Memoir: It's NOT all Wine & Roses


Celebrity is an interesting phenomenon. Some people court it; others hide from it. I’ve heard a celebrity - one who appears often on television opining that she has a right to privacy - talking loudly on her phone, in a Sydney bakery, in front of several other customers. She was relating all the ‘great events’ she went to when she was in Los Angeles, how long she was home in Australia on her current trip, and other matters that no one in the shop was interested in. She would point to what she wanted among the treats behind the glass presentation counter, without pausing in her phone conversation. Clearly good manners don’t always accompany fame.

Some celebrities seem to attract a mob of photographers wherever they go. A friend of mine who is, I must confess, a rather infamous paparazzo, says one high profile actor who often accuses him of stalking her, actually rings him regularly to tell him where she will be. Then she complains when he turns up. Others, he says, now post their whereabouts on social media. Then complain when they are photographed. As he says, if your worst problem is being photographed, then you are pretty fortunate. And I would add, “You can’t ‘run with the hare and hunt with hounds.’”

Others though, seem to live their lives without fuss. They don’t get mobbed, and the so-called paparazzi don’t harass them. I have often seen the actors I consider about the very best in the business – Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe – in my neighbourhood, going about their business without fuss, without drawing attention to themselves. Nobody hassles them. Why is that?

A few years ago I was invited to give a key note address at The National Library, in honour of Peter Cundall, a much loved gardening celebrity. He had just retired after decades as a prominent television host on Australia’s national television station. At the lunch before the big event I was shocked that people approached him, dragged him up from his seat while he was trying to enjoy his meal and insisted on having their picture taken with him. One woman even kissed him on the lips. EEEK! He told me that he cannot even go into a supermarket to buy cheese without people asking him which variety he is buying. I am told that ‘celebrity chefs’ have the same problem. Perhaps it is that television brings these people into our lives so often we forget that we don’t actually know them.

When Peter commented that I must find it the same I demurred: “Certainly not.” No one recognises me, which is fine. I am never ‘camera ready’ as one young friend in Public Relations advises her clients to be! But there was one incident, I remembered. I had spoken at a writers’ festival, and after my address I was sitting chatting with my publisher at an outdoor table. A woman rushed up to us with an excited and expectant look on her face. I assumed she was intending to say how much she enjoyed my books. I prepared myself to be gracious in reply. However, she shouted “I love your glasses. Where did you buy them.” With that she took my blue and tan-rimmed glasses – without which I cannot see - off my startled face and put them on. A tiny, but most unwelcome invasion of privacy, and my personal space, it gave me a little insight into what some celebrities must go through.

There is not much celebrity in giving lectures, either, something regularly requested of garden writers. And while I love libraries, they can often, inadvertently I am sure, make tricky demands of writers in all genres. And most people who attend lectures at libraries happily tell you that they don’t buy books. That’s why they joined the library. Fair enough, but audiences should note that it can take many hours to prepare a good lecture, with, in the case of a garden writer, a well-constructed Powerpoint presentation. And a kindly note to librarians: don’t wheel in other writers’ books to sell when an author has given up his morning to speak to your Friends’ or Members’ event.

I was discussing events at libraries with a garden writer colleague a few years ago. I had driven several hours south of Sydney to reach a certain library, I told her. The President of the Friends had suggested I bring my books to sell, so I assumed I would at least re-coup my petrol.

Before my address, the President spent some 40 minutes on ‘housekeeping’ and discussing the following month’s lecturer. Then she said “No need to buy Holly’s book today as I have bought a copy for the library.” And all this took so much time that the audience was desperate, by this stage, to get to the buffet lunch, rather than to listen to me. And so I had to lug boxes of books back to the car and back to Sydney.

Anyway, I related this sorry tale to my colleague, who said she had also spoken for the same library, having got herself down to the venue on the train. After the address, she was presented with a very unattractive teaspoon for her troubles. On the way home on the train she was so offended by the somewhat ungracious and ungrateful behaviour of her hosts that she flung the teaspoon out of the train window, and with that, the sapphire in her engagement ring went too. We were both in no doubt that we were not celebrities!