“I’ve been waiting my whole life”
This power of celebrity is an intriguing concept. Every year people put themselves forward for different talent shows, everything from Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice and the X Factor along with every other conceivable variation of the theme. Some I watch, some I don’t. The thing that strikes me usually is how desperate people are for their 15 minutes of fame; and so often without the time and energy it takes to create a real talent. My favourite regurgitated quote is from the 17 year old wannabee who says “I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment!” What? Really? All those years! It’s only when I think about true celebrity and how long this culture has existed that I think about the depth you must achieve in order to leave behind your own personal trail.
This cult of celebrity
Celebrity goes back to ancient times when songs and poems were written to historical characters such as King Arthur and Robin Hood. William Shakespeare immortalised Richard III and Henry V, before becoming a celebrity himself. Moving up through history there were the gunfighters of the Wild West such as Jesse James, Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp – all highly fictionalised tales written about by the penny novels of the time. It was the rise of popularist entertainment such as newspapers, the cinema, radio and television that brought the cult of celebrity up to its present level of hyperbole. It was cinema that introduced me to ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, through David Lean’s astonishing film. I later read more about him and became fascinated by this complex, unusual man.
Who was ‘Lawrence of Arabia’?
Thomas Edward (T.E) Lawrence was born 16th August 1888 in Ireland, later moved to Oxford with his family and developed a love of history, the Middle East (before it was known as that) and castles, even cycling across Europe in his quest for knowledge, whilst still a teenager. Through hard work and fascination Lawrence became somewhat of an expert on Arab affairs and when enlisted into the army in World War One was stationed in Cairo. From here he was entrusted to try and get the Arab nations to fight together to expel the Turks and the Germans out of the Ottoman Empire – now it is known as the countries of Iraq and Palestine as well as others. This he did along with King Faisal and Auda Abu Tayi, with his most significant victory being the capture of Aqaba. Lawrence fought alongside the Arabs with the intention that the land would be theirs with the Turks and Germans gone. Unknown to him the French and the British were busy carving up the countries for their own colonial rule. When Lawrence realised this at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, and later during 1921 whilst advising Winston Churchill, he was horrified. During this time he had reached celebrity status through the writings and films of Lowell Thomas, an American journalist. Lawrence soon disappeared after his disgust with the British and the French governments. He published the ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ in 1926, but led a life of relative obscurity in different branches of the military. He died on 19th May 1935, following a motorcycle accident.
Why am I fascinated with these characters?
I’ve visited his grave three times, with the most recent last Tuesday (29th May). I even tidied it up a little, threw out a few weeds and made it look nice. After I did it I questioned why I should visit the grave of a man I never knew, and see it as my duty to tidy the grave. Also to see his house, Clouds Hill, and to visit his effigy carved in marble by Eric Kennington, which is the photo that accompanies this blog. It is odd behaviour, I realise that, but I’ve also visited the graves of William Shakespeare and Winston Churchill, and seen Lord Nelson’s crypt in St Paul’s Cathedral. On my list of places to visit is Seattle where Bruce and Brandon Lee are buried and to see Gracelands, Elvis’ home and burial ground. I think it’s because in some way these people have touched me – at a soulful level. They have inspired me with their creativity, bravery and clarity of purpose. Perhaps I feel that helps me in some way to achieve the goals I want.
Are you ordinary?
I don’t aspire to greatness. I aspire to use my talents in their best way. Through teaching I can effect my students lives through martial arts – knowledge that has been passed down to me by teachers, all of them. Through speaking I hope to give people some idea, some new thought that may inspire them to try something different, something new. Through writing I hope to stir the emotions of the reader and give them an experience that either they can relate to or had never thought of before. Lawrence, Churchill, Shakespeare and Nelson are all special characters. They all left a trail. People, on the whole, are ordinary and yet never want to be thought of as so. Is this why ‘talent’ shows are so popular? Because they fast track people to the levels of celebrity that they aspire to, or because they don’t want to put the hard work in that is needed. The fact is we all leave a trail – it could be our children, work we leave behind, students we teach or people we help. it bears thought when you consider what will your trail be?