I’m always impressed that whenever I’m out walking the streets of the parish with the vicar, we never reach our destination without stopping to greet a few people along the way. Having had the ‘cure of souls’ for the parish for over decade, he’s a familiar face to many, but he also goes out of his way to catch up with those he recognises. It’s an admirable quality that I hope I’ll be able to emulate in my ministry.

Today, we headed out for a lunch meeting (at which the vicar would pick my brains about Twitter) at the church’s second office (the cafe on the corner of my street) and within two minutes had stopped to check on someone. As we reached the cafe, we bumped into our most well-known parishioner – a Hollywood actor in fact. The vicar greeted him just as he had the hospital worker we’d passed moments before and the actor returned the greetings with enthusiasm. After a pleasant exchange about the actor’s recent West End run, I was introduced and we shook hands.  Seconds later, we departed to get on with our meeting.

The actor concerned is Rupert Everett, a resident of the parish and a nearby neighbour of mine. On my very first visit to the area with a view to potentially taking up a placement here, his residence was pointed out on my parish tour. (I presume the idea was to illustrate the diversity of the local population – I was sold!) In my first term, he read at the community carol service, but I, ever the introvert, did not put myself forward for an introduction (despite being terribly excited). To quote the vicar’s 9 year old daughter – who had a lengthy interaction with him – I should have ‘got in on the chat!’.

Rupert EverettObviously, I was deeply disappointed that the beard’s not currently in residence.

It’s been 10 months since I moved into my flat and today was the first time I’d ever spotted Rupert on the street. Seven hours later, I returned home and passed him outside my building. You wait ages for one bus and then two come along at once…

Obviously, there’s a ministerial formation lesson to be learnt here:
In ministry, every member of the congregation and parish is equal – there are no celebrities. In a culture that idolises celebrity, it’s incredibly important to give everyone space, respect and love, regardless of how the rest of society treats them. So, I need to get over my starstruck-ness and get on with loving the parishioners… 

Incidentally, if you believe that Rupert hasn’t done much of note since My Best Friend’s Wedding (basically, I just want his character from that film in my life), you clearly haven’t watched Hysteria (it’s a little bit dodgy but essentially about women’s liberation in the Edwardian era) or Parade’s End – my favourite TV drama of 2012. Reacquaint yourselves with his genius. You won’t regret it!

The danger of tweeting in enclosed spaces

I could probably devote a whole series of blogposts to the theme of ‘ridiculous situations in which Twitter has landed me’ (though it would probably need a shorter and catchier tagline), and most of them would be entirely my own fault. Generally though, they don’t involve people who could be termed Twitter Celebrities.

Some people set a lot of store by celebrity tweeters – deriving glory from retweets; lusting after a mention or even reply; screen capturing fleeting moments of fame…it’s all rather sad, but it’s one of the major ways in which the Twitter world keeps turning. The closest I’d got to such behaviour was screen-grabbing a reply from a Christian Celebrity Tweeter (a somewhat niche band of tweeters) who shall now remain anonymous because it would be mortifyingly embarrassing to share. [I just did it to gloat at a friend, how Christian of me…] Oh, and texting a friend when I’d reached the glorious heights of a Twitter conversation with Hadley Freeman, Guardian columnist and my Dad’s favourite fashion writer.

As I’ve pondered before, celebrity is a very curious aspect of our culture and it’s one that I try not to succumb to. However, there are moments in one’s life where you just get a little over-excited by events…

Last Thursday, I had a late lunch in a branch of Leon at the less manic end of Regent Street. I sat in the window, eating Hungarian goulash and wading through a rather dry theological tome on the nature of The Land. As I people-watched, I pondered the fact that, with the BBC’s new Broadcasting House now open and the Radio 1 building closing down, there would now be a lot more interesting people passing through this part of town – radio guests popping into cafes for drinks or DJ’s acquiring lunch before their shows, and suchlike. Within minutes of this thought passing through my mind, I looked up to see Radio 2 DJ, Wittertainment co-host and ‘Christian celeb’ Simon Mayo walking past my seat and into the cafe.

