Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 31 March 2020

Fame is often fleeting, but we’ll always have Paris

Being famous does not say much about a person's qualities, observes Brett Debritz.
Paris Hilton is mainly famous for being famous – and, says our writer, there are plenty more like her (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)
Paris Hilton is mainly famous for being famous – and, says our writer, there are plenty more like her (Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP)

Ibriefly entertained the idea of going to see Paris Hilton when she appeared at an Abu Dhabi nightclub recently. However, while I’m sure her DJ set was appreciated by the people who like that sort of thing, I decided that I’m not one of those people.

Thinking about Hilton, however, did make me reflect on the nature of fame. She, of course, is famously famous for being famous.

The hotel heiress first entered the public consciousness alongside fellow privileged person Nicole Richie in a television show where they were thrown into contrived “normal” situations and said “Eewww” a lot when confronted with such tasks as washing the dishes.

In the course of my work as a journalist, mostly on the arts and entertainment round, I’ve met a fair number of celebrities. So, I’d like to think that I have a handle on the fame game.

The first thing to know is that famous people are usually very ordinary. They often (although not always) have a single marketable talent, are mostly self-obsessed and, probably as a consequence of their sheltered lives, they are largely ill-informed.

There are, of course, celebrities who can speak intelligently about something other than themselves. It’s been my privilege to have had some fascinating conversations with Live Aid organiser Bob Geldof about the craft of journalism, Glenn Frey of The Eagles about parenthood, left-leaning singer-songwriter Billy Bragg about pop and politics, and a pre-meltdown Mel Gibson about Shakespeare.

I was awestruck in a different way when I was a guest of Hugh Hefner and his then-“girlfriends” – Bridget Marquardt, Kendra Wilkinson and Holly Madison – and interviewed them about their TV show, The Girls Next Door.

And then there was Vanilla Ice, the one-hit-wonder rapper who has recently reinvented himself as home renovation pundit.

He was at the height of his fame when I was ushered to his hotel suite, on a floor reserved for him and his entourage, and I was frisked by security guards before I was allowed into his presence.

Ice then proceeded to talk big, like rappers do, telling me tales about extraordinary personal achievements that failed the subsequent fact-checking process.

My point is simple: it’s not how famous you are, but who you are, that matters. Fame can help define you in the public eye, but it doesn’t make you a better person.

In the case of Hugh Hefner, having a young, blonde wife or girlfriend is an essential element of the brand that has served him well for 60 years. Who he is as a person is another question. Maybe I’ll find that out one day.

Vanilla Ice? Well, he did teach me one thing, although it didn’t gel until years later when I was visiting a high-security prison and was struck by the similarities between that process and the preamble to my interview with the Iceman.

Fame can make you a prisoner of the character you create for yourself, or an inmate of a palpable fantasy world. But it can’t make you smart or nice to know.

bdebritz@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @debritz

Updated: May 16, 2015 04:00 AM

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