The High Price of Fame

Following Coronation Street star Michael le Vell’s recent confession that he took Class A drugs when he was at his ‘lowest ebb’ and struggling to cope with sex abuse allegations, David Coen examines the price to pay for being in the public eye.

Being famous is something a lot of people seem to desire, yet, once they acquire this, the obvious disadvantages associated with celebrity culture can prove to be both overwhelming and dangerous. There seems to be a  motivation to gain position, money and power that often conceals the reality of having such stature. There are several adverse side-effects that can be attributed to this level of fame. Let’s assume one becomes highly well-known to the general public and transforms into a household name. Loss of privacy would be the main disadvantage here;  the inability to go shopping in peace or to step outside your own front door are elements of fame that are all too forgotten in the pursuit. Personal mistakes and errors are placed under the magnifying glass, highlighted for humiliation by the public.

In the case of Pop Icons you are encouraged to be someone you really aren’t, and display the worst of your characteristics for the public’s pleasure. A recent example of this would be Miley Cyrus, who seems to have completely altered her persona from a few years ago to represent a change in musical direction. The extent to which she had to do this was the most worrying element of the story. The likes of child stars such as Justin Bieber are now, in reaching adulthood, feeling the consequences of their fame.

In the past two years in particular, news headlines have demonstrated how this celebrity lifestyle can also allow those with such power to conceal wrongdoings. Ian Watkins, singer from the Welsh band Lostprophets, was jailed for 35 years after camouflaging his sexual abuse of children under the veil of an adored rockstar. Did his status in society prevent people from speaking out? The other clear example would be TV personality Jimmy Savile, whose crimes only emerged into the limelight following his death. This prolific case has managed to influence other similar litigation, such as the trial of Coronation Street star Bill Roache. The cases of Roache (who plays long-running character Ken Barlow in the ITV soap) and fellow Coronation street actor Michael Le Vell (Kevin Webster) were both similar in the sense that they both highlighted another dangerous element of celebrity lifestyle: being wrongly accused through a witch hunt that was a result of previous celebrity cases. The obvious public nature of these proceedings, exemplified by 24/7 news coverage on our televisions, heightens the pressures placed on celebrities in such trials.

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In the case of Pop Icons you are encouraged to be someone you really aren’t, and display the worst of your characteristics for the public’s pleasure.

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Roache himself told a reporter in New Zealand, almost a year ago, that “there had been a pendulum swing after the Jimmy Saville situation”. Operation Yewtree saw Jim Davidson (Comedian), Mike Osman (radio presenter) and Ted Beston (BBC Producer) all arrested, a police investigation fuelled by the Saville case. The example of this case certainly had a prominent influence in proceedings at Preston Crown Court, where Roache was standing trial. Louise Blackwell, who was defending Roache, claimed that the trial was haunted by the “spectre” of Savile and also suggested that the Court was compensating for their failure to identify Saville’s abuses with cases such as Roache’s. The tension surrounding child abuse in the wake of Saville’s concealed history can only fuel the slightest suggestion of abuse by those in the public eye. This, in a case of innocence, is hugely damaging to a celebrity’s career and self-esteem.

Public attention soon switched from Roache himself to the holes in the prosecutor’s case. The woman who accused Roache of sexual abuse in the 1960’s had, according to the defendant, never met him. Perhaps the most revealing piece of information involved that of a husband belonging to one of the accusers. He had contacted the tabloids via a ‘sell your story’ website link before contacting the police. This speaks volumes with regards to the nature of the complaint. Lawyers have now claimed that the Roache verdict will increase the scrutiny on the Crown Prosecution Service when it decides to charge other celebrities over sexual abuse accusations. The privacy that these cases eliminate is something that needs serious altering. Either the court should establish solid facts on the defendant before accusing them of sexual crimes, or the public nature of the trials, through media coverage, should be dramatically reduced. These would prevent innocent victims of celebrity culture, a trend recently intensified by paedophiles such as Savile and Watkins, from being wrongly accused on a world stage.

On 12th September of last year, the House of Commons granted approval for cameras to be allowed in English courts for the first time. Filming is now allowed at criminal and civil hearings in the Court of Appeal during legal argument and judgments. This is limited; there are no plans as of yet to show defendants or witnesses, unlike America. However it does underline this sense of public surveillance which seems to be growing with regards to court cases, and also in many other areas of modern life. If camera’s can now capture court proceedings for the viewing public’s interest or entertainment, one can only imagine the negative exposure that celebrities (who are already placed in the limelight) receive from being wrongly accused.