I'll have to ask mum first

For most of us, taking our parents' advice is unthinkable. But for A-list celebrities, it's proving to be a very smart move.

Cayte Williams
Saturday 07 August 1999 23:02

It must be hard being a celebrity. There you are, with your fawning manager, your (strangely mega-rich) accountant and a myriad minders, liggers and hangers-on, all with your best interests at heart. Of course the fat pay cheques, the reflected glory and the kudos has nothing to do with their devotion. Because they're trustworthy, right?

Wrong. Celebrities who believe everything their liggers tell them, do everything their managers say and who stay protected from the real world by burly minders are asking for trouble. After all, who told Michael and LaToya Jackson that plastic surgery was the way to go? Or Will Smith that Wild, Wild West was a good script? And what if minions sell their stories to the papers?

As managers and agents demand bigger fees, as liggers get more loathsome, celebrities are realising that keeping it in the family is a relatively good idea. After all, employing your kith and kin is better than risking a kick in the teeth. Who can forget how Sting was stung by his accountant who made off with nearly pounds 5m of his money? Or how Elton John and his ex- manager have traded accusations over the bank statements? Or the acrimonious splits between managers and girl bands? The Spice Girls gave Simon Fuller the push, while All Saints' ex-manager is suing the gals for at least pounds 2.5m.

Now celebrities seem to believe that blood is thicker than water. Last month Billie sacked her manager and replaced him with her dad (day job: a builder), apparently until she finds a successor. It seems the doomed employee wouldn't support her acting ambitions - so dad has stepped in to make sure his little princess gets her way.

Meanwhile, Michael Owen's dad masterminds his career and Ewan McGregor's mum quit teaching to be her offspring's PA. In the heady world of Hollywood, Christian Slater's mum has guided her son's career while Catherine Zeta Jones seems to have put half her family on the payroll.

So why should celebrities keep it in the family? For a start, they can keep the bank roll strictly cosa nostra and make sure the relations get a piece of the action. Zeta Jones' dad Dai manages her finances, her brother Lyndon is her PA and her older brother David works for her on script development. "I'm very nepotistic," said the film star recently. "If anyone's going to make a lot of money out of this thing, it's me and them."

And what better way to fetter that out-of-control ego than a home truth from your home? "The industry is full of `yes' people," says Martin Townsend, editor of OK!. "Stars keep members of their family around them at the peak of their stardom to keep their feet on the ground. If someone has known a celebrity all their life they're not going to mind what they say to them. Relatives have a little in-built bullshit detector in them and celebrities know that'll stop themselves becoming pretentious."

It's something that Madonna has spotted, and her brother, Chris, is always close at hand. Employed as her interior designer and artistic director, he's also a dab-hand at shooting from the hip. "We spend a lot of time fighting," says Mad's bro, "but we're each other's best critics." And it's that sibling honesty that stars crave.

"Stars need to have a group of people around them who they trust to act as a sounding board," explains Townsend, "and their families can be the best critics they know because of their honesty." So with Zeta Jones' brother in charge of her filmscripts, there'll be no Slivers or Stripteases for the Welsh lovely then.

Families can also speak home truths that would otherwise get an adviser the sack. When Tom Jones' son, Mark, took over as the star's manager he was the first to tell his dad that the stage show was dated. Jones Jnr insisted that Tom change his image - out went the medallion, in came the Prince covers and the rest, of course, is history.

Managers and agents might argue that keeping it in the family is a sign of a star's stinginess as fees can cut a swathe through the healthiest bank account (or make it disappear altogether, as with the ill-fated Bay City Rollers). But Townsend reckons there's more to it than that.

"People's careers take off so quickly now," he explains, "that celebrities find they are in a situation where they have to make career decisions and enter negotiations before they know where they are. They don't want to go down the road of deciding who should be their agent or their manager, so they decide on the people who understand them."

A professional manager or agent might balk at this notion, but the role is hardly rocket science. If you've got the aptitude, the attitude and you're related to the star, what's to stop you being a success in your job?

"People might laugh that Billie's dad's a builder - what would he know about managing a star?" continues Townshend. "But builders are the best negotiators there are. Anyone who has had to make a living on their own wits has a pretty good background to handling theatrical business."

You can understand why the stars get cold feet and hot-foot it to the family. However, it's one thing to hand a career on a plate to a parent in your teens, quite another when dad spots your talent when you're just out of nappies.

Since Terry Owen saw his son Michael's talent at the tender age of five, he's kept the lad on the straight and narrow, right down to the choice of the soccer star's agent. The 19-year-old is hardly under house arrest, but when he does wander down the garden path, it's to do Nice Boy things rubber-stamped by dad. "He's happy enough to unwind playing a game of golf," says Terry emphatically. "He has a girlfriend, but she's not a pop star." Poor Michael. Doesn't he realise that sex, drugs and Rolling Rock are the raison d'etre for a footie hero?

Steffi Graf's dad was her driving force from the moment she picked up a racquet when she was three. Big daddy oversaw her training and managed her finances so that she never knew exactly how much she got for those Wimbledon wins. Unfortunately, Pop was arrested in 1995 for tax evasion and now Steffi's replaced dad with a new manager and has taken charge of her own dosh.

In truth, the trust that celeb's have with their families is a double- edged sword. When finances and families come head-to-head, things can go horribly wrong. Sam Fox, the Eighties' favourite pin-up, sacked her father-manager Pat in 1992 and sued him for over pounds 1m. And the young ex- Arsenal footballer Nicolas Anelka, whose brothers Didier and Claude are his self-appointed agents, engineered the farce that became the player's exit from the London club. The brothers grim made the sort of financial demands that would make Donald Trump blush, and did nothing for the striker's reputation. But they are his big brothers and they've had the upper hand all his life.

But these celebs didn't choose their family's talents, it was thrust upon them. When it comes to the option of either employing a hardy professional or your good old mum you could do worse than choose the softer option. And what better revenge for a childhood of parental control than turning the tables on mum and dad? After all, putting the parents on the payroll must be the most empowering thing an offspring can do. Provided you've reached your 16th birthday.

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