Oh, to be Zak, Toby or Eric

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I WISH I had been nearly famous. Not completely famous. That's too much of a hassle, autograph hunters, broken marriages and all. But nearly famous would have been nice.

To qualify as nearly famous you have to have one parent or a sibling who has achieved genuine fame. Grandparents count if you can get the word dynasty in somewhere (acting dynasty always sounds good, even if grandma just did a season in Rochdale). A cousin only counts if there is a striking facial resemblance and you share the same surname. But much can be done by deed poll and plastic surgery.

The nearly famous are a growing band. Indeed, many of them are in bands. The biggest explosion in nearly famous is among the children of the Sixties and Seventies pop stars. I saw one the other night. Ray Davies of The Kinks launched his autobiography by playing a few numbers at Ronnie Scott's club in London. Duetting with him was his daughter, Victoria.

'Victoria' was the title of a rather good Kinks song and I spent my time trying to work out Victoria Davies's age to determine whether the song was named after her, or she after the song. By the time I had done the mathematics she had resumed her place in the audience to be surrounded by photographers, presumably from agencies specialising in the nearly famous.

This is the trouble with watching the nearly famous. You become obsessed with looking to see if the jawline is the same as mum's or dad's, or whether they have inherited, studied, made huge efforts to drop, the inflection in the voice. There just isn't time to concentrate on whether there is any genuine talent there.

And they keep on coming. The Who could virtually start a new generation band. I have seen Miss Townshend on stage with her father Pete, master Daltrey on stage with his father, Roger. To confuse matters further, Ringo Starr's son, Zak, now plays with Daltrey senior in his new band. John Lennon's son, Julian, had a fledgling career in which every mannerism was scrutinised for reminders of his dad, though few can remember any of junior's songs. The daughter of Mick Jagger and Marsha Hunt has just directed mum in a play.

And smiling down serenely on all of these prodigies is the patron saint of the nearly famous, Linda McCartney, the star in the firmament of shared surnames.

In acting, the nearly famous achieve real fame more often. While Robert Stephens plays King Lear for the Royal Shakespeare Company, his son Toby plays Coriolanus for the same outfit. Kiefer Sutherland probably has as big a fan base as his dad, Donald; the Redgraves, of course, are the most striking example of a dynasty of talent.

But I'm happy to note that that profession too has thrown up a notable variation on the nearly famous. Eric Douglas, son of Kirk and brother of Michael, thus doubly a nearly man, achieved some notoriety at the Edinburgh Festival where he wanted to ply his trade as a stand- up comic, but none of the leading venues would hire him. One impresario was publicly scathing of him, saying she did not see anything funny in his opening line, 'I am an American'.

Eric signalled a radical shift in the art of being nearly famous. Be a performer like your famous relative, but do it really badly. The scope is enormous. Who would not pay to see a famous surname foul up? Better still, go in for image rejection. A Rolling Stone offspring specialising in Val Doonican covers.

But all relatives of the genuinely famous should study the most nearly famous man in Britain: Terry Major-Ball, the Prime Minister's brother. He has the essential attributes of looking and sounding like his sibling. Interviewed on Sky TV's The Book Programme recently, he was asked if he ever visited his brother in Downing Street. Quite often, he replied, but his brother was almost never there, so he just wandered around. This is the ultimate fate of the nearly famous. Given access to privileged places, then left to wander the corridors while all around get on with being really famous.

But he at least turned being nearly famous into an art form. Written a book, appeared on chat shows, been the subject of newspaper profiles. Terry Major-Ball, retired garden-gnome-maker, and Eric Douglas show the way forward for being nearly famous in the Nineties. Look the part to get people talking. Then, like Eric, choose a similar career and blow it. Or be even more subtle, like Terry. Use the famous surname, but only as part of your full name to show it's not that important to you. And choose a different career. When Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson eventually produce an heir, he or she should be guided firmly towards chartered acountancy.

With these ground rules, the sky's the limit. There are so many style and celebrity magazines, and only a finite number of the celebrated and stylish about whom to write. The focus now has to move on to the relations, the sons and daughters of the me generation, all desperately shouting 'Me too' into the spotlight.

Andy Warhol's maxim that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes may have been a little hopeful when he said it in the Sixties. But everyone nearly famous for five? That has to be achievable.

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