Andrew Pierce of the Telegraph and LBC chaired a lively discussion on celebrity and PR between Mark Borkowski and Max Clifford for ‘PRfutures’ at London College of Communication on 5th May in front of a full-to-capacity Main Lecture Theatre.
Below you’ll find the full debate, and questions, edited into a number of bite sized chunks. We were treated to a fascinating discussion of the nature of fame, our corrosive obsession with celebrity and what it’s doing to society – as well as some fascinating insights.
Part II – Andrew reveals his knowledge of football, and Max discusses the difference between ‘stars’ and ‘celebrities’:
Part III – Mark begins with an attack on new agents, with a lack of skill, who profit by peddling hope:
Part IV – are reality shows good or bad? And as Andrew politely puts it to Max, ‘for your bank balance?’
Part V – Any advice for Gordon Brown?
Part VI – begins with Max being asked how he has kept the identity of his bisexual Premiership footballing client out of the media:
Part VII – does Max feel guilty about profiting from Jade’s death, or Kerry Katona’s misfortune – or causing misery for other people?
Part VIII – LCC Year 3 PR student Cally Sheard questions Max on whether the public or the media determine the agenda, using the Barrymore story as an example:
Part IX – final part:
Making the point of Nick Davies’ excellent Flat Earth News very powerfully, despite well over an hour of debate and questions, the follow-up media attention focused exclusively on Max Clifford’s comment that Jade Goody had absolutely no talent. One of my favourite anecdotes was from Mark about a set of twins – a mosaic artist and an architect, who had been lobbying him to help them become famous. When he asked them what they do, they replied, “We’re twins!”. That was the extent of their talent. That, and coming from Jade Goody’s ancestral home, Bermondsey. They were essentially saying to Mark that their life would be over, unless they became famous – but it wasn’t for their professional talent.
As Max replied on the subject of celebrity, “It can be as deadly as cocaine or alcohol,” and he pointed to the fact that some people are even driven to the point of suicide when they haven’t made it. There was some scepticism as to Max’s role in the world of celebrity, but whether it was down to the conversational format of the evening, Max’s deft answering of questions – or the audience chickening out, he didn’t get a particularly rough ride.
You will see one of the exchanges where Max got the better of Mark was where Mark cited the example of Richard O’Sullivan (he mistakenly called him Richard O’Brien) – a huge celebrity of the day in the 1970’s who sprang to fame in a sitcom called Man About The House.
O’Sullivan was the hunk of the day, as the advert for John Temple stores demonstrates (not my editorial opinion you understand, just fact!). Mark argued that he was built up as such, and as a result, was a regular in the tabloids, adverts, and had TV shows built around him, such as Robin’s Nest, Dick Turpin, and Me & My Girl.
Mark reported Richard had, in more recent times, been forgotten about by the industry, as this Daily Mail article might suggest. He is now a resident of Brinsworth House, after sufferering a stroke in 2003. Mark argued this was the true cost of celebrity, stars tossed aside and forgotten about when they were no longer needed.
I did not think I would find myself driven to agree with Max too much, but on this point I did. He argued the exact opposite, that it was due to celebrity, and the support of fellow performers, through the Entertainment Artistes Benevolent Fund who provide funding for the home that people like Richard (who after, like most of us when we get old, will get ill, and didn’t find himself incapacitated because of his fame) that this star was being looked after in his later life. Richard’s name is remembered (except it would appear by Mark, also mistakenly said he had alzheimers!). LBC’s Steve Allen, who lives in Twickenham, which is where Brinsworth is set, talks affectionately of regularly seeing Richard close to or in the grounds. The clips, and their viewings on YouTube show that his talent is remembered without the need for invasions of privacy, such as that in the Daily Mail. And most emphatically of all, Max made the point that as a result of the reality programme Britain’s Got Talent, Brinsworth will continue to find itself provided for in future years to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
A huge thank you to Mark Borkowski who continues to be one of my PR pin-ups (don’t panic – not of the Ben Wishaw variety) for showing how creativity, story-telling and performance can be used to the ‘Max’ in campaigns, and is at the leading edge when it comes to that the direction the discipline must take in terms of a new terrain that is neither traditional ‘PR’ or ‘advertising’ but ingenious. Without him, the evening would not have come together, and it is for that reason that I also make a shameless plug for his book, The Fame Formula, which is out now in paperback.
This link takes you to the LCC press release issued to promote the event, as it was happening. As well as the predominantly student, staff and alumni audience, we were lucky enough to be joined by PR practitioners from a range of agencies and organisations providing a great networking opportunity at the reception afterwards for students for improving employment prospects – another of the central planks that Sarah Roberts-Bowman (the course director for the MA Public Relations) and myself were determined that the extra-curricular activity of ‘PRfutures’ should provide.