We are always reading how this star or that has succumbed to the pressures of fame and done something stupid or self-destructive, or worse still, career-limiting. I’m sure being in the public eye is an extraordinarily difficult thing. People expect so much and assert so much ownership over your body and soul. You have to be perfectly groomed at all times, witty, charming and entertaining. People expect you to take the time to sign autographs and to be interested in their lives too. People can say cruel things about you without giving you the right of reply, take pictures of you at unfortunate moments, gossip about you, lie about you, hound your kids, sift through your rubbish and tap your phone conversations. It must be hell. No wonder so many big stars turn to excess to relieve the relentless expectations.
Go to any suburban housing estate anywhere on the planet and you will encounter a different sort of pressure. The pressures of obscurity can be just as corrosive and soul-destroying. Being a nobody that literally no-one cares about is no picnic either. Fearing the petrol pump when you need to fill your car, just so that you can get to work for the week before pay day, but being uncertain that there is still money left in your account, must be the equivalent, in pressure terms, to being hounded by the paparazzi, I’m sure. Never knowing if you have the money to make repairs to your house, when disaster strikes, or having to embarrass your children by paying for their school activities very slowly is a bit like being stuck in a crowd demanding photographs and autographs, with no escape. Poor people don’t have personal assistants and staff to make everything all right. You do your own laundry, pay your own bills, deal with your own taxes and juggle a career and family, in the hope that everything will turn out ok.
All of that is probably as isolating and lonely as being unable to go to the local pub you always went to before you were famous, to hold court with your friends. Fearing for your job because you are stuck in the traffic of the morning commute must be as stressful as singing from your heart to an audience that might boo or displaying your art for the critics to rip to shreds.
The real winners in the world are those with so much wealth that they neither seek fame nor are famous, yet they never have to concern themselves with making ends meet. All the rest of us are either wage slaves or caught in the bright lights of the public gaze. It won’t make me popular to say so, but it’s the truth. There isn’t anything special about the pressures of fame and actually the famous have no special entitlement to be protected from pressure. Pressures affect most people. Most people don’t have the means to withstand them.
Ultimately, anybody can succumb to pressures and that’s why there are so many broken families, addicts, substance abusers, violent spouses, teenage pregnancies, abusers and others who have lost the plot and reacted negatively to their situation. On the other hand, there are also people that live in those circumstances who rise above it and shine, every day. They fight the good fight against their incessant difficulties and keep smiling. No substance abuse. No self-pity. No destruction.
The only person that can decide how to deal with pressure is you. You can choose to fold and enter into a downward spiral of self-destruction (which usually destroys everyone around you, too), or else you can have some resilience and courage, realise that you control your own destiny and begin trying to make the world the way you need it to be. Some people just like the drama and glamour of the poor little rich guy act. It’s ultimately a fraud.
Nobody is completely trapped. We can all stop the suffering and pressure at any time, simply by choosing to do something else. We may fear that change and doing something else may take away some of the benefits of the source of our pressures, but you still have some choices. If you hate being a rock star or a television celebrity, get a job in an office or start waitressing.
So if an artist is complaining about the pressures of fame, I am inclined to ask them to consider whether or not they really want to be doing what they’re doing. If they don’t want to be famous, they shouldn’t promote their record. Make it, but don’t push it up the charts. Paint, but don’t try to get hung in the swankiest galleries. Write for your own pleasure, but don’t try to be a J K Rowling. You have a choice. If it’s not your thing, step aside and leave room for somebody else that will handle their artistic career with more authority and self-determination.
The truth is that everybody wants the money, but nobody wants to do the other things that come with the money, which encroach on your personal life and privacy. Well, in most jobs the boss will not blush when calling you up late at night to discuss some urgent office business. Nobody being paid is immune from invasions into their privacy and personal lives. We allow people with money to pull that kind of thing.
On the other hand, if you like what you do and it happens to make you famous, then enjoy and savour every last minute of the experience, because it’s temporary. Eventually, the pressures of obscurity fall upon even the biggest stars. While you are famous, treat everybody you meet with openness and empathy, no matter how hard that is, because you don’t know what they’re going through and you might be their only hope and respite. The pressures of fame are very real, but I submit that the perks do actually compensate, to some degree. Being anonymous might allow you to shop in Waitrose unmolested by rude comments from strangers (actually, it doesn’t guarantee it), but staring down into the financial abyss or having to ask permission to care for your sick child is not preferable to signing too many autographs.
Receiving so much love, adulation, money and good wishes is a privilege. If the famous have some problem with that, then please leave the stage. We would all love to receive that public goodwill. Most of us never will. You should be so lucky.