BROOKE GLADSTONE: Fame, grown old and threadbare, is a cheerless thing. Peter O'Toole doing a Pizza Hut commercial is the most poignant example of what I'm talking about. All the more so because some people, some smug Ugly American type people, might suggest that the whole of Great Britain in its waning cultural influence is similarly pitiable. I mean I wouldn't say that, but Garfield would. He went to London, and he brought back this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You've looked after loads of celebrities and made them up and--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- which one's your favorite? Who's your favorite--
[BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Oh, God! There's loads! I do loads, but I really liked Gail Port [sic] -- she's absolutely brilliant. I do Melanie Sykes, Melinda Messinger, a range of, you know, all different ages.
BOB GARFIELD:Gail Porter, Melanie Sykes and Melinda Messinger. Who in the world are Gail Porter, Melanie Sykes and Melinda Messinger? They're nobody, that's who they are. Great Britain is at the moment so painfully bereft of world class celebrities that their demi-celebrity chat show hostesses are reduced to interviewing demi-celebrity hair dressers about the demi-celebrity entertainers whom you almost certainly have never heard of. For a country that produced Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, 007 Sean Connery, Princess Diana and the Beatles, the current celebrity drought is an embarrassment and a heartbreak.
MAN: Any time you went to an event you always knew you had to put your best dinner suits and bow tie on; it's been a long time since I wore a dinner suit and a bow tie.
BOB GARFIELD: Richard Young is a freelance celebrity photographer who has been shooting pop stars and royalty for forty years.
MAN:People I'm going to photograph in, in London doesn't really warrant it, and I look around me and I see this - the people that everybody is going mad about, and I think to myself these are not stars! How - for crying out loud can these people have the audacity to call themselves celebrities?
BOB GARFIELD: Who are the big celebrities in the, in the United Kingdom right now?
WOMAN I guess you'd say Robbie Williams. Gordon Brown--
BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you a followup question please. Who are Robbie Williams and Gordon Brown?
WOMAN Well one is a pop star; one's a politician.
BOB GARFIELD: Here's the one who isn't a politician.
[SONG LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU] The song is titled Let Me Entertain You. You can hear it on your favorite top 40 station --never. Excuse me -- I'm Bob Garfield for National Public Radio in Washington -- can I ask you a question? Who are your big celebrities?
WOMAN It's got to be David Beckham's wife, yeah, Hush Spice [sp?].
MAN: The celebrities in England -- Nasser Hussein, the English Cricket captain. He's, he's one of my favorites--
MAN: I don't know - Tom Cruise--
BOB GARFIELD: Tom Cruise - American.
MAN: Yeah. Christina Ricci; Michelle Pfeiffer--
BOB GARFIELD: American, American.
MAN: Yeah, worldwide I think most of the big actors and actresses are American.
MAN: David Beckham I suppose and his wife, Hush.
BOB GARFIELD: That's the best you can come up with.
MAN: Yeah. Afraid so.
BOB GARFIELD: Isn't that a pitiful state of affairs?
MAN: It's sad. Sad.
BOB GARFIELD: It's worse than sad. It's pathetic. Whenever Britain comes up with a decent celebrity --Anthony Hopkins, Elizabeth Hurley, say -- they pick up and move to the United States where we have Hollywood and a superior way of life. Indeed, like Russia with wheat and North Korea with rice, the Britannia that for decades exported its big stars, its music and its fashion now is reduced to importing from the States! Madonna's arrival has given Fleet Street a chance to hound somebody significant for the first time since the death of Princess Diana. It's all a sign, says University of Sussex media studies professor Andy Medhurst of a nation that is living so obsessively in the past that it has lost its grip on the present.
PROF. ANDY MEDHURST: England's become a kind of theme park country for lots of people who visit here. They - half the things they tick off - it's like Disneyland with royalty - things they want to take home with the are the images and memories of the English past, and the English present doesn't interest many people outside England. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD:Witness Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery, a movie that spoofs the time when Britain was setting the cultural agenda for the world.
MIKE MYERS AS AUSTIN POWERS: Oh, behave! [LAUGHS] Yeah! Yeah, baby! [LAUGHS] Yeah.
PROF. ANDY MEDHURST: And he's a Canadian who's become an American pretending to be an Englishman! So there you go!
BOB GARFIELD: How embarrassing is that?! But this tragic dearth of indigenous celebrity resources isn't merely embarrassing. It's the final proof, after the March of the Euro, the flop of the Millennium Dome and the U.S. military domination of the Balkan Crisis that the country that defeated the Spanish Armada, that controlled colonies on four continents, that faced down Hitler is now completely irrelevant to the rest of the world. What Robbie Williams proves once and for all is that the sun has set on the British Empire. Professor Medhurst.
PROF. ANDY MEDHURST: The days when we could claim to have sort of cultural dominance across the Atlantic certainly are long, long gone. I think what we have to do is recognize where our place on the global ladder is, and we always had a very inflated idea of where that was, and I guess now we're having to-- to face facts. You know, we're a small island off the northwest coast of Europe which is not a bad thing - it's just the thing that is.
BOB GARFIELD:They've given us their language. They've given us their Common Law. They've given us their muffins. Once upon a time the British wove an exquisite tapestry of accomplishment. Now they are a faded, musty drop cloth of a former world power, and if you expect them to continue entertaining us, you can just put it out of your mind. The Princess is dead. Long live Madonna.
BOB GARFIELD: Can I ask you a question?
MAN: Yeah, go.
BOB GARFIELD: Who are your big celebrities?
MAN: You know I don't know - at the moment I really can't bring anyone to mind. Sorry. [LAUGHS]