By Hayley Doyle
“Remember my name, FAME!” As the song goes…
Maybe it was being amazed by The Kids from Fame and the 80s American TV series, or perhaps it was watching Top of the Pops every Thursday on BBC One, but if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my seven year-old self would have answered, “Famous”. I obsessed over old movie musicals about girls who went from rags to riches, singing their way out of the farmhouse and onto a Broadway stage. My favourite character became Jo March from Little Women, the sister who wanted to write a book and get it published, seeing her name in print.
But there’s dreaming of fame, and then, there’s the reality of fame.
Madonna has been quoted saying, “People think that being famous is just about having your picture taken all the time and being rich, rich, rich, and you know what? They’re absolutely right.” At first glance, we can scoff or chuckle at this. We can close our eyes and imagine for a moment, we’re as famous as Madonna, leaving our multi-million dollar pad wearing oversized shades and getting papped as we slide into a limousine. But, as honest as Madonna’s words are, there is depth behind such a simple statement.
Being famous used to mean that you’d excelled in something high profile. Whether you were an actor or a scientist, you were top of your game and your work had been recognised from afar. The past few decades have seen the rollercoaster ride of reality television. Love it or hate it, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast, even it is evolving. Celebrities have been created from scratch. Normal people have been exposed, edited and bribed, all to pull in those all-important ratings. Despite how obvious reality TV participants are manipulated and publicly humiliated, there seems to be no shortage of “unknowns” wanting their shot at fame, with a whopping 100,000 applicants for the most recent series of popular reality trash, Love Island. The smoke and mirror effect still seems to work, even though the smoke and mirrors have been removed, thanks to the ugliness of the tabloids. People - and in particular, young people - still want to be famous. They see the glamour, the attention, the holidays and the freebies, from a quick scroll of their Instagram feeds, and think, well if they have all that, I want it too.
But how would you cope with getting your picture taken ALL the time? Not just at red carpet events, poised and perfected. Not just during a scheduled photo shoot. Oh, no. Everywhere you go. With or without mascara. For most of us, posing for a pic is awkward at the best times (cue memory of annual school photo or family portrait with bare feet on a fluffy rug…eek!) What if they snap you at a bad angle? Give you an extra chin? Catch your less attractive side? Were you slouched? Slurping? Scowling? Maybe you’ll never know until you see it online a week later, without your permission. But, so what? You’re rich. And don’t we know it. Because the whole world knows you’re rich, and possibly, how rich. You have what most people desire, or believe they desire, which makes you a target. Investing in top security isn’t just a luxury you can afford; it’s a necessity. Suddenly, it’s not as fancy as private jets and personal trainers, is it?
Back in 2015, I remember walking through Dubai International Airport and glancing at the newspapers on sale, displayed at the entrances to various shops. The big story of the day was David Walliams splitting with his now ex-wife, Lara Stone. Every single paper had more-or-less the same headline, worded according to the style of journalism. I got married earlier that year, so the idea of divorce perhaps held more weight for me in that moment, making me realise how big a deal it can be. I’d also recently suffered a miscarriage, so I was a bag of mixed emotions within my personal life. It struck me how appalling it would be to have my most private self splashed across the papers for the whole world to see. But in truth, the reason I saw that headline so clearly was because it really was everywhere; I couldn’t escape it.
Think about a time in your life when you felt most vulnerable. Maybe you’d come out of a bad relationship, had your heart broken. Maybe you’d made a mistake, felt ashamed. Maybe you were afraid, anxious, suffering from panic attacks. Whatever happened made you self-conscious and want to crawl under the duvet for a month, right? Now, take a second to think about what it would be like if this had been common knowledge. Talked about on morning television. Tweeted. Scrutinised. It’s hard enough when your friends or family have an opinion on your life choices. It must be excruciating for strangers to not only have opinions but be widely vocal about them, too. Sure, some celebrities have the strength to rise above it, or so they say. Personally, within my friendship groups, I am a very open book. I love the opportunity to talk about my feelings! I’m a firm believer in a problem shared is a problem halved. But I’d be mortified if strangers knew my personal struggles. My body hangups. My love life. My sex life… Suddenly, getting products #gifted isn’t as rosy, is it?
Becoming famous is a grey area. An eclectic camp mixed with both extroverts and introverts. Not everybody who strives for recognition is hungry for international stardom, and those who find themselves in a position of power are often finding ways to step out of the limelight. It’s a complicated lifestyle and while it may seem appealing, the reality can be troubling. Once you’re famous, it’s irreversible. Of course, your star might have diminished, but the fame of who you were and what you did is going to be around forever. In the same way that celebrities burn out when they’re at the top, slipping back into a more grounded way of life can also bring many struggles. Being “normal” again means trying to be normal again, which negates any normality at all. Even Kristin Stewart has said how being famous eliminates first impressions, because everybody who ever meets you already has an impression.
So what is the price of fame? And why do so many still strive for it? Hulu miniseries The Dropout is about the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes, the former Theranos CEO. There is a memorable scene where Elizabeth (played brilliantly by Amanda Seyfried) takes her iPhone to get fixed and speaks to the girl serving her, asking her what she wants do with her life. The girl doesn’t know and admits that the uncertainty is scary. Holmes, meanwhile, consoles her server with the insight that everything will be okay for her, saying quite bluntly that, “Nothing you do will matter, because you don’t really care. You have no ambition. You don’t want to do anything important. You’re just a person.” This throws the girl off-guard, upsets her, because it sounds like an insult. But as much as ambition can be admired, there is also much to be celebrated in those content with being, as Holmes says, “just a person.” While we crave the genius of entrepreneurs and talent of entertainers to keep us engaged, if the state of the world has taught us anything over the last few years, it’s that the little things really do count. Being “just a person” and living within “normality” is actually quite precious.
We’ve grown up spectating the age of celebrity. The teams behind the talent do an excellent job of grabbing our attention, making us feel inspired or intrigued. But between stylish togs and controversial career moves, it’s easy to forget that once the camera is turned off, these famous folk are as eager to binge a bit of Netflix with a cuppa as the rest of us. Their phone runs out of battery, inconveniently, like ours do. Their kids still throw up during car journeys. They get hangry. They feel bloated. They sneeze, snot, poo and have painful periods. They’re all human. And of course, we know this, and yet, we still judge. We still think, well, they’re famous, so they have it easy. But do they? Really? As Stranger Things megastar Finn Wolfhard says, “I mean, if anyone’s comfortable being famous, they’re a psychopath.”