Friday, 7 January 2011

Well known and important people

Sigh. In the news tonight there's a pleasant-enough young female singer called Jessie J who shrieks and gyrates for her pop video in the urban American style - and is pipped to be the 'Voice of 2011'. Deeper sigh. Apart from the fact that there already a singer called Jessy J - so we could have some confusion here, folks - it seems a mite premature for a fanfare of trumpets. By my reckoning, there's another 358 days left in 2011 for an even more wonderful voice to appear. What is the point of being so definite about Ms J's chances? Well, Mr Simon Cowell (hope I spelled that correctly), the well-known popular music contest host, says he likes her. So there you are.

I will stick my neck out and declare that Ms J is highly likely to find fame and fortune impossible to maintain after the first successful hit. As most do. It's such a crowded market. There's so little that's genuinely new and exciting, as opposed to apparently new and exciting. I'm not impressed by fresh faces milking tired genres for an ever less critical audience. I won't be spending money to listen to them or see them. I know Ms J is entitled to a career, but I am not going to fund it.

Oh what a lot of 'celebrities' there are! Just as Facebook has devalued the notion of 'friendship' (I agree with Anji), so endless talent shows on TV have devalued the notion of celebrity. Once it was heroic sportspeople, astronauts and polar explorers. Then it was music people of the giant stature of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Then renowned TV chefs. Then anyone who briefly appeared on Big Brother, no matter how poorly they behaved. The process seems to have gone further, so that anybody at all who gets on TV becomes a personality. Such attention-seekers might or might not have talent, but on the whole what they have is not going to place them in the Twenty-First Century Hall Of Fame. But their temporary stardom makes them suitable fodder for cheap-to-make programmes, the kind that TV chiefs like nowadays.

In my entire life I can think of only three genuinely well known and important people that I've personally 'met' in any proper sense of the word.

The first was the Queen Mother in 1978. It was the Queen's Hotel in Hastings. A civic reception was taking place, to do with her position as the Lord Warden of the Cinq Ports. I was a hotel guest, and duly lined the corridor as she walked to the grand dining room with costumed and liveried dignitaries. She gave me a glance and smiled. And I'd like to say that she stopped and whispered to me, 'One day you will be Lucy Melford', but it didn't actually happen. So I had no reason say 'Thank you, Your Majesty'. She simply walked on, smiling at everyone.

The second was the Lord Privy Seal in 1983. This is the title of the person who holds an ancient office of government. The 'seal' in question is not the white and fluffy variety with enormous eyes that eats fish and goes 'arf, arf', but the metal medallion that was used to make an imprint in hot wax when sealing letters and scrolls in days of old when knights were bold. The Keeper of the Privy (Private) Seal attended to the despatch of the monarch's personal correspondence. In more modern times, the Lord Privy Seal became the Minister Without Portfolio, and automatically had a seat in Cabinet. This person was therefore at the very heart of government, but free of departmental responsibilities, and therefore could be non-partisan. They could have a completely independent agenda, and say things without having to beat a drum for a group of civil servants. Useful on occasion.

The particular Lord Privy Seal that I met was Baroness Young, who had the office in 1982 and 1983. I was then the Schedule D Section Manager at Wimbledon District tax office. She was making a Ministerial Visit to the office. My boss, the District Inspector, ushered her into my room. We shook hands, and had some brief small talk (though I fancy not brief enough for the DI's liking) then she was gone.

I did not receive an honour. She did not whisper in my ear 'Don't despair! You will start your transition only twenty-five years from now', for this was the person who campaigned tirelessly against gay rights, and wouldn't have had much sympathy with trans rights either. Another fact about her was that she was the only woman ever appointed by Maggie Thatcher to her cabinet. The only other woman to have ever been Lord Privy Seal has been Harriet Harman, who had that position from 2007 until Labour's 2010 General Election defeat.

And what was the purpose of the Ministerial Visit? Our office was trialling a new type of canteen, serving nice sandwiches supplied by Marks & Spencer. The government saw it as the Future of Civil Service Catering. So it was Really Important.

Person number three was David Stancliffe in 2007, who was then Bishop of Salisbury. I reversed into his car. I'd been driving into the Cathedral Precinct, changed my mind, and began to back up the Honda 4x4 I was driving at the time. The Bishop's little car was out of sight behind me, and the first I knew of his presence was a thud as my towbar made a dent in his radiator grille. We got out and ruefully looked at the damage. I offered an immediate apology. He was jolly civilised about it. We adjourned to a nearby parking area. We exchanged addresses and insurance details; I took a photo of the damage to his car (mine was unmarked); and we parted on almost cordial terms. I would like to tell you that he blessed me, and foretold successful surgery just over three years ahead, but it was not so.

