Last night, as news about the tragic death of another celebrity filtered in, I read the headlines with shock and sadness.
Within hours, online, many were asking, ‘how could this have happened?’ ‘Who was to blame?’ Was it social media? The Press? The courts? Everyone was asking if this could have been prevented?
I know a fair bit about the entertainment world as I used to work in TV and later in celebrity PR. Although both organisations I worked for were honest and concerned about safeguarding, I saw how others in the wider industry, were quick to get their ‘pound of flesh’ from emerging stars and celebrities.
Sometimes these celeb newcomers were young, inexperienced people who’d been pulled out of obscurity and chucked headfirst into the oncoming headlights of fame and glamour, often before the cement of their self-worth or character had even had chance to dry.
I worked in a wider industry, which to a certain extent, made the most of that. There wasn’t any malevolence intended (well, at least not on my part) but ‘celebrities’ were (and still are) seen as ‘currency to be traded’. It’s just how it works.
On one occasion, I organised a celebrity launch in London and invited a TV presenter to be the host.
The date had been in the diary for months but a few weeks before the event, the news broke that this presenter (my intended host) had tried to commit suicide.
My first thought was for her welfare and, assuming she would no longer be able to take part, I started looking around for someone to take her place. But no, her management company was quick to reassure me. They said she would be fine. She was getting help and support and once she’d had chance to rest and recover, she was keen to go ahead.
A few weeks went by and on the day itself, my host turned up early with a friend and seemed bright and upbeat. She was wearing a top where it was possible to still faintly see the red lines on her wrists where she’d tried to take her own life but I assumed it was her way of saying, ‘I’m a survivor…here’s the scars to prove it’.
As we chatted over coffee, taking my professional head off for just a minute, I really, really wanted the conversation to come round to matters of faith. I wanted her to know that despite everything she was facing; fame, headlines, the lot, it was really nothing but an empty, noisy bubble.
I’d seen too many others get chewed up by this vast machine that used people as commodities and which looked surprised when, dumped from their shows, the stars ending up becoming drug addicted or depressed.
I really wanted her to know that there was a God who gave her value, who saw her as a precious pearl, who could restore order and meaning to her chaos. But in a work setting, just before a busy event, it was clearly not the time to have that conversation.
But as it turned out, we had a great day, she did a brilliant job and as she and the other guests were leaving, a group of paparazzi arrived. It wasn’t unexpected (we’d sent out a press release) but as she left the building, one of the photographers shouted, ‘Give us a wave, love’.
Not thinking anything of it, she smiled broadly and gave a big, cheerful wave of her arms to the flashing cameras.
Of course, when we saw the headlines the next day, we realised we’d been duped. It was just a ruse so they could take a photo of her arms covered in small (slowly healing) marks from her suicide attempt. I also suspected the photos had been doctored, to make the marks look much redder and newer than they actually were.
The headlines ignored our event and instead shouted something about how ‘desperate, unhappy and sad’ she clearly was, after ‘failing’ to take her own life, as though a ‘failed’ suicide attempt was a bad thing.
I was furious. I contacted her management to check she was ok, but it seemed it was ‘water off a duck’s back’. If anything they simply accepted it as the ‘price’ to be paid for being in the headlines. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps she really wasn’t bothered by this public airing of all her troubles. Only she could know.
Times have changed hugely in the last decade. In addition to paps and headlines, celebrities also now have to navigate social media and the opinions of a thousand ‘armchair warriors’ who hide behind anonymous handles and computer screens.
And if your worth is built on the foundation of other people’s opinions, it must be a nightmare to always feel like a failure. Imagine being in the position where nothing you say or do is ever good enough? Where every dress choice or private meltdown is available for the social media judge and jury to pore over?
To be fair, most of us do value the opinions of others. We want to be liked, appreciated and valued and if someone says something negative, it’s normal to be temporarily knocked off balance. Only recently, I fell victim to it (again!!) when I started to absorb and believe something that someone with ill-intent had said about me. What could they see that I couldn’t? Was there truth in these hurtful, unpleasant words?
But later, I began realise that if my whole identity is shaped on what other people think of me, then I simply cannot win.
As a Christian, I know that my hope and confidence has to be built on something more secure than this. My identity has to be securely anchored to an unshakeable rock, which can’t be moved. It means that my value has to come from who he is, not from who I am not.
He is righteousness, peace, truth, justice, love, mercy, grace, compassion and faithful.
And he says that I am loved, secure, safe, cherished and worth dying for.
And so because I am his child, I’m able to hang on to this gob-smackingly beautiful inheritance.
Everything else, headlines, paps, anonymous twitter trolls, other people’s views of who they think I am, is just a cacophony of noise, dashing against a rock which can’t be moved.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that I’m immune to hurt or to ugly comments, but it does mean that I can keep running back to the rock and asking, ‘who do YOU say that am?