x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Observing Life: Keeping a celebrity idol's image intact

You hear stories about fans finally getting a chance to shake hands with their idols, only to be greeted by an obnoxious, bored or just plain rushed doppelganger of everything they thought the person would be.

It can be a dangerous thing to meet one's idols. Dangerous in that the crystalline image of those who we've admired, followed and geeked over for so long can be shattered in the blink of an eye.

I don't really have many idols. Sure, there are musicians and artists I adore (though many on the list are steadily snuffing it) and others I would enjoy meeting somewhere to banter over the nuances of their work.

But the number of people I actually have an ardent, long-term and unflinching admiration for - the sort that you elevate beyond the realms of criticism, no matter how dubious something they do might be - is remarkably few.

So meeting one of these select few, as I did during Dubai's recent film festival, presented a dilemma. You hear stories about fans finally getting a chance to shake hands with their idols, only to be greeted by an obnoxious, bored or just plain rushed doppelganger of everything they thought the person would be.

Fortunately, my moment of fulfilled fandom was quite the opposite. Despite having spoken to everyone with a TV camera, and smiled through searching, perfunctory questions from journalists who were thinking about their next interview, when we eventually got our 20 minutes, together, things went remarkably smoothly.

We talked about his recent film, his seemingly permanent move to the US, his forthcoming work and, of course, the city that we both ended up finally meeting in. It was straightforward. I got good quotes, even if some felt a little like he'd rolled them out to a few others that afternoon. We shook hands and, given that we'd probably never meet each other again, he allowed me a quick snapshot together.

Yet as the director strolled off to make nice in front of yet another film crew, I was left with a certain hollow feeling.

It was, as said, straightforward as interviews go, and a worthwhile if brisk one at that. But perhaps it was a bit too straightforward.

See, when we spend significant energy over a period of time, reading whatever we can about something - be it a band, a director, a city, or whatever - and amassing every bit of ephemera that we can about that thing, we also kid ourselves that we'll have some grandiose connection face to face.

We expect that they'll walk up, clap us on the back - "At last, someone who gets me!" - and sit down to a rousing conversation as though we're old friends.

Of course, that's ludicrous in hindsight. But at some point one realises that, to your idol, you're just another face in a crowd of smiling faces. In my case, just another journo with a batch of questions and a tape recorder.

It's funny that, after meetings like that, there's no turning back. They no longer exist in some place of otherness among the clouds.

I'm not sure where that leaves me on idols. I've got two left on the bucket list, and I now feel oddly protective over them. Maybe some hands should be left unshaken.

clord@thenational.ae