Not an impressive number of 'real' celebrities there! But all of top quality: Royalty, Government Minister, Bishop. I don't know what it proves, but I rest my case.


  1. I have just helped a Bishop severely deplete the contents of a bottle of Port at a dinner party, nice guy as guys go. Does that count for anything? he drives a nice jaguar so damaging his grill was out of the question.

    Caroline xxx

  2. I was part of a team that appeared on more than one series of a hit TV show and all I got was a lousy T-shirt! Several of them, in fact. We obviously got in before the age of instant celebrity or naturally I would now be appearing in Hello! magazine.

    I agree with you in that I won't be buying Jessie J's music, however I'll give her a break on the talent front, she's paid her dues for quite a few years as an unsuccessful performer and the urban American style is simply what sells.

  3. I'd distinguish between 'well-known' and 'important'. I know (or at least have met) some people who have a quality that you can't quite nail down, but makes them somehow 'big' or, if you like, 'great'. Some are well-known, and some live quiet, almost obscure lives. I feel fortunate to know or have known them.

  4. Yes, lots of people want to be famous now, mostly just for being themselves. For that, I supposed we can blame Paris Hilton (being rich never hurts), but plenty have followed.

    Meeting the eyes of the Queen Mum is certainly more impressive than glad-handing then Liberal leader Paul Martin, who went on to become Prime Minister, or chatting with former Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion, who was quite good in person but disastrous as a leader.

    I did get to meet a decent quality of entertainer during my stint as a DJ when I was at university. My show was a folk show. My favourite interview was with Dave Van Ronk, who was funny and easy to talk to. I also met someone whom Brits of a certain age might remember--Maddy Prior, singer for Steeleye Span. I was only the engineer on that interview, but I have a feeling that even if I had been asking better questions than my colleague was, she would still have lain on the hotel bed looking quite bored. I will say that she is one large woman, built like a proverbial milkmaid (but small on top).

    Give at least some of us Facebook users credit for understanding the difference between "Facebook friends" and actual friends, some of whom are also Facebook friends. The word has retained its value, at least for some of us. :)

  5. My attitude about many of today's young artists and their generes, mirrors yours. This goes doubly so, for the urban contemporary stuff that passes for R&B today.

    Lucy, I have to ask. Did the Lord Privy Seal, at least bounce a beach ball on her nose for you?

    About ten years ago, I met the current new House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, when he was first running for the House of Representatives from the 7th District in Virginia. He was glad-handing outside the gate of the plant where I worked. Although he was wearing an affected smile, his eyes had the hollow vacant look of a sociopath. I instantly disliked him, and everything he has done in his official duties since, has reinforced my dislike of him.

    Melissa XX

  6. Then anyone who briefly appeared on Big Brother, no matter how poorly they behaved.

    I don't think that's true... You have to behave pretty badly to get noticed :)

    I've appeard in the Dutch version of Watchdog a few years ago (in a good way I hasten to add!)

    And I am currently chasing an insurance claim against a Dutch rapper who ran into the back of my car a year ago. Though he was a very nice person, and had been good about it (that fact that it's not sorted yet is my fault...)

    But there does seem to be a lack of ambition these days. I know too many people who want to be 'Rich' and / or 'Famous'. Ask them *what* they want to do and they have no idea. Not even 'Footballer', 'Singer' or 'Actor' anymore...


  7. I needed to exaggerate about Big Brother to make a point about 'easy celebrity'. The main thing is that many 'famous personalities' have done nothing especially heroic or world-class and yet are 'household names' that sell magazines and appear on TV. And we can be like them if we make the right effort. (Hmmm...if I audition for the next tranny storyline on Corrie or Eastenders or Emmerdale or Holby City or Hollyoaks I too could achieve fame and fortune)

    I agree with Dru. There are many modest people who make a huge contribution to society, or even just to their immediate circle, who would shun all this public attention-seeking. But they are still 'big'.

    And no, Melissa, Baroness Young didn't perform any antics with a ball! Arf, arf! I remember she was dressed in black, and much easier to talk to than you might suppose. My boss clearly regarded her as a hot potato and didn't want me gushing away to her ('boring the knickers off her' is how I think he put it) and maybe committiing some faux pas!


  8. I was introduced to Prince Edward and his wife a few years ago. We exchanged pleasantries and a couple of jokes. I was honestly left with the feeling that birth had been kinder to me than him - I have no aspirations to be Countess Angela!


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