Cliff Richard fat-shaming Elvis was gross. But that's not what shocked me....
I can't believe even famous people do this?
When David Bowie died in January 2016, my phone lit up for two days with sympathetic texts. ‘Thinking of you.’ ‘Are you OK?’ ‘I knew you’d be sad right now.’ He meant enough to me that my friends sent me condolences - like he was family. And I grieved him almost as such. I cried all day the day I heard. Then I cried even more when, the following morning I found myself in Holland, at the V&A exhibition - an actual multi-floored shrine to the star - interviewing visitors for This Morning.
I’m hardly unique in idolising David Bowie. But I tell you this to emphasise what a huge deal it was for me the one time we were in the same room, and I turned down the chance to meet him.
It was 2002 and I’d been invited to The GQ Men of the Year Awards. I didn’t even know until I got there that David Bowie was getting an award. Like my own event, The Glamour Women of the Year Awards, the biggest stars for the night were often closely guarded secrets. I knew Bowie’s press team quite well because they were everyone’s press team - The Spice Girls, David Beckham, The Rolling Stones. You know, all the Z-listers.
In the milling around and drinking after the awards show, I said to one of his publicity team, the renowned, revered and often feared Caroline McAteer, ‘I can’t believe I’m in the same room as David Bowie.’
She immediately said, ‘Come and meet him!’
Me: ‘Oh god, no!’
She grabbed my arm in a lock: ‘Don’t be silly, you have to - you’re such a big fan! Come on, he’s really nice!’
She was by now trying to drag me and I rooted my stilletto’d legs to the spot, which was not easy, but I was resolute: I would not be making a tit of myself to David Bowie. Because that’s exactly what would have happened. A few years later I would lose the power of speech as I was introduced to Madonna and I felt vindicated all over again. Not meeting David Bowie had been the right course of action. I’d have stammered something about being a huge fan - like he hadn’t heard that 50 billion times already. He would have said thank you and then we would have been staring at each other, across an ocean of bum-shrivellingly awful silence, until I either a) said something madly stupid or b) kept saying nothing until Caroline awkwardly gripped my arm again.
Either way, that would have been the memory that had me convulsing with shame waves, any time thereafter that I heard his music.
No. It was my hero David Bowie who I read quoted in an interview once saying, ‘Never meet your heroes.’ I heeded my hero’s advice and I am a better person for it.
It remains good advice in my view, and it turns out that Sir Cliff Richard agrees. Although his reasons are slightly different to mine.
This week, he cosied up on the This Morning sofa and cheerily told Alison Hammond, Dermot O’Leary and ‘guest editor’ Sarah Ferguson why he turned down the chance to meet his hero, Elvis Presley.
‘I had one chance through a journalist while I was promoting Devil Woman in the States. He said, “Oh, I know Elvis.” He knew that I was influenced [by him]. “
But Cliff told his friend the journalist: “Can we put it off? Because he’d put on a lot of weight, and I thought, ‘If I’m taking a photograph with him, and it’s going to be hanging on my refrigerator, he’s gotta look good’.
‘I put it off, and then, of course, he died. If you’re a fan of somebody’s, meet them – even if they’ve put on weight.’
Obviously everyone has piled in on the body-shaming. And I agree, what a shocking way to think. And then shocking again to actually think it’s OK to unleash it as a breezy anecdote on national television. Did he give his journalist friend a weight goal and a little alarm to ring in the event that Elvis slimmed down to it?
But what shocked me even more about his comments was the total dehumanising of a famous person, by another famous person.
It’s de rigeur behaviour from us normies. We hear that all the time from celebrities who can’t so much as exit a toilet cubicle without being hounded for selfies. The talent, good looks and abundant riches have their downside - press intrusion and fabrications, exploitative hangers-on who see them as nothing more than a meal ticket or a status upgrade.
It’s why celebrities, understandably, often seek solace in each other’s company. Wagatha Christie aside, there’s security in knowing that when you’re both famous, neither is likely to run blabbing to the media every time you’ve met for a drink. There’s not many kindred spirits who really get what it’s really like, so there’s usually an unspoken code between the ones who do. Famously, David Bowie and John Lennon co-wrote the song Fame: two super fucking famous friends having a catchy little whinge about what only they can truly know about fame.
Famous people will often tell you that it’s the muggles who lose the ability to see them as human beings. This is true and can go one of two ways. You view them as some kind of Demi god, as I did with Bowie. I don’t wanna hear that he used the loo just like me. That never happened.
Then there’s the other way it can go, when people see the celebrity as not really a human being at all, but simply an object that must be served up for consumption in some way. Like the time Jameela Jamil recounts on my podcast, Fame, about having a intense and tearful row with her brother outside a branch of Snappy Snaps, when some woman decided that was the moment to wade in and ask for a selfie.
But this week, we had a famous person telling us about the time he reduced another famous person to something he needed to stick on his fridge. According to Cliff, the meeting with Elvis was all about the selfie and nothing but the selfie. Not about what conversations they might have about their approaches to their work. He wasn’t wondering what Elvis might be like as a person. He wasn’t thinking about seizing the chance to spend time with the iconic performer of the era. He wasn’t thinking that, as an industry peer, maybe the conversation would be inspiring or uplifting in some way. Or that maybe this could lead to something incredible, like making some music together, or even been the beginning of a meaningful friendship with that rare thing - another person who knows how it feels to be constantly in the spotlight.
From what he told This Morning viewers, Cliff was, seemingly, focused purely on The tangible Thing he would take from the meeting, rather than anything to do with the actual contents of the meeting. You know, for the fridge. The final insult? A dismissive, ‘And then of course he died’, delivered with the tone you might use to tell the story of that time you had to flush your first pet goldfish.
It really brought home to me what a bizarre intoxication fame is for everyone. Cliff’s own fame has brought with it some real highs and devastating lows - and still it seems, in at least that moment on This Morning, he forgot that Elvis was more than just a huntable trophy that was, alas, too fat to display on his fridge.
It’s exactly the sort of story that inspired me to launch my podcast, Fame. I wanted to try and draw out the human beings behind the famous faces. If people who really understand fame can behave in this way, dismiss the whole body of artistry from a fellow famous human because he was ‘fat’, maybe it’s easier to see why people who will never be famous can struggle to respect it. What does that do to the psyche of someone walking around with their own famous face?
The new series features Dannii Minogue, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, David Gandy, Dawn O’Porter and many, many more analysing their own relationships with fame. Everyone’s story is different but everyone is thoughtful and honest about what they love - and really don’t - about being that person who everyone stares at when they walk into a room.
It will be available to download from next Friday 1st December so please give it a listen! A like and subscribe would help enormously too, if you feel so inclined.
Also, has anyone got Cliff’s phone number? I have questions….
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