Katie Price, the celebrity formerly known as Jordan, brought Poole’s Dolphin Centre to a standstill recently at a book signing for her latest novel, In the Name of Love.
Any doubts about the lingering popularity of the glamour model turned author were dispelled by the bank of cameraphones that greeted her arrival – an hour late – outside Boots for the signing organised by WH Smith. Accompanied by seven bodyguards and her children Junior and Princess, she signed books for fans and posed briefly for photos before being whisked off to Weymouth for another signing session.
It was a brief appearance, but one that perfectly proved the power of celebrity in the public imagination – the kind of power that brands and events work hard and pay well to tap into.
Celebrities appear in about 20 per cent of all adverts and event organisers know they stand a far better chance of securing valuable publicity if there are famous names on the guest list.
“I think people like to be in the proximity of someone famous, it makes them feel good about themselves, creates a buzz and where there’s a buzz there’s a sales opportunity,” says Liz Willingham, MD of Liz Lean PR, the Sandbanks-based public relations and event management agency.
“Matching the right celebrity to the brand or the event is actually a very difficult thing to do. For instance, someone like Katie Price tends to divide people – for every one person she attracts she would send another running.
“On the other hand, Phil Spencer was great at the Dorset Property Awards last year – he’s a very neutral name, I don’t think he could possibly offend anyone.
“Debra Stephenson is a relatively fresh face locally but she has done a lot over the last couple of years. She’s a really genuine, bright, down to earth lady who is very committed to this area. She does a lot for Julia’s House and was wonderful at the Beales charity fashion show.”
Sometimes the match-making process throws up a happy accident such as when Karren Brady was booked for an intimate lecture and Q&A session as part of the launch of Bournemouth University’s Executive Business Centre the week it was announced she would replace Margaret Mountford as Alan Sugar’s assistant on The Apprentice.
“That worked out incredibly well for all concerned,” says Liz. “We had to work hard to find the right person for the job and got Karren just as her star started to rise. Karren’s career has a bit of an edge to it, but the University totally bought into it and members of the audience are still talking about it two years later!”
However, fame can be fickle – for some it is a few fleeting moments, for others a fortune-making rocket ride to the stars. Today’s celebrity could be a superstar tomorrow, or a nobody – and the transition can be as stark and instant as that.
“Celebrity works because it instantly creates a link between someone the public knows and whatever brand or business has paid to be associated with it,” says Steven Foster, MD of GTI, the Bournemouth digital agency that has worked with the likes of Harry Hill, Scott Mills, Duncan Bannatyne and James Caan.
“But there can be a very fast turnaround. The year before last Lloyd Daniels the former X Factor contestant closed Post Office Road in Bournemouth with a personal appearance at ShakeAway, but where is he now? He was on the same series as Olly Murs who’s a massive star and yet they both started at the same point with the same guidance and handlers.
“Some of them are able to harness the power of television and other media to make them stronger attractors until, as with someone like Katie Price, or the Beckhams, they become a brand in themselves.”
But what is it about famous people that makes them so fascinating to the rest of us that we want to buy products or go to events to be like them?
“These people have something in common- they are attractors,” says Steven. “In other words, they attract success and in turn people are attracted to that, thereby attracting customers to the brands they are promoting. It’s hypnotic and illustrates just how powerful a medium television is – TV is essential in creating the kind of instant celebrity we see today.”
Away from the bright lights and flashguns though, it’s probably worth remembering that celebrities are not really that different from the rest of us.
“Harry Redknapp is a lovely neighbour,” says Liz. “He stops at the shop every morning for his paper and always has the time of day, remembers who you are, that kind of thing. Celebrities are just people – you get good and bad ones, just like with everyone else.”
By Nick Churchill, Seeker News