The mad, mad world of the very famous
06 May 2008
Two great knights of the realm, Sir Jimmy Savile and Sir Salman Rushdie, have just made our strange world seem a little stranger. Salman has appeared, nuzzling Scarlett Johansson’s neck in a video to promote the actress’s new single, “Falling Down”. Jimmy has revealed in an interview that he was close friends with Margaret and Denis Thatcher, has been a confidant of the royal family and once accepted an impromptu invitation to address the Israeli cabinet on the subject of relations with Egypt.
There is a certain Alice in Wonderland logic to all this weirdness. Salman and Jimmy have more in common than might at first be thought. Both have moved in glamorous circles, without being notably glamorous themselves. Both have done commendable work for good causes – one for the disabled, the other for persecuted writers. Both have survived difficulties – one with a fatwa declared against him, the other with certain unkind rumours about his private life. Both have been ennobled by the nation for reasons which have more to do with who they are than what they have done.
Both, most significantly of all, belong to the parallel universe of the very famous, a place where the most unlikely alliances develop and flourish. Jimmy is closer in spirit to Lady Thatcher, the Prince of Wales and perhaps even, dare one say it, Ronnie Kray, whom he used to visit in Broadmoor, than to another disc jockey; Salman somehow seems more at home cosying up to a 23-year-old Hollywood star than he would be in a group of earnest, unlovely novelists.
Fame transcends all barriers: once this truism is understood, many of the mysteries of our times become easier to understand. To civilians of the non-famous world, the appeal of Sir Jimmy Savile might be difficult to understand. He was a disc jockey without any particular musical taste, an average TV presenter, an eccentric in a naff shell suit who was never quite funny enough. He has never, so far as one can tell, said anything unusual or interesting, let alone wise. He is little more than a string of catchphrases, an affected voice, an unlit cigar and a dubious hair-style. He is a celebrity confection, in other words.
Yet it seems that he really did pop round to the Thatchers to watch TV, and offer advice to the Windsors when various royal marriages were in meltdown. When he visited Israel in 1975, his analysis of the diplomatic situation really was regarded as being so astute that he was invited to address the country’s cabinet.
If ever proof were needed that a virus of insanity eats its way into the brain of those who become famous, it is provided by the role of Sir Jimmy Savile as sage, confidant, diplomat and agony uncle to leading politicians and heads of state. It is difficult to dismiss the frightening idea that the disc-jockey’s new friends were so bonkers that, in the recesses of their fame-addled brains, they remembered that he had once presented a programme called Jim’ll Fix It and believed that he could fix things in the real world too – royal marriages, Ronnie Kray, the Palestinian question.
In the universe of the famous, nothing is inappropriate, absurd or presumptuous if it is enacted by one of them. The most ordinary of minds becomes wise. A serious novelist of late middle age can snuggle up in public to a young beauty.
It is a world of ingrained eccentricity and strangeness that, in the right hands, would make a hilarious film. Only when it impinges on the lives of the rest of us does it become slightly scary.
Keep up the full Monty
Good news from the celebrity gardener Monty Don: sex has been a very key part of his relationship with his wife, he has said. After 25 years of marriage, the message seems to be, the Dons are still as active as anything.
Sadly, their case is not typical. According to Relate, there has been a worrying 40 per cent increase in the number of men who simply cannot be bothered to monty their partners.
Could there be a connection here? Just as millions watch the great gardener, left, composting rather than doing it themselves, so men all over the country are leaving their bed-time duties to Monty. Keep it up, Mr and Mrs Don: you are montying for the nation.
There has been a niggling sense of familiarity to much of the coverage of Boris Johnson over the past few days. The famous blonde hair, the dangerous charm, the romantic vulnerability, the toff eccentricity, the sense that something could go wrong at any time, the big, photogenic eyes flirting with the camera: where have we seen all this before? It is true. The new Mayor of London is morphing into the living, jogging personification of the late Princess of Wales. The image has worked well for him so far because the British have always had a weakness for nobs with attitude occupying a public role that is part-serious and part-showbiz. The Boris effect will add a splash of colour to County Hall after the newt-grey Livingstone years, just as Diana once brought metropolitan style to the tweedy Royal Family. Those running our larger charities should take note.