On being 2.5% famous

These days, when I meet an old friend I haven’t seen in a while, he or she always:

a. congratulates me on my recent marriage (yes, very quietly, last November) and then b. asks me: ‘what’s it like to be recognized’?

While hoping not to sound grandiose, I calculate that I’ve become 2.5% famous.

(This is on the scale of the Queen being 100% famous, Paul McCartney 98%, etc. Clearly I’ve chosen a numerical rather than an alphabetical measurement because 2.5% sounds better than ‘Y-list celebrity’.)

Anyway, here are the pluses and minuses of my new condition:

1. Plus: People saying nice things

The best thing is having people of all ages writing to me to tell me they’ve been inspired to read more history, learn more history, sometimes even go to college to study more history, because of some project or other with which I’ve been involved.  (This is just great, and outweighs all the minuses below.)

2. Minus: People saying nice things … in person

People sometimes stop me to talk.  Now, being essentially rather shy, I don’t handle this very well.  I’ve been told that I react as if I’ve been caught red-handed doing something wrong. I’m a little bit better at it now.

3. Plus: Being amusingly mistaken for other people

However, a positive side of this phenomenon is a succession of amusing cases of mistaken identity.  I’m often complimented on being Amanda Vickery, for example. And only this week I noticed a woman looking at me narrowly on the train. ‘I recognize you!’ she said, proudly.  ‘You’re a teacher, aren’t you, at the Trinity School, Leamington Spa?’

4. Minus: Not in fact being recognized at all

Recently, during the interval of a concert at the Barbican, the lady sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder.  I put on my smile and got ready to say ‘thank you so much!’  Alas, it wasn’t required.  ‘Can you please’, she said, ‘not WRIGGLE ABOUT so much in the second half?’

(See no. 2 above?  You thought that was just Bridget-Jones-type-paranoia, but here’s evidence that it’s not.)

5. Another minus: Being half-recognized

Uncouth people shouting: ‘Oi! Are you off the telly?’

But here’s another recent memorable incident: I was walking quietly down the street with my rather nice cream Dowager-Countess-of-Grantham-type parasol.  A man in a van wound down his window and yelled:

‘Oi! Eff off back to 1912!’

A curious mixture of uncouth, yet at the same time historically accurate.

6. Plus: Getting to meet interesting people.

For example, I went along to the amazingly star-studded Jubilee party at the Royal Academy. There was even a red carpet (but it didn’t occur to me until later that I could have walked up it.  I sneaked furtively round behind all the photographers’ backs, again probably unwittingly giving the impression that I was a gate-crasher.  See no. 2 above).

To be honest, while I was pleased to be in the same room as Paul McCartney, I haven’t got that much to say to him.  But I was thrilled to meet various people whom I much admire in the lower third quartile, like Mary Beard (35%) and Nigel Slater (42%).

7. Minus: Not knowing what to say to them

However, because of the above-mentioned shyness, I didn’t manage to say much to either of them either.  My problem was that I was lacking a prop for conversation. I also recently found myself in a lift with Dara O Briain and Rob Brydon. On this occasion, fortunately, I wasn’t at all tongue-tied because luckily I had with me my very first pair of underpants (left). That got conversation going.

Likewise, when I had lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, I took my scrapbook of pictures (left, and top) of her I’d made when I was four.

8. Plus: Going to interesting places

I have more invitations to go to interesting places, very often to give a talk.  However, this is problematic because of…

9. Minus: Not having time to go

This is a huge reversal of the last fifteen years of my life, where my default position has been:

‘You’d like me to give a talk about history?  Of course.  What date and time?’

And very many evenings of the last fifteen years I have been out and about with my PowerPoint presentations.

(NB my PowerPoint presentations are much more interesting than the words ‘my PowerPoint presentations’ may initially suggest.)

However, now I simply can’t say yes to everything I’d like to do or else I would never be at home. So I’ve learned the hard way to say a reluctant ‘sorry no’ sometimes – but honestly, each time it feels like stamping on the head of a kitten.

