Princess Diana died at just the right time. I’m not talking about the
human tragedy of a young mother leaving her boys, obviously. For that
and a million other reasons, I dearly wish she’d been wearing her
seatbelt and taken a cab that night.
But Princess Diana died at just the right time to preserve her enduring
mystique. Just like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Kurt Cobain.
Even though she was the victim of more aggressive press intrusion than
any human before or since, Diana’s prime in the 80s and 90s were the
last gasp of celebrity mystery.
If she were alive today? She’d have her own reality show, for sure. A
fragrance. Botox and fillers. Collagen lips. Hair extensions. A range
of homewares. Possibly an album.
You see, Diana was a survivor and ahead of her time in the way she used
the media to maximise her fame and cast herself as The People’s
Princess. And to stay relevant, today’s celebrities have had to evolve
Back in the nineties when she died, the power of celebrities was peaking. So was the control they had over their image. Apart from an occasional no-makeup shot or a grainy paparazzi snap on a beach, the only time we saw celebrities was when they came out to play with the media on their terms. This meant glossed and glamorous on a red carpet or carefully packaged in interviews to flog their latest project.
Having successfully bumped models off magazine covers, it was impossible to escape this polished perfection. And it was getting bloody boring.
We’d gorged on glamour and we craved a palette cleanser. Enter the ‘real person’. Human sorbet.
Real people, we suddenly realised, could be far more interesting than celebrities. Who knew!
Not only were they easier to relate to, they were candid. They didn’t have publicists, stylists, cosmetic surgeons and managers. Their photos weren’t airbrushed. Their sound bites weren’t manufactured.
“Bring it on,” we cried and magazines like Take 5 and That’s Life flourished with cover stories like “I married my son-in-law.” Julia Roberts never did that.
As an editor at the time, I sniffed the wind and started including more ‘real people’ in the glossy magazines I worked on. Real bodies, real problems, real lives. Readers loved it.
Simultaneously, TV gave birth to the reality show. The first season of Big Brother was a revelation. It was hard to find an Australian in 2001 who didn’t know who Sara-Marie was. Were the characters in the Big Brother house that first year particularly special or different to the hundreds of housemates who followed? No. The novelty was that they were real and raw. It felt fresh and surprising.
With all the hoo ha about the declining ratings of Big Brother this year (and every year since that first season), everyone has missed the point. Big Brother is being killed by two things: the Internet and – ironically – celebrities.
The demographic who used to watch Big Brother can now film their own lives, express their own opinions and post it all online for free in an hour on Youtube, their blog or both. The Internet is Big Brother DIY.
At the same time? Famous people began to fight back. They’re a crafty bunch, those celebrities and they’ll morph like shiny Transformers into whatever the public craves.
So a year or two ago, celebrities held a meeting (if Diana were alive she’d totally have been there – or sent Paul Burrell). After a lengthy PowerPoint presentation on the meteoric rise of the real person, a vote was taken and a new celebrity manifesto passed: “You want real life? Sure, no problem. We’ll give you real life AND fame. Grit WITH glamour. Bum dance to THAT Sara Marie!”.
And with that, a new hybrid TV genre was born: Celebrity-Reality. “OK, here are the rules” announced the meeting’s chairperson (probably David Hasselhoff). “The amount of access you have to give the public is inversely proportional to your level of fame. So J-Lo? You only have to let cameras follow you as you make your new fragrance. Nothing too personal. Posh? You get to keep your make-up on at all times. Kimora Lee Simmons? No one knows who the hell you are, so your bikini wax is up for grabs. Sorry babes.”
Instantly, our heads were turned from real people to ‘real’ celebrities. Posh, The Osbournes, Kimora Lee Simmons, Paris Hilton, Snoop Doggy Dog, Britney, Hugh Hefner, Jessica and Ashlee Simpson, Jordan & Peter Andre, the Lohans, Denise Richards and J-Lo have all sold their souls – I mean their private lives – and fallen over each other to invite cameras into their bathrooms and bedrooms.
Gee, with all that behind-the-scenes, big-budget access to so many iconic famous freaks, I wonder why we’re finding it hard to muster excitement for Big Brother – aka watching people you might see in a bank queue talk amongst themselves in two rooms for three months?
Celebrity-Reality has raised the bar. We want glamour, sizzle, humour and sex with our real life thanks. Hard to pull that off with a dozen average Aussies in a confined space for three months.
So, back to Diana. I’m so glad she didn’t have to make a reality show to maintain her fame. Although I totally would have watched every minute of it….