My seven-year-old daughter’s face was a ringlet-framed picture of confusion and hurt. “But I thought she was going to marry the tall Scottish one!”
Children like constancy and continuity. Everything in its right place and always there. The certainty of Taylor Swift, my girl’s favourite pop star, having a fairytale wedding and living happily ever after with Calvin Harris, the lofty, dashing superstar DJ from Dumfries, was no more. This was a lot to process at the breakfast table. Even more so when her father immediately remarked of Swift’s brand new romance with the actor Tom Hiddleston that it was probably a PR stunt.
“Tom … Iggleston?” said my other daughter, aged four, eager to join in the debate. “No,” scolded her big sister, “you’re thinking of Iggle Piggle.” Daughter No1 may only have acquired a teensy bit more awareness of what the world must now call - wait for it - Hiddleswift, but she wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to flaunt it before Daughter No2. Of course Swift wasn’t stepping out with that blue-skinned chump from In the Night Garden! Don’t be such a baby …
Her superiority confirmed, Daughter No1 then gave me her first impressions of the new beau: “I don’t know, Dad, this Hiddleston fellow looks a bit pleased with himself. Is he a rather complacent actor, the kind who doesn’t actually do very much? I’m thinking he’s very happy lounging around glamorous locations in expensive linenwear. I’m guessing he works out extensively, and that audiences see a fair bit of that gym-whipped bod. But if he presents a bashful smile, Dad, I know you won’t be impressed. You’re bound to think he overuses it, depends on it, much like Richard Gere, and he’s your least-favourite actor of all time …”
Ok, I might have helped my girl with her assessment, but she did say this, and it didn’t seem an unreasonable inquiry: “What’s PR?” Would a celebrity really get romantically involved with another celebrity, or pretend that they were, to improve their image and sell more of whatever they’re flogging? Would the public really believe in the liaison, or if they didn’t, buy more of the celebrity’s wares anyway because: a) they’re thick; b) they’re suckers for a cuddlesome tale even if it’s a complete work of fiction? And if it’s a stunt the celeb has pulled before, surely they can’t keep repeating it for ever?
In case you missed the “world exclusive”, Swift and Hiddleston went down to the rocks on a public beach near her American mansion, gazed at the ocean, held hands, took selfies, congratulated each other on their long, long legs and – gasp – clunked sunglasses to kiss. This, as they say at such moments, broke the internet. There was a grassfire of blether and buzz. But very quickly choppers were scrambled to water-bomb the “story” with cynicism. Mark Borkowski, my favourite PR, was among those doing the dousing.
Now, I’ve listened to Borkowski ever since he listened to me, 30-odd years ago on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, when as a trainee PT Barnum he tried to get my paper to write about a human-blockhead show and I told him that idiots hammering nails up their noses were pretty ho-hum. He returned the following year with French chainsaw-jugglers, never looked back, and these days gets trumpeted as a “PR guru”. So when he says the photographs of this moment of brazen intimacy have all the hallmarks of a publicity scam, I believe him. Borkowski is decidedly underwhelmed by the stunt. “It’s not very well thought through,” he says. Nevertheless he reckons it could yet have the desired effect - upping Hiddleston’s profile in the US and demonstrating that Swift has moved on, er, swiftly, from the break-up with Harris.
This is where I have to hold up my hands and say I simply don’t understand PR, and that I would be rubbish at it if journalism one day decided to toss me aside. Why does Swift feel the need to proclaim the ongoing perky state of her love life? Has she, or her image-enhancers, never heard of an air of mystery?
But as I say, what the heck do I know? She’s worth £170 million. She’s won ten Grammys. Her 160,500,000 Twitter followers obviously like the way she rolls, though these probably don’t include the cultural commentator Camille Paglia who once denounced Swift as a “Nazi Barbie”. No secrets. Every star-studded romance – and Hiddleston makes it seven famous boyfriends in seven years – paraded for the world to see.
Same with every uncoupling, conscious or otherwise. Ditto every new fling, pausing only briefly to write another admittedly clever song about having shaken it off or revved it up again.
But while all of this might be frothily amusing to readers of the excitable journals - and the serious ones, because we like to write about Taylor Swift, too - I can’t help thinking it will ultimately be counter-productive on all levels. If she’s really searching for everlasting love then what chance any of these entanglements succeeding if they’re exposed to such risible scrutiny? And if every one them has been part of a PR wheeze then won’t that sooner or later “dilute the brand”, as I believe the industry terms it? Who are the clever people in all of this? Not Swift, not the PRs - and not the Eton-educated Hiddleston. Does he really think, as he seeks to become the new James Bond, and a gruff movie mogul chews down hard on his cigar to ponder the contenders, that this clunkily-staged snog will seal the deal?
No, I reckon the cleverest is my daughter. She may think she’s outgrowing Disney – its dreams and more than anything its dependability – but recent manoeuvrings on America’s eastern seaboard haven’t impressed her one little bit. “Taylor Swift?” I asked the other day, offering musical accompaniment for ballet-run. “No, Dad, have you got anything else?”