10. That’s it!  But it felt wrong to leave it at nine …

12 thoughts on “On being 2.5% famous

  1. Patricia How

    Hello Dr Lucy ( as we call you!)
    I like your website and really enjoy your tv programmes. As a fan of life-long learning, I’m especially liking your female take on history. My daughter and I often compare notes on your programmes..she completed her Masters in museum studies this year and now has her first curating job! So dragging her round all those museums has paid off!! Keep up the good work x

  2. John Atkinson

    Being mistaken for a famous person can happen to anyone; for instance, a couple of Irish girls stopped me one day and insisted that I was an Irish television person called “James Tree”. I don’t have an Irish accent, (Yorkshire, maybe?) but that did nothing to diminish their ardour. If anyone knows who this guy is, I’d love to hear.

  3. Paul Hemingway

    Good evening. I admire your tv work, I think I’ve seen all of it so far. My comment is, as I have seen you in so many series, can you be THAT shy? Sorry for all the commas. Keep up the great work. Paul.

  4. Jenna Hall

    Lovely little insight. Not sure I know anyone who still has thier first pair of underpants and if we want to be factually correct Nigel Slater falls far short of 42% !! Keep up the style and humour, both work great!

  5. Susan Beech

    When I met you, I found you very warm with a wicked sense of humour.

  6. Emily

    I was frequently likened to a famous Japanese pop singer when I was in Japan for a couple of weeks once. Also, being Australian in a Japanese school makes you somewhat of a temporary celebrity (a bunch of girls walked down the stairs, saw us, and started screaming at the top of their lungs in excitement – as though we were some kind of boy band!), but being shy and easily overwhelmed makes it a kind of terrifying experience.

    ‘Oi! Eff off back to 1912!’ makes me laugh too, though I feel it shouldn’t. If it had happened to me I’d have been disgruntled (to say the least) – why is it that people must always shout things from vans? Specifically vans. Very strange.

  7. Kevan Yates

    There has to be more to come about the lift I’m sure you can turn that into a positive.
    Some how!

  8. Jerry W

    You seem to be completely missing that contempt for the mass of humanity that “celebrities” so often develop, Lucy.

    Keep it up. Long may it stay that way. “Even the Queen goes to the lavatory,” as my old grandmother used to say…

  9. Michael

    Dear Lucy

    This is a lovely blog which not only stands in its own right, but also attracts such interesting comments.
    I have been likened to, even 50% misrecognised as, John Major, which is something I was reminded of by your reference to underpants. However, I have never had the recognition of being asked to ‘eff off back to 1979’.
    I love your writing style and your TV programmes, which are brilliantly crafted to cover both the lives of the royals and the big-wigs, and those of the ordinary folk too. I particularly like your presentation, your smile, and the fact that you have content – some historical programmes or documentaries seem to spend an hour on strange camera shots and atmospheric music, but provide little information.
    Please keep up the good work and don’t be shy about taking compliments!

  10. Stu Mulne

    Dr. Lucy:

    You’re giving me a headache from lack of sleep [grin].

    Sometime back, I was watching _something_ on one of the more PBS-like TV channels, and noticed a cute little blonde pixie. Other than “cute”, I didn’t give it much thought.

    Then, the other night, while digging around YouTube, I spotted you again. All over the place!

    I now know way more than I wanted to about things like Victorian toilets and Henry VIII’s underwear….

    Great stuff on BBC, and this site, too.

  11. Steve Nugent

    I love how informed you are in so many royal fields and how you pass it all on to us wearing that perfectly formed smile. And how you unexpectedly become somewhat naughty and mischievious to impress that history can also be both funny and fun.

  12. James Mc

    I could watch you reading the phone book…

    That is if there are still phone books being printed.

    Otherwise the list of side affects beside the advertisemnt of any prescription medicine.

    An Admirer from America.


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