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How to Behave Around a Celebrity

Rule #1: Don't punch them in the head for no reason at all.

av Gavin Haynes
2014 03 29, 6:00am

Photo by Harvii R Kindlon

At about this time last weekend, Ant McPartlin was busy being assaulted outside a restaurant in Chiswick by a group of teenagers, who managed to get the face of shitty Saturday nights in a headlock. Sadly for him and for Chiswick, this wasn’t even the first time he had been abused in the borough. Two years earlier, while stood in the Barley Mow pub, someone had walked up to him and punched him in the face for no reason at all.

Ant had been eating with his elderly mother when Chiswick's premier happy-slap team started filming him on their phones through the restaurant window. He'd gone outside to tell them to knock it off. But they hadn’t knocked it off. They’d knocked him on his outsized forehead. Why? Because this otherwise unremarkable middle-aged man happened to be cursed with a famous face. Like a giant birthmark, Ant physically cannot remove his face. It isn't like one of those cardboard masks of William or Kate. He needs to keep wearing his face if he is to avoid his flesh popping out into his spaghetti carbonara. The full horror of fame is simply that there is no off-switch.

Of course, the lads were probably just in high spirits. Lord knows, we’ve all assaulted someone on a high street at some point in our lives. That’s what being a teenager is – it’s getting a middle-aged man in a headlock in front of his elderly mother, and anyone who doesn’t agree is self-evidently a square. But it points to a broader problem in British society. A worrying inability on behalf of ordinary folk to actually interact with celebrities. It's time we stopped treating famous people like meat-shaped government-sanctioned punching bags.

This is a short refresher course on how to behave around people who are, let's face it, a lot better than you.

Photo by Jamie Taete

HOW DO FAMOUS PEOPLE WANT TO BE SPOKEN TO?
Famous people are just like you and me. Except they are famous and you are not even slightly famous – are you, you little worm? If you died tomorrow, the papers would refer to you as "local man". If you were mown down by a combine harvester, the news would emphasise the comedy rather than the pathos because your life matters to you and no one else. No one would be tweeting "RIP Local Man". Yours would simply be one more of the constant snowfall of extinctions since time began.

Celebrities are different and when talking to them, it is important to bear these two contradictory facts in mind. In conversation, all famous people are looking for both of these opposites: the matey-ness and aloofness, at the same time. So while you will inevitably be lured towards them, it may also be necessary to feign ignorance.

When talking to Mutya Buena, for instance, somewhere appropriate in the conversation, it would be fine to lean in and say: “So what do you do?” “Oh,” she will most likely say. “I’m the singer in a band,” with a shy false modesty. Maybe cut her down a bit at this point: “Well, I’m a property consultant. I suppose there are a lot of similarities, actually, in our respective career paths.”

A bit of this sort of faux-egalitarianism is bracing to your average celeb, and will remind them that, however much they may ascend above the common man, they still know how to keep themselves grounded. It’s a bit like when Clegg/Cameron/Brown opened all their debates with anecdotes about how they’d met a black man or a woman or a disabled. These people need to turn your miserable life into tuppeny anecdotes to make them believe that they won't be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Photo by Jake Lewis

GOOD TOPICS OF CONVERSATION
How nice it is at this time of year.
Whether it is going to rain.
The Ashes.
Whether either party owns a nice car.
What’s been in the news.

BAD TOPICS OF CONVERSATION
Whether they slept their way to the top.
Whether they’d like a slap.
Whether they think they’re better than you.
How little they look like those photos in that magazine.
Whether phone hacking was a good thing or a bad thing.
How much time they have spent in the company of Max Clifford.

Photo by Jamie Taete

SERVING CELEBRITIES IN A RESTAURANT
In any restaurant, a celebrity is always vulnerable. They are exposed to the public glare, the whole thing’s an ordeal by hors d’oeuvres and Sod’s Law, just when you are calmly throttling someone, some paparazzo will come along and stick a long-lens through the hibiscus. If you're their waiter, they want you to go away from the experience and tell everyone they are very nice and a big tipper. So conversely, there is plenty of scope to slouch off, since no one would ever risk reading in a red top that they were tight or testy with a bunch of underpaid serving staff. In fact, it might even be possible to mistake a hand gesture to "pour more wine" for a chance to pull up a chair at their table, grab a breadstick and set the world to rights, all without losing a penny.

Photo by Jamie Taete

INTERVIEWING FAMOUS PEOPLE UNDER CAUTION
Somewhere along the line, most famous people have done something very wrong. It stands to reason, because they have the opportunity, whereas if the likes of you and I told a vulnerable teenage girl we could get her a job as a runner on our chat show if she came back to our secluded bungalow for the afternoon, she’d just laugh at us, the self-important little bitch. Yes, most famous people are terribly guilty, the lucky swines. But as a member of HM Constabulary, your job is simply to extract the evidence in a timely manner, and not to keep carping on about why they are famous and you are not, even though you’re actually much funnier than them in real life and the whole idiot world would know that if you weren't denied certain life chances down the years, like going to private school and being part of the Cambridge Footlights in-crowd.

Make sure that you keep the interview crisp. “Where were you when Ms X was being attacked?” “What where you doing at Television Centre that day when you weren’t supposed to be back at work until Monday?” “Would you say you and Ms X had a professional relationship?” All these are fine. Never say: “Right. So let’s go over this again just so I’ve got it straight: What exactly is Cat Deeley really like?” Never say: “I’m sure you must have some funny stories about working with Michael McIntyre. Me and the wife saw his show three times. They had to hose me out of there.”

Unless it is on an affidavit regarding what your subject saw inside Vernon Kaye’s dressing room, it is impolite to ask for an autograph.

Photo by Jake Lewis

MAKING LOVE TO FAMOUS PEOPLE
Most meetings will be of the casual variety – sensually brushing Nicholas Lyndhurst’s elbow in a rural branch of BHS, giving the wrong pasty to Pauline Quirke at the Nunhead branch of Gregg’s. But very occasionally, under certain exceptional circumstances, you may be called upon to make love to a famous person. This is always a bit like when Mary had sex with God behind Joseph’s back: it is pretty much the most exalted act within our civilisation. The sense of awe can be overwhelming, so just remain calm and try to act normal. Resist the urge to mutter: “I can’t believe I’m doing it with Tom Baker/Terry Christian/Christine Brinkley/Annie Mac,” in time with their stroke. That can be very off-putting.

As we’ve established, famous people are just like you and me – except, of course, in one crucial aspect. Most famous people have a small-ridged spawning pod just beyond the anus (both males and females), easily identifiable by its cartilage-like feel. Perhaps ask them if they would like it stimulated – most will say yes, as it is actually very pleasant.

@gavhaynes