Out came my phone and a tweet was composed. For a while, I dithered over whether I should @ Simon Mayo, or simply mention the name. [The difference, non-Twitter readers, is that he would never have known about the latter.] I waited while he paid for what I assumed would be a take away and looked out for him to leave (I had my back to the counter and wasn’t about to turn around and watch like a saddo). But he didn’t leave, so I sent the tweet, concluding that an @ was ok, and he probably wouldn’t see it anyway.

Why did I feel the need to tweet in the first place? Well, it had amused me and I knew it would amuse at least three of my Twitter friends who are fellow Wittertainment fanatics. There were also quite a few other people who might be mildly amused because of Mayo’s status in Christian (particularly Greenbelt) circles. Thus, the following tweet was broadcast:

I got on with my reading, awaiting a moderately excited response from one of the three people I predicted would be amused by it. Fifteen minutes later, my phone beeped with a response, but it wasn’t from anyone I knew, instead, the DJ sat at the table behind me, enjoying their lunch and free wifi, had replied:

Simon Mayo tweets

I chuckled, and then realised that the cafe was quite quiet and therefore my laughter was probably rather noticeable. I still didn’t turn around, thinking that I was likely only to remain witty and together via social media. Instead, I returned to the theology, simultaneously trying to absorb Old Testament prophecy while composing an amusing response – well aware that I was the only person present seemingly engrossed in what might look like dry theology. After a suitable amount of time had lapsed, a reply was sent:

And with that, I got on with my work, ignored the presence of interesting people, and continued to wait for my friends to notice what had occurred. Soon enough, the book was done with and I had no reason to tarry, so I got my things together and prepared to leave, all the while contemplating whether or not I should greet the Tweeter in question. In the end, I decided to continue playing it cool and left without a backward glance.

Within seconds of my departure, my phone began beeping with tweets from friends who had finally noticed the exchange. One in particular was from someone who I knew would understand my precise state of emotion (i.e. just a little giggly and over-excited), who I then texted to say I’d just left but hadn’t dared say hello. Her response? “But he replied!!!!!” 

Here’s the thing. I am quite happy making a twit out of myself on Twitter, but make a fool of myself in the flesh? No way. [Ok, I do frequently, but usually not intentionally.]On reflection, I think I would also feel a need to way too over-familiar with the likes of Mayo or Kermode (the other Wittertainment co-host) because I have their voices in my head for approximately 105 minutes every week, as I pound the pavements of London listening to their weekly podcast. That’s more time than I spend talking to my parents, sister and potentially other assorted friends combined over the phone! I think part of my brain genuinely believes that these people are my friends and that once a week, we meet up in a pub to discuss films over a pint. [How I wish that were true.]

The moral(s) of this story?
1. Frequent establishments near TV/Radio studios to add a frisson of excitement to your study session/quiet lunch.
2. Be careful when tweeting ‘celebrities’ in geographical proximity to you.
3. Consider simply texting those you want to share news with, rather than broadcasting it to the world.

Parental tweeting goes Gaga

This post is very late in its writing, not because of my own shortcomings, but because (like any good, non News International) journalist, I needed to corroborate the facts before sharing and my mother and I have been incommunicado for the last fortnight…

Two weeks ago, I took a sneaky look at Twitter during my Monday morning theology lecture [I say ‘two weeks ago’, obviously I regularly take sneaky looks at Twitter during lectures…] and nearly burst out laughing. My mother had tweeted the following:
“The woman on the desk tells me the exec lounge is full of celebs. I am totally underwhelmed, no idea who anyone is!”

My mother was at one of the Belfast airports, travelling to London. The day before, Belfast had hosted the star-studded MTV Europe awards – possibly the most exciting thing to happen in the city for quite some time. I’d been aware that this was happening, but was fairly certain that my parents would have been oblivious, unless it resulted in local road closures and significant airtime on Radio Ulster. Obviously, all these (non-Irish) celebs needed to leave the province and flying is the logical way out…
What many who follow my mother on Twitter may not have realised is that the ‘woman on the desk’ told her about the musicians in the Executive Lounge because she is a regular user of the Executive Lounge – it’s the best use of frequent flyer points when you fly frequently. Thus, I was particularly amused when the following Twitter conversation emerged between Mum and my friend Jo:
Jo: “The lady wearing odd hats is likely to be Gaga. The person whom everyone is gaga over is likely to be Justin Bieber…”

Mum: “Thanks that’s really helpful. Woman in funny hat with big shades might be Gaga!”

