A different side of life - famous faces can inspire us to show our own quirky side

With Halloween giving us all an excuse to let our quirky side out, Rita de Brún celebrates oddness and looks at the celebrities who aren’t afraid of letting their whimsy show.

Quirky is a word often used by the bland to politely describe the oddballs and eccentrics whose behaviour they loathe or envy. 

Rarely the sort to publicly succumb to a zany compulsion, the overtly dull tend to keep their true colours submerged.

In their carefully controlled way, they make few waves in the safe harbour of sameness in which they endeavour to stay afloat.

Nobody could accuse Boris Johnson of doing that. His recent public schoolboy-type verbal spat with Ian Lavery included lemons such as: “You pointed in my face… “ and “Take it back, old boy…”. 

Now this is odd behaviour for a grown man, let alone one who is Britain’s foreign secretary. Was he embarrassed by it? Did he speedily gather himself and endeavour to behave in a more mature manner, if only because cameras were rolling? He did not.

Appearing less ruffled than a vestal virgin’s bed, he ramped up the daftness with a series of pouty if good-natured air kisses, goofily directed at the clearly bemused Labour Party MP who was the butt of his Being Boris moment.

Johnson should be applauded for his antics. Most sane politicians present a frivolous-free front to the media and our world is a duller place because of it.

Of course a distinction must always be made between quirky and stir-crazy. The latter are quite unfortunate, in that they don’t seem to embrace their oddness so much as it seems to embrace them.

As for Vladamir Putin, his penchant for inviting world leaders to join him in a spot of bareback riding definitely verges on the eccentric.

But if his unique rendition of ‘Blueberry Hill’ at an event attended by Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell made for pleasantly quirky viewing, the same can’t be said of his meeting with the dog-fearing Angela Merkel — the one to which he brought his black Labrador, Connie.

His subsequent insistence that he had no prior knowledge of the German chancellor’s fear came as a relief to all, and put an end to the vicious fake news-type rumours that there was anything off about his having thoughtfully presented her with a gift of a toy dog the previous year. 

Toy dogs are for kids. If he had presented her with a toy horse’s head in a toy bed, the gift couldn’t have been more ominous, especially since it was given after a meeting the pair had in Moscow.

If quirky is as quirky does, can our peculiar doings out us as odd? Yes and no, it seems. 

The practice of naval fluff collecting is as weird as it gets, but while the first to think up and engage in that must have been a wonderfully weird oddball indeed, the copy-cats who took to it like sheep to grass are not in the same category of one-off, unique battiness as was the instigator of this messed-up craze.

Pierce Brosnan is not, let’s face it, a name that comes to mind when pondering the quirky among us. But he is not entirely lacking in the peculiar behaviour department. He used to eat fire, and yes, it is strange that one so cool would ever have played with something so hot.

In fairness the last time he publicly swallowed flame was on The Muppet Show back in his James Bond days.

 Alas, the fire-eating act did not go well for the actor and he scorched his mouth and was never seen to be quirky again.

English mentalist Derren Brown appears to be zany and quirky. Of course he is because he conjured up the illusion of being that way inclined. He did that by going on record as having an obvious fondness for his extraordinary taxidermy collection. If that sounds weird, just wait until you glimpse his eight-legged taxidermy lamb.

There is little doubt that displaying an object as peculiar as that in one’s home is indicative of a certain sort of strangeness.

But then, so too is the fact he keeps a jarred chimpanzee in his home was once and perhaps still is, home to a jarred chimpanzee. Not jarred as in drunk. Jarred as in contained in a jar. A stillborn chimp that Brown, displaying a taste for the macabre, describes in a mesmerising film made by a school friend of his, as ‘pickled’.

Nobody could ever accuse Jane Goldman of being bland. Sure, her delightfully wacky hair colour alone dissolves that hypothesis. 

The Daily Mail once reported that the writer and producer bought a two-headed baby skeleton replica in the Little Shop of Horrors in Hackney.

It’s unlikely that husband Jonathan Ross was concerned when she brought that £1,500 worth of oddness back home, given that it was he who bought her a Jaguar hearse in which to ferry their kids about.

Together, the pair, who married in 1988, exude a happy, loved-up vibe. The fact they seem to live in an occasionally eyebrow-raising and beautifully liberated way is an example to us all.

While living authentically is a core tool in eradicating self-repression, there’s far too little of it about. For too many, the harmless inner quirkiness gets locked inside and is never invited to come blinking out into the sunlight.

What’s bad about self-repression is that it prevents us from becoming who we potentially are. 

Those who bury their individual quirks are as good as clueless as to who they really are. Almost as terrifyingly, so too are their partners, given that they’re so often not privy to what lurks beneath the bland façade.

The drive to suppress one’s quirks is understandable. We’re wired to fear those not like us. Be yourself in a space in which that will yield opposition and you’re in trouble.

As for the wall of hostility so often faced by those attempting to live their gender and sexual identity truth in societies hostile to those basic human rights, those who label these perfectly normal and ordinary people as quirky, are blisteringly sad human beings.

The habitual nurturing and public presenting of a colourless pretence of our thoroughly distinctive selves is a recipe for disenchantment. We’re probably all ‘characters’ to some extent. But only the few are brave enough to let that show.

The mark of genius ... a little quirk does no harm

Quirkiness is common among genius types: Albert Einstein never wore socks but sometimes wore his wife’s sling-back shoes and has been photographed looking splendidly comfortable and relaxed in same; an approach to dressing that flies in the face of research that shows that casual dress is not conducive to high academic performance.

The Serbian-American inventor, engineer, physicist and futurist Nikola Tesla used to curl up his toes 100 times every night. He believed the routine was good for the brain. It certainly did his no harm.

US statesman Benjamin Franklin liked to run in the nude, quaintly labelling these streaking episodes ‘air baths’.

Inventor of the electric lightbulb Thomas Edison was big into power-napping and had many day-beds to facilitate his habit. Perhaps his daytime snoozing habit fuelled his lightbulb moments.

Russian composer Stravinsky did a headstand every day.


More in this Section

How to outsource Christmas

Michael Murphy on his new book, love and marriage at 70

The F word: Why are some women reluctant to call themselves feminists?

Music Man: Why singer Phil Coulter is still touring in his 70s


Lifestyle

A towering achievement: Exploring Irish castles and beautiful buildings

Books that belong on the gardener's bookshelf

The domestic flash of Francis Brennan

John Wilson touring with music made with Rory Gallagher in Taste

More From The Irish Examiner