I don’t know quite how to put this without sounding nauseatingly smug or dangerously hubristic, but I think I might finally have become almost-famous. The revelation occurred while I was doing Vanessa Feltz’s show on BBC Radio London. I was burbling away in my usual self-hating way about how needy I am and unappreciated, and Vanessa said: ‘You know a lot of listeners are going to be quite puzzled by that, because you’re a successful columnist with a huge audience and you’re broadcasting to thousands of people right now.’
And I thought, ‘Bloody hell, Vanessa. You’re right.’ Sure I’m not famous enough to be mobbed in the street, or get tables in restaurants, or have gorgeous random females forever hurling their bodies at me. I’m not as famous as my old muckers Toby Young, Dave Cameron or Boris Johnson. But I’m definitely famous enough not to belong any more to the category occupied by 99.9 per cent of my friends and family, i.e. not remotely famous even in the slightest. Like, the other day, I was having lunch in the rather good beach café at the end of Hengistbury Head in Dorset and, a few tables away, two men in loud tweed jackets did that thing most of us do in restaurants when we see a famous person (FP).
One of them spotted the FP and commented on the fact to his mate. Then the mate — the one with his back turned — waited a beat, before craning round in a ‘No really, I’m not looking round because I’ve been told there’s a celebrity to look at. I’m craning round because, um, because craning’s the kind of thing I do all the time’ way. Then, they discussed the famous person a bit more, as you could tell, because they kept casting further no-really-we’re-not-staring glances at him. Him being me, for a change.
When you’re a proper celeb, this must happen all the time and be massively irritating, but for me it was a delightful novelty. It’s touching the way celeb-spotters think they’re being subtle when in fact, their target knows he’s being watched from the very first flash of recognition. This is something atavistic, I’m sure. I’ve noticed it, for example, when you’re driving along on a summer’s day with your sunglasses and you pass a fit-looking bird. And even though you’re ogling her from behind your shades and, carefully, you haven’t even turned your head, and you are in but one of many cars in a busy street, still the girl tosses you a quick, nervous look. It’s the predator-check impulse. We always know when we’re being watched.
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