Ray D’Arcy was in the playground. I glanced at him, looked away quickly, then casually glanced over a few minutes later. It was definitely him. Was Jenny there too? Yes! There she was! I had a sudden urge to walk over to the two of them and say hello. I mean, I know them right? Listening to people on the radio for three entire maternity leaves can do that to you. I could tell them that I was the person who three years ago sent in the question on how to deal with foxes living in your garden – maybe they’d remember that (of course not). Or I could tell Ray that I met him twenty-something years ago when I was on Blackboard Jungle and he was the presenter. Or I could just tell them that they got me through some very lonely days on my first maternity leave, and thank them.
Of course, I was never really going to go over and say any of that – instead, I played it cool, glancing over every now and then but otherwise pretending I hadn’t seen them.
I took out my phone. “Do not tell me you’re going to tweet about seeing Ray and Jenny,” my husband said. “Of course I’m not!” I replied indignantly, “I’m just checking the weather!” I put away my phone again. And continued to act normal. As you do. I glanced over discretely one final time, and wondered what it’s like to walk into a playground and know that at least a few people will know who you are. Would it be on your mind? Or since it’s an everyday experience, perhaps not at all?
I find fame fascinating. Not in a desperately wanting to know what Kim Kardashian had for breakfast way, but in a wondering what it’s like to know that everybody knows you kind of way. If I had the chance to go for pints with Angelina or Julia or Drew, that’s something I’d like to ask them. When you walk down the street with your family, are you conscious that people know you? When you bring your kids to a restaurant, are you aware that you’re causing a stir? As you order your non-fat Chai-tea in Starbucks, do you feel the eyes of other customers on your back? Or is it so second nature now that it doesn’t even register?
My daughter wants to be famous and I can’t figure out why. She’s six. And she has never seen a copy of OK Magazine nor watched X-Factor nor met a famous person. She just about knows who One Direction are, but doesn’t quite get it, saying she doesn’t have a favourite “character”
Yet for some reason, she thinks being famous sounds “Amazing!”. I asked her why, and she said “because everybody would know you and think you were great”. I don’t know where this comes from, but maybe there’s an in-built desire for positive attention in all of us, and for some, fame seems like it might seal the deal.
There are kids everywhere who want to play Premiership football or audition for The Voice or become super-models. And some of this obviously comes from exposure to TV and magazines and billboards and conversations. But some of it must be innate – a desire to do something extraordinary and be recognised – even if it’s only for fifteen minutes.
But apart from asking Angelina or Julia or Drew what it’s like to be famous, I’d mostly be star-struck during our hypothetical pints. I once sat next to Gay Byrne in the Gaiety, and when he said “Hello”, I croaked out an unintelligible response and then sat there frozen, with “I’m sitting next to Gay Byrne!” going round and round in my head. I am so not cool when it comes to this sort of thing. Later that evening, Ian Dempsey’s wife spoke to me in the bathroom, and I still remember that fact fifteen years later – see what I mean?
Actually, I’d make a terrible celebrity now that I think about it – I’d spend my time over-thinking it. In real-life, well-known people probably don’t think about it at all. Until they look across a playground and see a woman taking out her phone, and her husband gently telling her to put it away.