Rebecca Tyrrel: 'Nicole Kidman answers the great rhetorical question: 'Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?'

Saturday 20 August 2011 00:00 BST

Who knew that Nicole Kidman is frightened of butterflies? Who knew, in fact, that anyone had a phobia so rare that it doesn't have a name? The fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth does (arachibutyrophobia). So does the fear that somewhere a duck is secretly watching you (antidaephobia). And so, needless to add, does the fear of the bluff know-it-all with misguided dress sense (Clarksonophobia).

Yet the fear of butterflies is so recherché that even the online support group, while claiming a link to the fear of moths (mottephobia), admits there is no official term.

Nicole is baffled as to how she developed her violent aversion to the most exquisite of all God's creations. All she knows is that it came upon her while growing up in Australia, when she once climbed over a fence to avoid a butterfly that was sitting on the garden gate. She did once try aversion therapy, by walking into the butterfly cage in a natural history museum. "But that didn't work. I jump out of planes, I could be covered in cockroaches, I do all sorts of things, but I just don't like the feel of butterflies' bodies." All sorts of things indeed. Nicole actively embraces creatures and communities about whom it is surely a moral duty to be phobic. For instance, being close friends with Rupert Murdoch, or spending 10 years married to Tom Cruise, or becoming a Scientologist?

The obvious advice to anyone who can be reduced to quivering paralysis by a Red Admiral while hanging out with Murdoch, Cruise or fellow followers of L Ron Hubbard is urgently to seek the help of a clinical psychologist. But since Nicole's father is a highly respected one of those, and hasn't sorted her out, her problem must lie beyond the healing power of the mental health professional.

If anything useful emerges from Nicole's take on terror, it is that she has provided a literal answer to one of the great rhetorical questions of all time. "Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?" was first asked by Alexander Pope in a satirical poem (about a royal courtier), followed 200 years later by William Rees-Mogg (about Mick Jagger). Now we know. Nicole Kidman, that's who.

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