when she withdrew from public life. Michael Jackson has made similar noises in statements since his investigation for alleged child abuse. A consensus seems to be growing up among celebrities that their lives are unliveable in the heat of contemporary renown.

Let's begin with the case of Princess Dial, as she is presumably now known to her friends. Does her story demonstrate that fame destroys people? In a practical sense, she is most obviously a victim of technology. Without portable telephones, there would have been no 'Squidgygate'. (Or her husband's similar eavesdropping problem with Camilla). Her latest embarrassment results from sophisticated call-tracing equipment. She is like Richard Nixon, whose undoing was not evil, which many politicians had possessed before him, but the invention of the tape recorder. In earlier royal times, a princess's internal turbulence might have taken the form of despatching a horseman with a blank piece of parchment to some admirer, and the monarchy would not have been rocked. How odd it would be if Alexander Graham Bell turned out to have brought down the House of Windsor.

There was, though, one fascinating example, in her passenger-seat confession to Mr Kay of the Daily Mail, of the way in which celebrities can lose sight of reality. Told that some of the silent phone calls to the unfortunate Mr Hoare had been made from public call boxes, the Princess replied that she could not operate a parking meter, never mind a call box, the implication being that her life was lived outside such proletarian exigencies. But, before becoming royal by marriage, Diana was a fairly bog-standard Sloane Ranger, a girl about Kensington. During those days, she certainly put enough coins in both kinds of slots for the penny to have dropped about how they operate.

Or take the strange matter of the recent marriage of Michael Jackson. Extremely cynical people have suggested that the nuptials were an attempt to bolster the singer's firm denial of the child abuse allegations by emphasising his heterosexuality. But this allegation can surely not be true.

Consider what is being implied: that Mr Jackson wishes to indicate his 'normality', his conventional appetites, by a wedding. But who in their right mind could imagine that his marriage to Elvis Presley's daughter - with all its pop-dynastic implications, its dizzying genetic possibilities for offspring - was a 'normal' thing to do? A person who thought this would have lost all grip on reality.

In such discussions, Lord Archer always provides a useful control. He is perhaps the only famous person never to suggest that celebrity is not worth the trouble. He has always taken to publicity like a pig to mud. Indeed, while it is fashionable for a modern celebrity to suggest that, frankly, they could use a bit less fame, Lord Archer always seems to be after a little more, or at least attention of a different tenor. Famous for his writing - or, anyway, his books - he seems to crave high political status. Like an adolescent with his first body hair, he has to keep looking at his fame, checking that it is still growing.

This celebrity insecurity is a possible explanation for Lord Archer's present share- dealing embarrassments. Consider this scenario. Lord Archer, fearing that his Kurdish friend is not sufficiently impressed by his book sales and frequent invitations to Chequers, shows off further by saying: 'Look, I can help you make pounds 80,000 in a few days.' Perhaps it is a further variety of bragging which leads him to recommend Anglia Television for this demonstration. He is saying: not only am I a million-selling author and friend of consecutive prime ministers, but my wife, fragrant and intelligent, as I may already have mentioned, is a non-executive director of a major company.

So does fame, like heroin, screw up your life? We have to ask the hard question of what these people would have been like if they hadn't become stars. Gazza, without top-level soccer, would have been a bit of a lad, a celebrity in the context of his local Tyneside boozer. Indeed, his talent for football may have saved him from a far more unpleasant life: of unemployment and Saturday night scraps.

An undiscovered Jeffrey Archer can be imagined as a rather sad figure in the Rotary Club, boasting of his closeness to the local MP and of the novel in his bottom drawer. An unknown Michael Jackson might, given the statistical evidence for African-Americans, now be very poor or very dead. He would probably also be equally keen on befriending young boys in the neighbourhood. He would, almost certainly, be very odd.

Princess Diana is more complicated because, unlike the other examples, she did not possess any particular talent that brought her to prominence, beyond virginity and aristocracy. But Andrew Moron's more or less authorised biography persuasively suggests that her psychological problems predate her fame, being rooted in the break-up of her family.

It may be comforting to imagine her living in blissful anonymity in Kensington, married to some banker, but it is probably also fanciful. It is just as likely that the eating disorders would still have happened, though remained a secret between herself and her bathroom; that the silent phone calls to some friend's husband would have been settled with a discreet word at the tennis club.

Fame intensifies oddities, perhaps facilitates them, definitely spotlights them, but it does not often create them. Unknown, most of these people would be no happier, but their misery would be secret. Their popularity fulfilled them, and their renunciations should be treated with suspicion.

Incidentally, if you're having trouble getting a booking at San Lorenzo, Princess Diana's favourite London restaurant, just dial the number, then say nothing at all for one minute. The matre d' will reply: 'Your usual table, Ma'am?'