A POINT OF VIEW
By Clive James
Why is Liz Hurley - part-time model, actress and producer - famous? Because when it comes to starring in a media circus, she is without peer.
The happy couple
Let us imagine that 100 miles north of Anchorage, Alaska, there is a little town called Moose Tooth. When the air base was still open, a few miles even further north into the snow and ice, some of the ground crew for the supersonic delta-wing bombers would come into town on Friday nights to tie one on, and the population of Moose Tooth, in order to service this sparse traffic, gradually climbed from 126 people to 214. Then the base closed and Moose Tooth shrank again to its present size. There are 73 people over the age of 21 and most of the kids who go away to get educated never come back. It's headline news in the single sheet local paper when one of them does.
Nothing happens in Moose Tooth, or it didn't until this week, when it was announced that Moose Tooth would be one of the few places in the world where Elizabeth Hurley would not be staging part of her marriage celebrations. Another place was the two-house town of Bindiai, South Australia, population four people, but Bindiai never had a prayer because it hasn't got a newspaper. Moose Tooth, as we have seen, does have a newspaper, the Moose Tooth Truth-teller, and therefore it was in with a chance. A cruel deprivation, then, that Liz Hurley and her husband Arun Nayar probably won't be turning up.
Indeed, we should be serious here and concede that this wedding has been a comparatively modest affair, mainly confined to parts of Britain and most of India. The British part of the wedding, the opening ceremony of the ceremony, as it were, took place, as you may have heard, at Sudeley Castle in the Cotswolds.
Paparazzi from all over the planet gathered around the outer perimeter of Sudeley Castle to be told to their surprise that they would not be allowed in. Psychologists are baffled as to how so many otherwise intelligent adult males equipped with expensive cameras could harbour the delusion that the couple about to be married had not done a deal with Hello! magazine and that they, the paparazzi, would be allowed in.
Cue media frenzy
Was it a collective delusion that they would all be allowed in, or was it an individual delusion, multiplied by the number of paparazzi present, that they would each be allowed in, one at a time? Was it possible, scientists wondered, that Signore Massimo Intrusione from the distinguished Italian foreign affairs magazine Il Pesto honestly envisaged a scenario in which a heavily-built security man would say "Seeing it's you, Massimo, come right in. Miss Hurley's waiting for you beside the swimming pool in a vestigial bikini. Kir Royale?"
But the paps, as always, were prepared for a long siege with nothing to sleep in except a ditch. These are men whose digestive systems are in a state of training beyond anything demanded of the SAS. These are men who can sustain life on a cockroach fry-up while they wait for a shot of Pete Doherty falling out of a window at the Priory.
Only one thing breaks their spirit, and that's when their quarry refuses to play fair. So, alas, it was in this case. It turned out that the event the paps were not being allowed in to see, the wedding ceremony, had actually taken place the day before. So what they weren't being allowed in to see now was what was happening the day after the thing had already happened that they hadn't been told about. They were angry in 16 languages. Some of them were so angry they missed Elton John's secret arrival, vertically out of the sky in a purple helicopter.
But enough of hiding the wedding's light under a bushel. Onward to India, and the first day of a promised week of celebration. The couple came ashore in Mumbai, the new name for Bombay. In new Mumbai as in old Bombay, the Taj Mahal Hotel is the centre of the action. I stayed there myself once, and on my first walk along the waterfront I saw a snake-charmer in action. Squatting on the pavement with the yogi-like suppleness that snake-charmers acquire after decades of practice, he played his flute above a wicker basket. A cobra came up out of the basket and bit him.
Braving the crowds in Mumbai
Apparently it hardly ever happens, and back in the hotel I became famous for what I had seen. It was my brush with celebrity. But I wasn't there this week when Liz Hurley and Arun Nayar arrived in the hushed anonymity of a silver Bentley to occupy the royal suite entirely walled in by paparazzi, and I'll never get over that until my dying day, which I could feel getting nearer every minute as I continued reading about their wedding.
Ring of steel
After Mumbai the festivities moved on to Jodhpur, and this is where security really got tight, because it is comparatively easy to close down a hotel, but to close down two palaces and two forts all in the one city takes what the Indian newspapers, still masters of journalistic English like old Fleet Street used to make, call a "ring of steel".
Apparently the ring of steel mainly consisted of a ban on mobile phones, lest one of the phones be used to snap an illicit picture and thereby pre-empt the aforesaid Hello! exclusive, making it no more exclusive than the Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas exclusive that got hijacked by OK! back in the prehistoric days before phones could take pictures.
Security outside the palace
What made this ban newsworthy was that it extended even to the Maharaja of Jodhpur, who might ordinarily have expected his word to be taken that he would not be pointing his mobile phone at Miss Hurley and snatching pictures on the pretext of calling directory enquiries.
