That’s the old saying isn’t it? The moment you see that face at the bar, or blurring past you as you walk down the busy street; it’s familiar, yet not. A smile you’ve seen a hundred times before, but this time it’s different, unique. Their expression is fresh, open and unguarded – perhaps in a solitary moment of reflection, perhaps in a fragile moment they simply forgot.
It has always struck me as odd as to why anyone would ever not wish to meet those that inspire them. That person – whoever it is – has surely poured themselves into their writing. You’ve already met a facet of them, why would you ever be disappointed at the real thing?
People are weak, rarely like to admit that they are scared, frightened. Meeting these pinnacles of achievement – for some – only serve to reinforce their place in the lower plains of mediocrity. All their long lives they have worked hard and when facing their heroes, they only look down, not up. In that moment they see how far they have come, and only compare it to how much farther the other has done; completely disregarding the struggles they faced, the years or hardship and emotional turmoil as well as the sacrifices they made to get where they are now. But of course when you see your favourite actor or writer propped up at the bar, you don’t see that. He is drinking ordinary beer, wearing ordinary clothes. It is confronting if you aren’t expecting it. These icons of film or literature are as ordinary as you are. And this is where the disappointment originates for many.
If they are ordinary they can be horrible, they can be rude and objectionable. They can have off days or be pissed off by crowds. You might be the hundredth person to hassle them that evening. How long can you keep a smile up? It is strange that we can excuse the behaviour or some and not others. We assume that because these people have millions in the bank or have received critical acclaim beyond reckoning that somehow they have to be perfectly happy in every instance of their life. Often I associate the phrase, “never meet your heroes,” with this particular psychological disappointment. Never meet them because they are every bit as ordinary as you are. It is like the Paris Syndrome, but for a person. That crushing realisation that they don’t have some inherently special ability to be above the rest of mankind manifests itself in such a way that we retaliate: they aren’t as funny in real life, he isn’t as attractive as he is in the movies, they were rude and unfriendly. Pick apart the being because it’s the only way to get them down to your level.
In my many short years on this planet, I have met a few people who have inspired me. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Doctor Who and Sherlock writer Steven Moffat, Terry Pratchett, Tim Minchin (twice), Alan Davies, producer and writer John Lloyd and, more recently Michael Palin. Of course there is that initial wonder and fascination when you see them…. and I did recognise that you could be crushingly disappointed if they didn’t react in the way that I wanted them to… but as soon as they speak… when they trip over their words or even feel a little affronted by their own popularity… it’s endearing to remember that they, too, are still human. Fame is perhaps something one never gets used to.
When I meet these people, I tend to acknowledge their vulnerabilities. Imagine the pressure of having a hundred adoring eyes on you and you don’t quite feel on the ball that night? All those questions that may make or break a person’s self esteem – they are hanging on your every word. When I was 17, I met Thom Yorke. Scores of people tried to stop him, take a photograph or ask for his autograph. He didn’t stop for them, but he did for me… because I just said “Hi Thom.” I didn’t ask anything of him and I like to think that that was why he stopped. I only wanted his time, and no memento of it. A few years ago I was lucky enough to get to speak with John Lloyd. Among his fantastic achievements are Blackadder and QI. However, I asked about his friend… Douglas Adams… and for a few short minutes we talked about an old friend of his. An old friend who wasn’t famous the world over. Though it had been over a decade since Douglas Adams had died, John Lloyd was visibly upset at the memories. It was endearing and humbling to witness.
Meeting your heroes, you have to acknowledge one thing. While countless others were thwarted by their faults or crippled by their pain, the people who made it were the ones who fought for what they wanted regardless. They are war-weathered and battle-worn. Maybe that is why some fans feel strange when they meet them… for inspiring people can both uplift, and dishearten.
It is an interesting psyche of humanity that when faced with greatness, many often feel defeated before they have begun. They don’t feel they are good enough to compete and instantly retreat to the safety of their self deprecating cave. Maybe we need people like that in the world – as a writer I need subjects and as a creative, I don’t need the pond any more crowded than it is.
As for me, I have my moments. I can wake up on mornings and I can’t face bringing myself to write. I won’t feel like fighting. Never do I feel that I am not good enough, which isn’t to say that I hold this arrogant belief that I am as talented as Shakespeare, Twain or Tolstoy. I am not good enough. Of course I am not. But one day I might and if that day is my last on Earth, then that will make me happy. I want to always improve. I want to be moved by these people. And maybe this sets me apart from many others… when I met my favourite Python last week, I was in awe. His quiet wit, his effortless talent… he made me want to become a better writer, and for him to admit to suffering the same character issues as I do… I didn’t feel quiet as alone anymore.