They say you should never meet your heroes, because it will only ever spoil the illusion. And "they" are never far from the truth, are they? The first experience I ever had of an idol not being everything I had built him up to be was when Gary Lineker was at a local charity five-a-side tournament when I was just a little boy. He was clearly very pleasant and polite, and had that showbiz savvy for making people feel they weren't a little bit odd for obsessing over someone whose main talent was for kicking a ball into a net.
But the Tottenham and England footballer just did not glow as much as he should have done, given the reverence I had always afforded him. Another example came last week, when Yuvraj Singh, the Indian Test batsman, arrived in Dubai. The first cricketer to hit six sixes in an over in Twenty20 internationals is deified in his homeland. But his star-quality seems to be confined to his batting, judging by the way he schlepped around Dubai's new cricket grounds, which he had been flown in to officially open on a first-class ticket by Emirates Airline, like a moody teenager.
It was as though he was auditioning for a lead role in a "Kevin and Perry do the IPL" style movie. All of which got me wondering: what do the ubiquitous "they" make of anti-heroes? Are you allowed to meet them? Or even speak to them on the telephone, as I did with Steve Waugh earlier this week. The former Australia captain was the ultimate pantomime villain when I was growing up watching cricket.
He was just so damn good, so ruthlessly brilliant, he ruined everything. England lost eight Ashes series on the trot to Australia, all deathly dull on account of their one-sidedness? All Waugh's fault. Michael Slater and Waugh's twin brother Mark had usually already scored a century apiece by the time he came to the wicket. Was it really necessary for "Tugga" to add to the anguish with one of his own? That always seemed a little greedy to me.
Knowing full well that he was the master of the dark art of mental disintegration, I was expecting the worst when I overshot the scheduled appointment time for my telephone interview by five minutes. It was the front desk's fault, I swear it. They did not know which room he was in. Was history's hardest captain really going to accept an excuse like that? As if. Get through, make the call, would have been his attitude. It does not matter how ugly it looks, or who you upset on the way, just make the call.
"Hello?" It was not a lot to go on, but this greeting was definitely a friendly one, emanating from a soft, relatively high-pitched voice. No daunting Darth Vader deep breathing, no 'Your timekeeping is rubbish Pom!' Not a hint of sledging, in fact. Must be the wrong room, I thought. But it was him. In fact, a maintenance man was just in his room fixing his internet, and could I possibly call back in a couple of minutes? He was effusive in his apologies for wasting my time. Which was disarming.
Then he followed up with some self-deprecating humour about the hotel being so grand that he had got lost on his way to breakfast that morning. His answers to the ensuing questions were sincere, thoughtful, and as insightful as you would expect from a man of his standing. I was searching for some ego from a former batting champion renowned for his single-mindedness. There was none coming. Consider that illusion spoiled.