In view of the massed muscle of the inner ring of steel, the Indian press concluded that Jodhpur would be, and I quote, "more secure than during the Mughal invasions." That sounded pretty secure until you googled the Mughals and found out that in 1561, they went through the defences of Jodhpur like a scimitar through butter, but let's not quibble.
Sufficient to say that at Jodhpur's magnificent Bahwan Palace hotel, a sacred fire was ignited. Amid Vedic chanting, Arun's shawl was tied to Elizabeth's veil, or it could have been that her veil was tied to his shawl. Either way, they had time to sort it out as they circled the sacred fire seven times in a shower of rose petals. My notes say "road metals" but in the excitement of not being there I might have sometimes misheard the odd phrase while taking notes in front of a television set in London while an understandably excited woman in India was describing a scene that she couldn't see either because she hadn't been allowed in.
The next bit that nobody was allowed to see was, one can only imagine, awe-inspiring. Arun placed on Elizabeth's wrists a set of red wedding bangles washed in milk - just what she'd always dreamed of. In the background, screaming paparazzi fell to their deaths from the castle walls as their aluminium extension ladders melted in the heat of the sacred fire.
It reminded me so much of my own wedding, when we circled the sacred Barbie seven times, but only because, the first six times, our friend's camera didn't work. There was meant to be a little red light, and it didn't go on.
There's no reason why Liz Hurley's wedding shouldn't continue touring the world indefinitely. It might be the best way to stay married. Certainly the wedding should become a movie, and that's where the bride could really come into her own. I always liked Elizabeth Hurley. Nice voice, real figure, lovely face, what was there not to like? She was sometimes knocked for her acting but she never got much of a chance to do it.
As a producer, however, she had her name on a movie that came close to being really worthwhile. It was Extreme Measures and it had a good role for Gene Hackman. If Hugh Grant hadn't been in it as well, the critics might have been able to raise their brains slightly and mention the fact that she had proved herself at a difficult task. But it didn't happen, and she went on to another kind of production, the celebrity caravan in which she now stars.
Previously starring in the Liz 'n' Hugh show
She's good at that too. And if we're really worried about the celebrity culture, she's the one who's already thought of the answer. One of the things she's celebrated for is inventing a category of people called "civilians", by which she means people that the fame machine should ignore, because they never wanted that kind of attention. She did want it, and she's good at it. You won't get any Britney Spears moments from her.
Kate Middleton, on the other hand, doesn't want it. Whether the media should be allowed to chase her anyway is a question about press freedom that we can examine another time, perhaps after the findings of the MPs' current deliberations on the subject have been digested and we've all decided whether allowing a prospective princess to be hounded like a fox is really such a good idea, or whether putting an official stop to it might not be an even worse one.
But for now let's just enjoy the spectacle of the circus running as it should, with the clown paparazzi going crazy in pursuit of a woman whose wedding would be ruined if they left her alone.
A Point of View is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2050 on Friday and 0850 on Sunday.
Below is a selection of your comments:
So many people ask why she's famous, so Clive raises a fair point. The locals sat back with bemused interest. My favourite was the two old blokes in the doctor's surgery: "Did you go to Liz's weddin', Bill?" "Nah..she invited me, but I couldn't be bothered going..."
RB , very near Sudeley Castle
The more articles like this people write/read, the more the hype will grow around this insignificant story about a wannabe no-one who deserves nothing but a paragraph or two, even in the one sheet Moose Tooth daily paper never mind the BBC website.
Way to burst the preposterous bubble that "celebrities" construct around themselves. I know you will also hate the "way to" expression, but I am a child of your media too.
Beresford du-Cille, West Bromwich, UK
From the tone, and wording of this piece, I'd say the writer is being disparaging for the most part, and downright mocking (read, borderline insulting) of some of the Indian traditions of marriage. Whilst he may not understand it, we Indians have reasons for out little traditions, just like Westerners do. Lest you think I am being overly picky, let me assure you, I was born in the West and I have never been to India, but my culture is alive in me. Your reporter should keep in mind that his opinion of what he does not understand, can be interpreted as insulting when he hints that our traditions lack sense.
Mohan Ramcharan, Birmingham
"Scimitar through butter"? Ghee, surely?
Colin Matthews, Birmingham, UK
Sadly, the vast majority of people whose lives are dominated by so-called "celebrity", will never read these well-chosen words. Their reading matter, if my daily commute to town is anything to go by, is restricted to the various celebrity magazines (Hello, OK and the like) or the snippets of celebrity news in the papers. They know what Jade is doing, but ask them to comment on the Iran/Iraq/Syria situation and they will gaze blankly, shrug and mutter "Dunno". I despair for the future of this country - if not the World.
Sarah, London, UK
I fear she may be famous for having excellent lungs and going out with Hugh Grant. This is celebrity!
Paul Charman, London
Brilliant! I cried laughing at Clive's dry wit and wonderful observations. Celebrity commentaries don't come better than this.
David, London, UK