Jo, until I had brunch with her later in the week, was utterly unaware that my mother had taken her tweet seriously – not realising that she was genuinely sat in an exec lounge, watching the curious celebs around her. When I finally spoke to my mother, she said that Jo’s tweet was really helpful, as otherwise she’d have had no idea who these people possibly were. Bless them both. 
To think, when my mother first joined Twitter I was worried it might be a bad idea… 

Cause Celebrè

This post involves name-dropping, but please don’t judge me – I’m just doing it to prove a point, rather than gain kudos, as should become obvious.

The way we act around people we consider to be ‘celebrities’ is something of a mystery. In London, celeb-spotting is relatively common and I’d like to think that most Londoners have developed a cool nonchalance towards it (as they have with so many other areas of life). There can be a frisson of excitement as you recognise them and later, when you tell your friends, but you don’t do anything about it.

Sure, I was jealous the other day when a colleague tweeted that they’d spotted Stephen Fry on the road outside our building, but it’s not like I don’t have my fair share of spottings – Annie Lennox in the bar before watching Ruby Wax’s show; Warwick Davis in the hotel of my spa getaway; David Walliams in Starbucks near work; Matt Lucas in Covent Garden Wagamamas; Noel Gallagher getting out of a taxi; Barbara Windsor & Christopher Biggins in front of me in the queue at Waitrose… [I include that last one not so much because of the individuals, more the surrealness of them being together.]

But do I ever do anything about these sightings? No. Sure, I tweet about it or put it on Facebook – not in a name dropping way, because lets face it, they’re not my friends and never will be – more to illustrate the randomness of life. I’ve never gone up to someone on the street and asked for their autograph, or a photo. In fact, the only time I’ve done such things is at officially designated events at which such things are expected – like a stage door or a signing in a shop. Since a particularly random night out on Thursday, I’ve been trying to work out if there are any celebrities which would cause me to break my silence and lose my cool…

Thursday night was a last minute social engagement with GBF. At even later minute, he discovered that a really good friend of his was in the area and so invited him along too. Now, GBF is an actor and a few years ago was in a very successful play and as a result of this has some rather random and celebrated connections – he’s on first name terms with Alan Bennett, for example, and one of his co-stars (and friends) is now a major star in a series of films based on CS Lewis’ work. As is the way with actors, you go from one job to another (via periods of unemployment) and one of GBF’s good friends from this play happened to land a part in Eastenders – not just a bit part, a part that gave him a controversial storyline and a major Christmas denouement. This is the friend that joined us for drinks.

I don’t watch Eastenders any more so have barely seen this guy in action, though I’ve heard lots about it. We’d met a couple of times before and on a previous occasion his presence in a pub caused noticeable attention – people staring and suddenly talking about Eastenders – but nothing intrusive. This time, we headed to an obscure pub on a boat on the river – so obscure that it was very much a ‘local’, so local, you could in fact call the clientèle East Enders…

We caused quite a sensation. In fact, it might be the most exciting thing that’s happened at the Wibbly Wobbly pub for quite some time. [Yup, that’s its name – it’s a boat and it wibbles and wobbles.] Within 10 minutes, the first autograph & photo had been requested. By the end of the night I was being quizzed by the bar staff about the habits of my famous friend – didn’t have the heart to say that I’d only met him once before. It was bizarre and I didn’t really understand the thrill of it. Why were people so keen to prove they’d met this guy? What was the lure of having a photo with him? Why weren’t most people being nonchalant Londoners?

Would anyone ever cause me to break my cool? No soapstar, that’s for sure. Maybe I’d have spoken to Mr Fry had I bumped into him on Marylebone Road; perhaps I’d crumble at the sight of Will Young [I know, I know…but GBF did once find himself drinking with him and I nearly got out of bed to go join them – this may be why GBF tends to keep his ‘celeb’ friends away from me] or possibly Alan Rickman.

You know what though, ultimately they’re just people, living their life and only famous in the eyes of others, by some accident of fate or birth, so do they really deserve all the attention we bestow upon them?