There’s nothing better for selling newspapers and magazines than a picture and an accompanying story of a celebrity or a politician pissed. I’m rather guilty myself of pulling up the redtops on my Mac and skimming through the headlines and photos until I see something that captures my attention in the world of ‘celebrity’. It’s normally someone from The Only Way is Essex or a soap actor or actress dressed in, well, hardly anything and having a drunken wardrobe malfunction. Sometimes it feels as if I’m being allowed to ogle at soft porn without actually typing those self-incriminating search terms into my browser. I recently had a coffee with a well known newspaper editor (not my own I must put on record) who was scathing of some well established titles who were using bums, buns and breasts to hook in middle class audiences. No way in this world would he ever let that appear in his newspaper. We’ll see, I thought – never say never!
Some of the best drunken photos and stories are of course not about scantily clad celebrity women, but focus on the well-paid male of the celebrity species – our footballers. If Coleen Rooney decides to let Wayne out for the night and he enjoys a few sherbets, then you can bet your bottom dollar that with camera phones and social media – and Wayne being a pretty decent, hospitable and friendly guy – it will hit the papers the next day…if not that night (as it recently did). Sometimes it’s the price footballers, actors and the like pay for fame and all that goes with it. Mind you, I have no sympathy with celebrities – it’s what they crave. But, there is a serious and more sinister side to all of this that I simply do not care for.
You will all remember Gazza. Yes, Paul Gascoigne. Arguably, one of the most gifted and creative footballers the UK has ever produced. I recall his time at Rangers. Some of the football was terrific. Of course the headlines covered his prowess on the pitch and his shenanigans off it. It’s fair to say the image I have of his time as a Rangers player was him allegedly playing an imaginary flute –enough to get many hot under the collar. This caused massive embarrassment for some and landed him in trouble. People make mistakes and Gazza made a few, there is no doubt.
But, what I don’t like to see are pictures of him struggling with his well documented and televised alcohol addiction. It’s no secret that Paul Gascoigne is a self-confessed alcoholic. It’s no secret that he has had many chances to stop. Friends, fellow footballers and family have all rallied round over the years to help him and even pay for expensive treatment in rehab centres across the world. Gazza has had moments of clarity when he has stopped the booze and pulled himself together. There are many who attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings daily in Scotland and in the UK, who have done the same and who live day to day – one day at a time – working at their sobriety. Gazza struggles, there is no doubt about it. And we can all reminisce over George Best and his alcohol problems and simply wait for the day when we can refer to both Best and Gascoigne as flawed geniuses who both died of liver failure. But, is it fair to use his frailties as fodder to sell newspapers and generate social media buzz? Plainly, I think not.
We’ve all been guilty of getting up to no good on nights out and now that the party season is in full swing, there will be a few things people will want to forget about the night before! As they wake up with sore heads and hangovers (hopefully) in the right bed! Luckily for us mere mortals, these nights do not make the headlines, nor should they do so. So too, as the thousands of AA meetings taking place daily in the UK anonymously and privately, we respect this privacy. So, let’s not encourage others to froth at the mouth at the thought of another picture of the struggling alcoholic that is Paul Gascoigne – on a bender with a bottle of gin and dressed only in his night gown.
As a society though, is it right that newspaper and media outlet editors are happy to put demeaning, unsolicited and, to be fair, quite sad pictures of Gascoigne online and in print feeding off the man’s struggle? For me, this is not a celebrity on a night out nor a soap star who has had one too many and whose tiara has slipped. This is exploitation full stop. If it is meant to show younger footballers the perils of alcohol, then I’m not sure it is the right medium. Flawed genius he may be, but let’s give him some sort of respect for that. Just think if was your dad or your son….
l Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is Head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark