I grew up in an era of proper celebrities who earned their fame

Another week and another non-entity leaves the X-Factor while whatsisface wins the latest edition of Big Brother.

All this and Strictly Come Dancing trundles on as I’m a Celebrity prepares to resuscitate (or kill-off entirely) the careers of a dozen Z-listers.

As someone who avoids such shows like the plague, I often yearn for the days when stars were stars – not someone who had simply blubbed in front of the nation or showered for the cameras.

The definition of a celebrity is a famous or well-known person but these days the word has been diluted to such an extent that any Tom, Dick or Harry who has been on the telly for five minutes – irrespective of their obvious talent vacuum – can earn the label.

People we wouldn’t know if we fell over them in the street – the ‘stars’ of Geordie Shore, The Only Way Is Essex or My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding – are tragically classed as famous. Basically for being, er… famous.

But it wasn’t always like this. Turn back the clock a quarter of a century and there was no internet to speak of, no reality TV and mobile communications were in their infancy.

Back in the Eighties, if you were famous it was usually because you were good at something and people liked or at least respected you for it.

Generally speaking, you also had to have served your time – shown enough talent and been around long enough to have been talked about, written about and seen enough to warrant fame.

When I recall the celebrities – for want of a better word – who dominated my formative years, they had that status on merit.

(I am not, here, talking about the time that I met Grotbags at the Garden Festival).

As the blockbuster movie phenomenon took hold, stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy, Harrison Ford and the assorted beautiful people who made up the Brat Pack loomed large into our collective consciousness.

Then there were the sporting celebrities of that period – genuine icons whose auras haven’t diminished with the passing of time. For instance, I put my love of cricket down to watching the colossus that was Ian Botham (now Sir Ian) almost single-handedly wrestle the little urn from the Aussies back in 1981.

I know the killer statistic off-by-heart: Five wickets for one run off 28 balls. Enough said.

Then there was Daley Thompson (now a CBE) whose gold medal-winning heroics at the Olympics in 1980 and 1984 enthralled millions.

Let’s face it, most Olympic sports are boring and rubbish but Daley ran, jumped and chucked stuff better than anyone. I mean, what’s not to like about the decathlon?

Sticking with athletics, who could forget the rivalry between working class hero Steve Ovett and the posh lad Seb Coe? Those boys made actually made running watchable. For a short while, at least.

The Eighties was also the decade that snooker entered our living rooms and we all, inexplicably, sat up until the wee small hours watching a one-man domination of a sport.

This, of course, prompted a huge spike in sales of fold-away, six foot by three foot snooker tables like the one mum and dad brought me for Christmas in 1983.

A world champion no less than six times in the decade, the ginger magician Steve Davis OBE was nothing if not interesting.

At the time, Gary Lineker was the darling of England football fans – back when yours truly still gave a monkey’s about the national team.

Famously never booked or sent off during his illustrious career, his reputation at the time was as white as his freshly-pressed Spurs shirt.

He was a far cry from today’s high-profile England stars who can’t seem to go a week without appearing in the tabloid press for all the wrong reasons.

Interestingly, back in the 80s even politicians seemed to have genuine stature and a celebrity status which transcended the kind of spin-doctoring that goes on today.

I wonder how much of this was down to a certain television programme which mercilessly poked fun at the great and the good?

First airing in 1984, the multi BAFTA-nominted Spitting Image turned the country’s top politicians into figures of fun. And we loved it.

There was a time when many people could name all of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet – simply because they had been so brilliantly caricatured by Spitting Image.

It helped, of course, that the Iron Lady herself was such a powerful figure – not only in the UK but also on the world stage.

No matter what anyone thinks of her now, I somehow can’t see Maggie playing lap-dog to George W. Bush like a certain Prime Minister of ours famously did not so long ago.

By the same token, even the royal family seemed larger than life back then – prior to the scandals and the tragedy which rocked the house of Windsor to its foundations in the Nineties.

In my lifetime, there hasn’t been a more famous person than Princess Diana whom I bumped into at Alton Towers, of all places, while I was learning my trade as a cub reporter.

She was out with her two young boys and they went past me on the Log Flume.

At the time I remember thinking that I had just taken a photograph of the most famous person in the world.

For all her faults – the beautiful, vulnerable, misunderstood and ultimately tragic Princess of Wales deserved the fame she both enjoyed and hated in equal measure.

I honestly can’t think of a single, modern celebrity who can hold a candle to her.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia


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