When you’re famous and don’t want to be associated with an event or a person, it can be gruesome, writes Terry Prone
TWO great fighters. Little in common with each other, other than each having to face a storm of publicity. Negative publicity. Earned by one of them. Not earned by the other. One contemporaneous. One historic. Katie Taylor and the Duke of Wellington.
Last week, Taylor got swept into the story about the murder at her estranged father’s boxing gym in Bray, and was so infuriated that she issued a furious statement. We’ll come back to that.
But let’s start with Arthur Wellesley, whose memorial in the Phoenix Park will be passed by perhaps 600,000 of the faithful during the Pope’s visit, although most of them, thankfully, won’t know about his role as philanderer in chief of his time. Anybody in a reasonably detachable skirt was fair game for the Duke of Wellington, whose infidelity to his Irish wife was so brutally consistent that the newspapers of the day, conflating his sexual and military behaviour, ran cartoons of him with a cannon between his legs, watched by young women warning each other about him.
One of his women was a courtesan (a sex worker, back in the day) who, as retirement beckoned, decided to generate a new stream of income by publishing a book about her lovers.
She notified the Duke of Wellington that, absent some money passing from his hands to hers, he was likely to appear in her book, with consequent reputational damage.
His reply was prompt: “Publish and be damned.” Did it do him any harm? Did it wreck his reputation? No evidence for either proposition.
Those of us who work in reputation management and communications can list on one finger the clients who follow the pattern set by Arthur Wellesley.
That sanguine bullishness is rare, even among people like Taylor, who, while she may be upset about being enmeshed in recent stories, is harmed not a whit by them.
The statement she issued was oddly unlike her in tone. This, remember, is a woman whose monotone understatedness drives journalists mad. The statement wasn’t one bit understated. It was so furious, it even — as this paper punctiliously pointed out — had a typo in it. It talked of the “reckless and irresponsible” misuse of her image and name in the effort “to sell a story.” Taylor’s statement won itself a lot of attention, partly because she’s famous, but also because she’s liked. Art and news editors analysed the “reckless and irresponsible” charge, wondering if relating the murderous shootings in Bray to her image and name endangered her.
The underlying suggestion may be that some of her fans might falsely believe that she hangs around with killers and that this would damage her brand and that she would lose public esteem and money.
The images of which Taylor talked in her statement included several old shots with her father. Just how publishing those shots would be reckless and irresponsible isn’t clear, but that’s not the point. The point is that when you’re famous and don’t want to be associated with an event or a person, it can be gruesome.
Sometimes the person is a child or a youngster, and the story gets covered simply because of their blood link to the famous person. This happened a family member of the former attorney general. The child would never have been in the tabloids were it not for his famous father, who was, understandably, incandescent about it.
Famous people don’t understand this association thing, which, at its core, is rooted in a benign part of Irish culture. The most obvious aspect of it is where, having heard a surname, we ask: “Are you anything to [fill in name of famous person sharing surname]?”
It’s not nasty in its intent, that question. It’s about creating connections.
Because that is so deeply embedded a national habit, it feeds into and off, media coverage. An individual whose misdemeanor might put them on page 10 if they’re known to nobody may end up on page 1 if they’re related to someone famous.
That’s just the way it is and it isn’t going to change. Neither the famous person nor the less famous person can hope to control or influence it.
But what the famous person can control and influence is what happens after the photograph or the report appears. What they do in response will ensure either that the thing wobbles away into the half-life of nearly forgotten notoriety (and does it within 48 hours) or that it ‘gets legs’, meaning that the story can and will run and run. If you want a story to wobble away to nothing, you don’t add to it.
That sounds smack-the-head obvious, but any communications advisor will tell you it comes as news to most people who find themselves in a variation of the Katie Taylor situation. Unwelcome news. No, no, they tell you. I have to put the record straight.
This happens in the face of tragedy and crime. But it also happens at a rather more trivial level. Take, for example, the Make-up Fairy. She blogs about make-up, and more power to her contouring elbow. She somehow got on the wrong side of social media, which isn’t hard, as any B list celeb who has recently issued a slimming and fitness DVD will confirm.
The Make-up Fairy ‘broke her silence’ and talked to mainstream media, thus ensuring that the effluent released by those trolling her reached an audience that would never, otherwise, even have heard of her.
Which may or may not help her business.
Katie Taylor’s statement didn’t help her business in any way, with its odd acknowledgement that she and her father have been “somewhat” estranged for a while, which we all kind of knew already, but which nevertheless caused speculation. Maybe “somewhat” meant Taylor was genuinely glad her father wasn’t dead, but wasn’t going to visit him in hospital.
If you ever find yourself in this kind of situation, think about following this advice.
After a few days, maybe even a week, you’ll get a better perspective on the stinker. With luck, it will have withered off the front pages.
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