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The fame game

he catchy song When will I (will I) be famous? was out around the same time as Fame, which as you may recall exhorted the listener to remember her name, as she was going to live forever. Who sang that again? I’ve forgotten.

We will all be extinguished and most of us will be forgotten in no time. If you are a fashionable figure, you die twice. First your fame dies, then you die. And when you’re dead, some people briefly remember you for scoring a goal when you had a big head of permed hair or jumping about on Top of the Pops when it was unmissable.

I like reading obituaries. The girl in the 50s films who set a million young hearts astray or the brave young chap who fought ‘the Gerries’ have been wheeled about, fed, investigated and sedated like everyone else of their vintage for years, but their glory days are recalled and their photos show them when they were at their best.

You don’t have to know who they were, but when you read the article you remember them in that film or as the drummer for some long-ago hit and it is 1978 again when such things were vitally important.

Fame seems to come around much faster these days. Years ago, the newspapers told us about the doings of the aristocracy; ‘Lord and Lady Hootamany have sailed on the Cunard Liner SS. Delerius to New York, where they will go shooting buffalo with the Trumpsters’, you know the sort of thing. Now we have magazines telling us that some singer has put on a few pounds since her boyfriend dumped her. They go in and out of style with amazing speed. At least Lord Hootamany and his lovely wife were a source of news and a presumed source of fascination for most of their lives and were spared the indignity of having to eat spiders in the jungle to get back into the public eye.

It has been many years since I have known what song is number one in the charts and, to be honest, I am not sure if they even have charts anymore. You know that you are getting old when you leaf through a celebrity magazine and you don’t know who anybody is. You are older still when you don’t care.

RTÉ is currently running a celebrity version of Operation Transformation. It is a bit different to most shows with ‘celebrity’ in the title — the participants are all still active in their present careers. None of them are loafing about looking at scrapbooks from the past or trying to get a new album out. They are also genuine grafters. They did not become famous by lounging around the Big Brother house in their underwear, cursing and crying. At the time of going to press, they are fitting those salads into already-crowded days and the pounds are dropping off like lemmings off a cliff. It is along the principle that if you want a job done, ask a busy person. If you want someone to show you how to lose weight, get an over-achiever who knows how to behave on camera.

Graham Norton famously remarked that being famous was like living in west Cork. Everybody knows you. Most of us have our own ‘west Corks’, where they know all about us and the local celebrity is accordingly treated no differently.

There is a story about some one-hit wonder rapper who was in Dublin for a gig. He paraded down Grafton Street with his entourage, dripping with bling and attitude, his muscular goons shoving everyone out of the way in case they should try to mob his One-Hittedness. The goons adroitly shoved Bono, the Edge and their wives back through the door of Brown Thomas as the procession went by.

We are good with celebrities in Ireland. Most people of my generation who take a jar at all have a story about Bono, Phil Lynott or Shane McGowan. When I was a toddler, The Dubliners played a tune for me and that must have left a mark, as I have never really been bothered about fame since. While I have huge respect for the art, the craft and the skill, mere reputation leaves me cold. We all remember somebody from college who made it big (although the ones who got into law and politics seemed to have been the quiet ones you didn’t really notice at the time — in my experience, anyway). The most famous people from my school were Gerry O’Connor, the banjo player, and Michael Cleary, the hurler, and they are still my friends, although I know them better now as they were then spending the 10,000 hours honing their incredible skills while I was dreamily wondering what it was all about. Gerry still banjos, Michael still trains, and I am still wondering.

  1. Padraic O Maille on September 29, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Great article.

    You’re spot on. Ireland do celebrities better than most.

    Luka Bloom once famously did a ‘surprise guest appearance’ in Ballyvaughan.

    As he quietly strolled on Bishops Quarter beach prior to the performance he met a lovely elderly local lady who casually proclaimed. ‘Ah Luka, I hear you’re the surprise guest in the Tea Roons this evening.’

    You couldn’t write it!

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