Craig Ferguson tells a story about being an unhappy film actor grumbling on the set of Jim Carrey vehicle Lemony Snicket about why he’d rather be elsewhere.
The producer’s response was uncharacteristically helpful by Hollywood standards: “I’m sure that can be arranged.”
His point, one Ferguson went on to prove as host of his own talk show for nine years, is that getting famous and staying famous are two different things. The latter takes a few ounces of cast-iron will.
Don’t trust any celebrity in film or music who sighs and says “yeah, it just happened. Crazy, eh?” if asked about a long career.
If they’re still successful after five or ten or certainly twenty years, be under no illusion. It is that they, or the team around them, planned it that way or made plans similar to that.
It’s all the harder when you’ve become famous because thousands have fallen in love with you, as Harry Styles, Justin Bieber and Zayn Malik will find out over the next decade.
Two separate occasions recently made me realise how difficult it is to tread the path from beloved teen idol to creative, credible artist.
One was The BBC’s Scott Walker Prom. A teen idol of his day created the Scott 1-4 albums and inspired Jules Buckley and his Metropole Orchestra, Jarvis Cocker and his former Pulp guitarist, Norwegian singer Susanne Sundfor and the wondrous John Grant to make an evening dedicated to his first four solo records. There were some gripes, most notable a hipper than thou review from The Guardian, about not marking the later more experimental albums like Bish Bosch and Tilt. But anyone who starts off in the public eye adored for his cheekbones and becomes loved for his chord changes and use of orchestration is a rare talent indeed.
Second was Nick Heyward, who gave a fascinating interview to Radio 5 Live and another to freelance writer Malcolm Wyatt.
He has released his first album in 12 years after an up and down career where he has sold his house to pay for his latest record Woodland Echoes to be mixed and engineered professionally.
And Heyward knows about these things after asking Geoff Emerick (whose first job in the studio was engineering Revolver) to work on his debut solo album, North of a Miracle.
Since Alan McGee used the Oasis money in 1998 to give the Haircut 100 man a solo album release Kite, Heyward has popped up at ‘80s Rewind festivals but making enough to make new records has clearly been a struggle. He must have asked himself where does he go from here when he couldn’t find his way to the lake.
Once the screams have died down for your looks, how many heartthrobs have carved out a career as credible musicians and made consistently interesting records? Scott Walker certainly. Tom Jones, perhaps. Justin Timberlake. Damon Albarn certainly. Taylor Swift possibly. George Michael and Michael Jackson, before we lost them. Chet Baker sadly didn’t hang around long enough to bask in the reputation he deserved. It makes the achievements of Scott Walker and those select others all the more impressive. And the constant battle for Nick Heyward to keep fighting the good fight all the more admirable.
For the rest, for those teen idols who want to disappear, well that can be arranged.