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Kagan McLeod for The National
Kagan McLeod for The National

Newsmaker: The best celebrity 15 minutes of fame of 2013

They range from politicians to athletes to rock stars, but all have made their mark in the news in 2013 for various reasons. But selecting a person – or otherwise – each week for our Newsmaker isn’t such a simple task, writes James Langton.

Pop quiz! What do the following people have in common? Jack Nicholson, Justin Bieber, Sebastian Vettel, Johnny Depp and Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge.

The short answer is that they have all featured this year in our weekly Newsmaker slot.

The longer answer – well, it’s more of another question really – is why they were picked.

Not just those five, but the 46 other subjects of this column, all of whom have contributed in some way to the passage of another year.

Those of you with even slight math skills will have worked out that this adds up to 51, one short of the number of weeks in the year. So to mark the end of 2013, step forward the last Newsmaker before the new year. Drum roll: Newsmaker!

So what does it take to become our weekly Newsmaker? Being in the news, obviously. But there is a more subtle equation at work. Firstly, have they been a Newsmaker before?

You only get to pick Barrack Obama or Pope Francis – December 13 – once, so timing is everything. Indeed, just 24 hours before Pope Francis was published in The National, he was picked as Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

There’s something else, though. A certain X factor that defines the Newsmaker. We must know enough about them to fill a page, but there must also be an element of mystery. Who was that masked man?

In the issue of April 19, that would be Psy, in his trademark sunglasses. The choice was determined by the release of Gentlemen, the follow-up to the South Korean star’s global hit Gangnam Style. Would Psy’s star continue to shine so brightly in 2013? With around 600 million views, Gentlemen was the most watched video on YouTube this year.

Yet the suspicion remains that Psy has had his Newsmaker moment, a small but significant step on the long path to becoming a Trivial Pursuit question.

For fame is often temporary. Some do not even get Andy Wharhol’s full 15 minutes. In January it seemed a good idea to celebrate Ned RocknRoll, the amusingly named sort-of businessman who is head of “astronaut experience” at Virgin Galactic but achieved a wheelbarrow load of publicity simply by marrying the actress Kate Winslet. It would be fair to say that was the extent of Mr RocknRoll’s impact on 2013.

Likewise Kim Dotcom, also in January, the German internet entrepreneur, whose Megaupload file sharing site was brought spectacularly down by the authorities on the grounds of mega copyright infringement. Dotcom is currently fighting extradition to the United States, but it is fair to say that nobody really cares anymore.

Some Newsmakers, though, have been making news for so long that it seems faintly astonishing that their moment has come. Jack Nicholson has been a 24-carat gold movie star and hellraiser since the days of Easy Rider, but his distinguished Hollywood career seemed to be coming to an end in September, with the story that he was retiring due to memory loss. Nicholson later denied he had decided to quit, although it is possible he just forgot.

Showbiz personalities featured prominently over the summer, not for nothing called the Silly Season. Christopher Nolan, the British film director, will want to look back on his reinvention of the Superman franchise in June. Johnny Depp (July 18) will surely want to forget the catastrophically reviewed Lone Ranger.

At the other end of the celebrity scale was the newest new arrival. Prince George, third in line to the British throne, came into the world for the last week in July. You might think a week-old baby might not have made enough impact to justify his selection. In fact, as it turned out, sweet baby George has his whole life already planned.

This was actually a big year for royalty. There was King Carlos I of Spain, whose popularity among his own people slumped to an all-time low in April, and Willem-Alexander, who it was announced in January, would take over the crown of the Netherlands from his mother Queen Beatrix, who was abdicating.

Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was our Newsmaker for March 8. A natural reluctance to publicity can make subjects from the Arabian Gulf difficult to profile even when they make the news, but Prince Al Waleed is an exception, complaining that Forbes’ annual rich list of billionaires was “flawed and inaccurate” by putting him in 26th place with a mere US$20 billion (Dh73 billion).

Some names needed no explanation, although their activities certainly did. Dennis Rodman, the heavily inked former basketball star, flirted with North Korea’s president Kim Jong-un in September (and again this month). Barbara Walters announced her retirement after six decades as the queen of US television.

Justin Bieber came to Dubai in the middle of a turbulent period of his 19 years, and was attacked on stage. Robert Mugabe, the tyrannical president of Zimbabwe, secured his seventh term of office in early August at the age of 89.

Other Newsmakers reflect the unceasing news cycle. David Karp, Peng Liyuan, Rob Ford, Beppe Grillo, Batasar Garzon and Mishal Husain all had their moment in the spotlight. Recalling who they are, in the depths of December, requires a little prodding.

Karp is the 26-year old founder of the blogging platorm Tumblr. He sold it to Yahoo for $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in May. Peng Liyuan is the wife of President Xi Jinping of China, who brought a touch of unexpected glamour to a US state visit. Rob Ford is the self-destructive mayor of Toronto and Mishal Husain is the former Abu Dhabi resident who became the first Muslim woman to present Britain’s Radio 4 morning show in October. Garzon is a Spanish judge and activist linked to the defence of whistleblower Edward Snowden.

And Beppe Grillo? An Italian clown whose reformist party became the largest group in the country’s chamber of deputies in March, and is surely a metaphor for politics in general.

To be a Newsmaker it is not always necessary to have a name, to be real, or even to be a person at all. The identity of the British artist Banksy has long been shrouded in mystery, even as his activities continue to make headlines. In October he was in New York, pulling off stunts that included selling his paintings for a few dollars at a street stall near Central Park.

The many faces of Doctor Who, the TV time-traveler whose craft is an elderly British police box, saw his 50th anniversary commemorated at the start of this month. In September it was Miss America, whose own many faces now include Nina Davuluri, the first American of Indian descent to take the title.

In time for National Day, we celebrated the UAE flag, not a person, but representing a people. In early December, it was the rubber duck, a much-loved bath-time companion for over a century, and whose appearance, in giant form in early December on the waters of Dubai Creek, prompted a copyright row.

Taken as a whole, it is not clear what these 51 say about the year or, indeed the world in general, except that it takes all sorts. Hopefully though, at least you, the reader, have been both entertained and educated in the process.

Consider also Ozzie Osbourne and Mick Jagger. Both featured as Newsmakers in 2013; Osbourne reunited with his band in June whereas Jagger – Sir Michael to you – celebrated his 70th birthday in May. Black Sabbath, it has since been announced, will play Abu Dhabi in May, Mick and the Rolling Stones in February.

Big news, then for 2014. But for the Newsmaker, both are already history.

jlangton@thenational.ae

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