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Jeremy Vine: we need 70% less celebrities

The Radio 2 DJ proposes a new way to make celebrities more relevant: introduce fame licenses

Published: Sunday, 3rd September 2017 at 8:30 am

For a long time the words “love” and “island” were separate. We understood what “love” meant – the person we first wrote a poem to, the one we met at the local disco – and I understood “island” quite well, too. Malta. Greenland. Hawaii. It was all straightforward.


Then someone joined the two words and we got LOVEISLAND. And that is a whole different kettle of haddock. I never saw the infamous TV show, but my understanding of its meaning comes from my teenage daughter. The upshot is that a programme about unknowns having fun at an exotic location has created even more famous people for me never to have heard of.

Someone brilliantly said, “Fame is the industrial disease of creativity,” but it’s gone far beyond that now. Until about 30 years ago, there were only seven famous people in the country: the Queen, the Two Ronnies, and four others. VIP lanes at airports were rarely used. We all seemed happy enough.

Then Britain went through a period – fuelled by increasingly desperate television productions – where people became famous for doing something small or doing nothing at all, and we’ve gone from seven famous people to at least 700,000.

This is why I would like to use Radio Times to gather support for a one-off cull of celebrities. I’d suggest to any influential reader – a cabinet minister perhaps, or archbishop – that action could be taken swiftly, without any spillage of blood. I believe there’d be huge support for the number of famous people being reduced overnight by, say, 70 per cent.

The idea came when I was on my summer holiday in Scotland (OK, “summer” is stretching it). My family enjoyed a boat tour of tiny islands off the west coast – if Love Island had been filmed on one of these barren outposts, the chill winds would have guaranteed far less sleazy behaviour with all contestants wearing thermal leggings and five jumpers.

On one island we saw a single cabin and half a dozen nervous deer standing nearby. “The cabin is for hunters,” our guide said, cutting the motor of the rib so we bobbed noiselessly at the shoreline. “It may seem unfair, but we need hunters to cull the deer. Otherwise there’d be no island left, because they eat everything, even the bark off the trees.” It struck me as a perfect description of what celebrities do in any environment where they have no predator above them.

On the ride back I spoke to my daughter about it. “What makes a celebrity?” I asked. “Someone who does something interesting and then probably goes viral,” she said. “But what does ‘going viral’ mean?” “Viral is more than a million.” “A million what?” “Hits.”

The solution to this, I believe, would be a licensing system. No one could be described as famous or be photographed leaving their home unless they owned a licence. Magazines and websites – even this one – would not be allowed to feature prominent photos of unlicensed people, or they would face severe fines.

This ambitious scheme would do nothing short of rationing the amount of fame, and would make it far more likely that we would produce great artists like David Bowie.

I ran the idea past my daughter. “There would have to be permanent passes for people like the Beatles and Beyoncé,” she said, grasping the logic immediately (and there’s me thinking wow, what an interesting combination to choose).

She also suggested – and I agree – that a Fame Licence could not be held by more than one member of any family simultaneously. So if, for example, David Beckham really wanted fame for his son Brooklyn, he’d have to surrender his own licence. Blake Fielder-Civil, the ghastly ex-husband of poor Amy Winehouse, would simply cease to exist.

I accept there could be problems. Minor members of the royal family would be unable carry out public engagements. Newspapers would be permitted to print headlines about unlicensed people, so long as they were genuinely newsworthy. (The recent story I saw, LOVE ISLAND’S CHRIS HUGHES AND OLIVIA ATTWOOD SPLIT AFTER SHE’S SPOTTED WITH HER FOOTBALLER EX-BOYFRIEND BRADLEY DACK, would trigger a massive fine.)

It sounds unworkable. But it is worth a try, isn’t it? Eddie Mair and I would certainly be among the people who would be refused a Fame Licence. I can’t think either of us would complain.

By Jeremy Vine


Jeremy Vine is on Monday—Friday 12 noon Radio 2. His new book What I Learnt is published on 7 September. 


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