How do we explain the phenomenon of celebrity spotting? What is the biological, psychological or, indeed, metaphysical reasoning behind the response—that jolt in the senses—that comes with seeing someone who lives in the public eye? Is it a feeling akin to passing by a friend or an acquaintance—a neurological response indicating that you know this person and should say ‘hello’ before your conscious takes over and reminds you that while you might know him or her, he or she does not know you? Or is it something more philosophical? Perhaps it is the primal essence of Man coming to the fore, that innate knowledge that some are superior to others, that those who are recognisable must be in some way better. For, if they were not better, how would they be recognisable? It is the inner pleb, the inner serf, the inner slave revealing itself. We all secretly wish to be controlled by the superior. Modern society has just distorted that feeling, confusing exposure for intellect and genius. Freidrich the Great, Napoleon, Gustav III, Voltaire–all would now have to appear on The Only Way is Enlightenment before their words and actions were taken seriously.
Some might try to say that celebrity means nothing to them, that they care not if someone comes from the television or radio or sport or whatever those types who come from seemingly nowhere, pre-made with ten- to fifteen-million subscribers on whatever the most popular Social Media site of the day is. They might be right; they might not care in the long-term, but they still will, without fail, have that moment of ‘Oh, I know that person from somewhere’ when they pass them. I know this, because I claim to belong to that camp, and yet I can remember every single experience of encountering a celebrity.
Living in Ipswich, and often refusing to go any further than Felixstowe, I have found my sightings of celebrities limited to Ipswich Town footballers, present and past. I can recall the time I saw Alex Bruce coming out of a Subway, Luke Chambers and Jon Stead (on separate occasions) going into Debenhams, George Burley, looking very tan and silver-haired, walking past me in the street. I even made erstwhile loanee David Healy feel very uncomfortable as he walked into a bar just off the Buttermarket. ‘It’s David Healy!’ I screamed from across the road while a friend was getting money out of the ATM by Sainsbury’s. He gave an awkward thumbs up and disappeared inside. Once, in my brief time working at JJB Sports, I was approached by none other than Willie Donachie, the then assistant manager of the club. He asked me where the swimming goggles were. I pointed them out to him. He said: ‘thank you’. This story was later bested by my good friend who, while working at the wildlife park Jimmy’s Farm, told me that Alan Lee, God-King of East Anglia, had visited. ‘Is the wildlife park worth the money?’ Alan Lee is reported to have said. ‘Nah, it’s shit,’ my friend replied. Alan Lee laughed, and the world, if just for a day, felt a little brighter. Also my brother saw Roy Keane eating a Big Mac in the McDonald’s opposite Portman Road.
I have, however, had a celebrity sighting out of Ipswich. It happened to be yet another footballer. I was on a flight to Glasgow, going to some training conference as part of the pre-checks for a job I was soon to be starting. The flight itself was nothing out of the ordinary, which, I am sure you will agree, is how any form of travel should be. The biggest issue during that flight, save for a brief bit of turbulence, was that the person sitting beside me was eating a particularly foul-smelling cheese sandwich. There are stories of planes being grounded because of a stinky poo: I have to imagine that if our flight was longer than the hour or so from Stansted to Glasgow then we would have been grounded, too.
Once the plane had landed I immediately jumped from my seat. I had to; I could not be near the epicentre of that cheese bomb any longer. While waiting for the doors to open so I could get off and breathe some ‘fresh’ air of the Glasgow night I scanned the cabin and my eyes met with those of Anton Ferdinand. He was sitting at the window seat, almost haunched over as if attempting to hide himself away from the gaze of others. Unfortunately for him he’s a very tall man so his head was still in full view. The seats beside him were empty. I like to think he bought all three seats so he could have some space to himself. For a man whom in his youth was known to casually spend five figures on watches, buying two additional seats on a budget airline does not seem quite the stretch. Of course, long gone were the days where he earned large wages despite playing terribly in turn for West Ham and Sunderland, before somehow managing to perform at an even lower level for QPR. And long gone were the days of receiving time after time the benefit of doubt, getting chance after chance after chance in the hope that maybe today and maybe this game would be the game that he started playing more like his brother.
I stared at him a little too long, wondering what he was doing heading to Glasgow on a cold October night. My first thought was that he might have been heading up north to sign with Steven Gerrard’s Rangers who at that time were signing up any player who had even the most tangential link to the slipping scouser. But I then thought that unlikely. If he was coming up to sign, I thought, then surely he would not be traveling alone? And surely he would be traveling in slightly more luxury than EasyJet?
In all of this time, he looked back at me, his eyes glazed in a way. I could not read his expression. Perhaps he was worried that I was going to reveal myself a crazed fan, that I would repeat the David Healy incident and shout at him. Or maybe he was thankful in a way—thankful that somebody on God’s green-and-blue earth had any idea who the fuck Anton Ferdinand was. We will never know, unless he responds to this of course. The doors opened. I left the plane. He was still in his seat as I did. I never saw him again. A few days later I remembered that I had seen Anton Ferdinand on a plane and checked to see if there was any news on why he was up there. It turned out he had the week prior signed for St Mirren. That solved that mystery, then.
I wouldn’t like to be ruled by Anton Ferdinand though. But I would Alan Lee. After saving us from relegation in the 2005/06 season and scoring the goal to relegate Leeds in the 2006/07 season, he can do what he likes.