I have, through my marriage, a celebrity in my family. It’s slightly contrived and a little distant – a sibling of my wife’s aunt – so much so that there’s often talk amongst other family members of their time with them but never really any prospect that I’d come face to face myself.
This person is bordering on iconic, first entering public consciousness in the early eighties and helping to alter the course of a genre, and remaining in the public eye to the current day, appearing in several terrestrial programmes this year, one in particular to great acclaim. Not only that, this person has an equally iconic partner, and some of their children have started to carve careers in the public arena as well.
As I said, the chances of me actually meeting this person have always been remote…until this half term. Whilst staying with my wife’s aunt, it became apparent that our time in her house could, possibly, overlap with this person although it did remain a slim chance.
My track record with personalities is pretty straightforward. Outwardly, I remain calm and appear composed and consider them as just a normal person doing their daily stuff. Or, as in the case of Peter Capaldi outside Euston’s Pret last week, eating his porridge (the porridge is unconfirmed, but he was spooning something into his mouth early in the morning, and I can’t think what else a Scot of a certain vintage might eat at that hour), I say to myself, ‘oh look there’s Peter Capaldi eating something that looks like porridge’ and leave them well alone. By contrast, on the inside, my stomach is normally cramping as I try to think of something very profound and clever to ask and muster the courage to whimper a hello.
In the case of celebrities I really do want to talk to, the approach is generally similar, although I do generally reach the point of whimpering a hello but then my mouth goes dry and they realise – in a similar manner to Hugh Grant’s character in About A Boy – that I’m not very interesting, and the moment is lost. More successfully, I have sold some of my cards and prints to celebrities and had very satisfying conversations with them without needing even to try to think of profound things to say, largely because they were more interested in me. However, my proudest celebrity moment is looking very much in love with KT Tunstall in Chicago, but that’s because I am.
I have digressed some distance. The thing with my family celebrity is that I spent much of the preceding days thinking to myself how I might behave if our time were to actually overlap, and about the weirdness of having effectively shared domestic space and appliances with a major celebrity. It felt really weird, and all within the constraint of having to treat this person like the long lost uncle Dave who you’d ordinarily nod acknowledgement to before banishing to the dustbin of awkward relatives orbiting the outer rim of your family. Here was a person who I didn’t know, yet thought I knew intimately. I was so conflicted, wanting to ask the profound, only thinking of the mundane and all the time trying to act like this was just another member of the family coming to visit their sister.
And it happened. I stepped out of the house with an empty pram whilst packing the car to be greeted by the sight of said celebrity walking towards me and asking to the whereabouts of their sister. After commenting that she was inside on the phone, I said hello and introduced myself and we shook hands. It felt totally inadequate, but I was heartened by the fact – disclosed over a cup of tea later – that they’d thought that the empty pram had contained a three year old child.
And so, the brief fifteen or so minutes in the presence of this wonderfully talented and entertaining person passed without incident of any kind. My eldest daughter drew a couple of pictures and she and our visitor talked about her first days at school. They seemed to share a joint love of jacket potatoes. I didn’t ask any celebrity related questions, or ask for an autograph, and tried to remain calm. I think I got away with it.