Our obsession with fame is an interesting notion that I assume is largely linked to our sense of self worth, put simply being a ‘somebody’ versus a ‘nobody’. Of course, wanting to be liked, admired and respected isn’t new, from an evolutionary perspective it’s always been the case. Individuals who aren’t liked are often outcast from their tribe and their survival can be threatened – so we have an innate desire to be adored. Enter stage left a seat on the express train to validation via fame.
It begs the question of how much of a concern this should be given how evident fame-seeking is in our culture, more accessible than ever with the continued escalation of reality TV and the personal pocket variety of celebrity – social media. Many Australians try their hand at getting on a reality TV series, no matter what they have to build/share/cook/do/date/disclose in order to get their 15 minutes. For a lucky few it’s a legitimate path to bigger and better things, but you have to wonder whether for many it’s a case of feeling chewed up and spat out.
Once people do ‘make it’ we hear a lot about their eccentric egos, lavish lifestyles and diva demands, but something I’ve heard about really famous people – like A list stars – is that they do in fact, possess true ‘star quality’. Who knows whether the star quality invokes the celebrity or the other way around, but I wanted to know just how real this magic stardust is and whether there’s anywhere I can buy some. The perfect person to answer that question is Shelly Horton, who has spent many years interviewing the world’s biggest stars.
“When it comes to A-list celebrities there is a presence or larger than life quality that’s hard to put your finger on,” she says. “I once interviewed Tom Cruise (pre couch jumping days) and was waiting with my crew set up and ready to roll. My back was to the door and I felt his presence walk in before he did – the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I’ve found that really famous people are – usually – truly present, they make you feel like no-one else is in the room. The Rock (Dwayne Johnson), Matt Damon, John Travolta and Hugh Jackman will never be looking over your shoulder to see if there’s someone more important to talk to, because THEY are the most important person in the room.”
I love these examples, they’re mostly all long-standing celebrities who appear – at least from the outside – to have survived the enduring effects of a life in the limelight and maintained some semblance of mental health. OK, a few incidents with Tom might beg to differ, but you know what I mean. Especially given that research in the field confirms what we all think to be true of being famous – it often leads to loss of privacy, feeling entitled, demanding expectations, ego gratification and a sense of immortality. It also invites wealth, access and temptations and is without a doubt addictive.
While she’s too humble to admit it, Shelly Horton herself is a bit of a national treasure, appearing on our TV screens almost daily in the most challenging of ways – as herself. No characters to hide behind, she’s larger than life on screen and in the flesh, and while she’s quick to correct me when I ask what it’s like to be famous –assuring me she’s not – she does kind of know what I’m talking about.
“People can be weird,” she confesses. “I was heading to the airport when a stranger stopped me and wanted to say hello and ask what it’s like working in TV. I was polite and answered her questions but obviously needed to go as I had a plane to catch. I carefully explained I had to dash and she said ‘It was nice to meet you, not as nice as when I met Lisa Wilkinson, but nice nonetheless.’ Who says something like that? I couldn’t stop laughing.”
I ask whether it’s hard being ‘a little bit famous.’