Twenty years ago I lived in London for three years (man, you know you’re getting ‘propa old’ when your stories start with ‘twenty years ago’…).
Despite the big city’s stubborn indifference to common courtesy, good manners, and personal space, I loved living there. Having spent my life growing up in the small northern town of Middlesbrough, and having always been a home-bird that thought I would always live in Middlesbrough, life in London was an eye-opening experience.
Living in a huge, bustling, multi-cultural city was so different to what I was used to and, in turn, that made me view my own home town differently. It also taught me that yes, I did in fact have an accent, although I regularly had to point out that, no, I wasn’t a geordie.
One of the things I loved about London was the random celebrity spotting. Whilst living in the land of black snot, in the course of going about my everyday business I saw: Matt Lucas at HMV; The Fast Show’s Paul Whitehouse at HSBC; Madonna at Hampstead Heath; boxer Nigel Benn at Kings Cross station; Guns N’ Roses’ guitarist Slash at Tower Bridge, and, errrrr, Boris Johnson on his bike (these encounters took place between 1998 and 2001 BS – Before Selfie – so are sadly unrecorded by history).
My favourite celebrity encounter though was (‘Let’s all meet up…’) in the year 2000 with Pulp lead singer, Jarvis Cocker. (See what I did there…?).
Now, I can’t tell you just how much I love Pulp’s music, although the fact that one of their songs was the first dance at my wedding, and that said song, ‘Something Changed’, became the title of my book, may be a bit of a giveaway. (I wrote a book you know, but I don’t like to mention it).
As I saw him striding towards me during my lunch hour on Old Street, I had to do a double-take. ’Is that Jarvis Cocker? Nah….’
Now Jarvis is a pretty distinctive looking guy, and being well over six feet tall and with the build of a pipe cleaner, it’s not easy to confuse him for anybody else, but it’s a peculiarity spotting a celebrity out of their natural habitat. They tend to look different on a busy high street to how they do when on stage or in a music video. It’s kind of weird. Imagine your reaction to spotting a penguin wandering into Greggs and you may have an idea of what it’s like.As Jarvis passed me it finally registered, ‘Bloody hell, that’s Jarvis Cocker. I’ve got to go and say something!’ Well, shy bairns get nowt an’ all that…
So I ran after him and caught up. ‘Shit, what am I supposed to say?!?’
‘Errrr, you’re Jarvis Cocker aren’t you?’
Well done Matthew.
Okay, so it isn’t the best line I’ve ever come out with. That said, it isn’t the worst either, which may have something to do with why I’m still single…
Anyway, the point of this post is in how Jarvis replied to the question.
Our love was sealed in that moment. (Okay, my love for him, I think he was already wondering how the hell to get rid of me).
You see, I may just be overthinking here – it’s a bit of a habit, you may have noticed – but in saying that one word he was saying something profoundly meaningful about the nature of celebrity, and by extension, of being human. At least he was to my mind.
When Jarvis told me that he was Jarvis Cocker ‘sometimes’, I got the impression that ‘Jarvis Cocker’ had become something else. An ‘overnight’ success, a ‘pop star’. Public property. I can only imagine how strange and surreal it must appear to see your life played out in tabloid newspapers, such as when he defiantly waved his arse at a wannabe messianic Michael Jackson at the Brit Awards.
Having your life change so suddenly, so completely, must be a very difficult thing to adapt to and come to terms with, especially when you feel that you should be doing what it expected, namely enjoying it. The fact is that for each positive there must be a whole heap of negatives that must be dealt with too, and, in the face of public adoration, it must be difficult to reconcile this new person, or persona, with who you thought yourself to be.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jarvis didn’t cope with the change too well. After discovering that the dream he had spent his whole life working towards wasn’t quite the dream he imagined it to be, he lost himself in a fog of drugs and depression for a while, documented in the quite brilliant ‘This Is Hardcore’ album.In life we all play many roles, each of which bring out different aspects of our personality and character – parent, child, employee, friend, partner, lover, to name just a few. We have private roles and we have public roles. When any of these roles change, or indeed are taken from us, the effect can be that we have to redefine who we are, now that aspect of us has changed or gone. We may also struggle to adapt to a new role, to reconcile it with who we believe we are and to deal with the expectation it places on us to act and be a certain way. At its worst, this can take us to some very dark places.
In his recent book, ‘Let Me Be Frank’, Frank Bruno describes his descent into the darkness of mental illness following his retirement from boxing.
‘I was saying, ‘Get a grip, nobody has died, Frank’. But looking back, maybe they had. Maybe the person I used to be had died and I couldn’t handle it.’
When life changes suddenly it can take us time to adjust and adapt, particularly if the change comes as a shock. For this reason we sometimes need time to ourselves, to get back in touch with who we are and what we really want out of life. We may need to find new goals, a new purpose that will nurture us, and bring us back to who we really are deep down in our heart and in our soul.
Following my divorce it took me a long time to adapt to being single, and looking back I definitely ran away from it. It wasn’t something I chose and it wasn’t something I wanted. But I’ve discovered that it was something I needed.
In being on our own we have the opportunity to discover who we really are, away from the demands and expectations of others. That’s not to say that such demands and expectations are negative – being able to deal with them is part and parcel of establishing healthy relationships – but we store up problems for ourselves when we live to meet the needs and demands of others without fully understanding what we need in order to be the best version of ourselves. To be our true selves.
Am I happy being single?
Sometimes. And sometimes I’m not.
But one thing I do know is that the experience is teaching me a lot. I know and understand myself and what I want out of life, better than I ever have before. And although the circumstances weren’t of my design or choosing, I wouldn’t change that for anything.
Pink Glove – Pulp (no, the lyrics are not related to the post but it is my favourite Pulp song so I’m using it!)