The following story is by guest author Freedom Chevalier. If you enjoy this story, you can find more of Freedom’s work at her blog (freedomchevalier.com), follow her on twitter (@ReallyFreedom), or find her on Facebook.
Not dying has its advantages. For example, this year alone, I headlined at Glastonbury. I never expected I would as I’m not hip, or cool, or whatever the new word is. Of course, I’ve had hits. In this business, who hasn’t? But, that alone is not enough. It’s actually quite funny when you stop and think about it: there comes a point when the simple act of survival gives way to a certain celebrity status.
I had asked the record label to bring in a strong back up vocalist, someone fresh, young. A ‘draw.’ Someone, whose own star was on the rise. Paying it forward a little? Yes. And, hoping to entice some of the younger audience members to give a listen to my old tunes.
I hired Bronagh the minute she expressed interest. She had already charted a single. She had a small, but solid fan base of her own. She was someone to watch. She was not someone I had expected to apply for the back up spot.
She flustered when I asked her why she wanted this gig. She said she wanted to experience Glastonbury, before doing her own show there. Being comfortable with thousands of people watching you is a big thing on stage; you get it however you can. Backing a show, before doing one herself, was rather clever, I thought.
I listened to her demo again. She was good, and good for me. And, she was cute. A pretty, young woman with a strong voice and good stage skills is never a disadvantage to your show.
We arrived in the middle of a violent downpour. Our bus lurched into the parking space beside the hotel and we had to run it’s length to the entrance way. I attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to stave off the frigid sogging, by holding one of last year’s festival brochures above my head. The show might have been a great one, but it’s commemorative schedule offered little refuge. All gooseflesh and chattering teeth, I shivered into the hotel, waiting as Bronagh signed waterlogged autographs for the hundred or so of her fans who had gathered. I had long since reconciled to the knowledge that my show-goers had aged well past the stage-door crowd.
She shook off the rain, causing drops to spatter against the stained glass windows of the reception area. Guillaume, concierge extraordinaire, had us upstairs, in welcoming, warm rooms before we had time to soak the front lobby carpets. Road manager, Liam, was already barking orders to the band and crew as we made our way into the lift.
The only two girls in the show, Bronagh had suggested a room-share to save money. I didn’t mind. My diva days were long gone and I had the feeling she wasn’t fond of being alone. Life on the road is hard enough at the best of times; life on the road alone can be deadly if you’re young, pretty and lonely.
I was still peeling off wet socks when Liam knocked on my door. He handed me an updated schedule of events, forcing me to stash a mucky sock into the pocket of my fresh, dry jeans, its cruel dampness spreading along my thigh.
Bronagh’s schedule was attached; mine, delightedly, less demanding than hers. She’d be going to a launch party in less than an hour. I doubted I would see her before I crawled into bed, at 9 o’clock.
She opened the bathroom door, already dried and completely dressed. Shirttail tucked into smart tailored trousers, socks and shoes on. I had only gotten halfway done before Liam had appeared; my own shirt buttoned unevenly and hanging in a laughable state. I had failed dressing myself. Perhaps, I should reconsider a live show.
I undid the buttons and positioned myself in front of the dresser mirror, glasses on, tongue out, concentrating much too intently on the simple task at hand.
Liam tapped his foot with rhythmic impatience as she gathered her gear. He made good use of the opportunity and admonished me, once again, for not having my cellphone on and at the ready. I saluted him, and swore to be a good little singer. I promised to check it throughout the evening, at thirty-minute intervals. The instant they were gone I put my cell phone, and laptop, in the dresser drawer, bidding them both pleasant dreams.
Alone, at last, I ordered room service that arrived much faster than expected, along with a complimentary bottle of wine from a nearby vineyard.
I reviewed Liam’s schedule: I was not required to be famous until tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. It was now just a past seven. For the next fifteen or so hours, I could be plain, old, middle-aged me, who had a date with a bubble bath, book by Truman Capote and now a lovely bottle of Seyval blanc.
I crawled into bed, sufficiently pruned, ignoring the angry vibrations of my cell phone convulsing in the bedside stand. I had twelve hours of anonymity ahead of me, and I planned to embrace each and every one.
Liam’s incessant pounding on my room door at 7:05 a.m. roused the grumpier side of myself. I had requested a wake up call at 9:00. I didn’t welcome the early start to a day that would require patience, and performance.
“Did you see this?”
He threw the newspaper at me as he stormed in. Before at least one cup of coffee, I possess the reflexes of an inebriated sloth.
“No.” I answered as the newsprint tumbled to the floor. I left them, called the front desk to cancel my wake up call and requested an order for immediate coffee. Hanging up the telephone receiver, Liam once more thrust the paper in my face, willing a response. Again, I tossed the papers aside. Whatever travesty of justice the world was experiencing certainly didn’t concern me, and could wait until after a hot shower; a long, hot shower.
I could hear a muffled argument between Bronagh and Liam waft in from the sitting room, as I toweled off. She had settled there whatever time she arrived back last night. I felt bad for her taking the brunt of his A-Type personality temper tantrum. I heard the knock at the door declaring the presence of coffee.
Feeling a little more human, though not yet humane, I pushed past Liam, fury red, and Bronagh, slouched against the wall tears beginning to stream down her pale face. Drama. Oh, goodie.
Neither of them moved as I made my way to the coffee pot and poured myself a cup. I tugged the corner of the paper out from under Liam’s coat as I sat on the bed. My own face smiled up at me from my current publicity photo.
Above the fold.
Good news is never above the fold.
“You’re out.” Liam declared. Bronagh broke down crying as she ran into the bathroom, the door swinging closed behind her.
Out of what? I wondered. The festival? I’d survive – they already paid me. It was part of the fickle business of fame. I settled back against the headboard of the bed, and began to read.
He was tapping his foot again. I shot him a don’t-push-me look from behind the page. He shrugged, throwing his hands into the air in frustration.
He was right.
I was out.
The only thing was, I had never been in.
The scandal was written across the front page: Young Love at Glastonbury.
It seems, pretty, young, talented singer Bronagh Dixon had been recorded during a private conversation, without her knowledge, or consent, at a promotional event last evening. The transcript of the video had been added below her smiling picture.
“No, I’m not single. Not really. Well, I mean I’m not with anyone. But, there is someone that I really like. I actually love them. I do. It’s complicated.”
The other person in the conversation pressed her for details but she declined. The same interloper returned to chat with Bronagh, several whiskeys later. Bushmill’s was, after all, this year’s proud festival sponsor.
“I can’t say. She doesn’t even know. She knows me. It’s just that, she doesn’t really notice me. Not like that. I mean, she’s so private. If I said anything, Magdalene would kill me. Some people know about me. Okay, not many, but that’s just because, well, I mean, I’m not that important. But Magdalene? I don’t anyone outside the business even knows she’s gay. I mean, did you?”
There it was, in black-and-white, 16 point, Times New Roman font, above the fold. Magdalene Kent was gay. Well, I was; I am. That’s never been a secret. It’s just that I’ve just never been famous enough for anyone to care about before. But, Bronagh? Aye, there’s the rub. At the tender age of 23, she is that famous. Therefore, since I am the older woman, the much older woman according to the kind reporter who pointed out the twenty-five year age gap between Bronagh and myself, I am suddenly worthy of their attention; the center of this media hurricane.
I finished my coffee, letting the reality of the situation slide into focus. I folded the paper, putting it aside. I told Liam to leave. He registered his protest, loud enough for all those sharing the fourteenth floor with us to hear him, without misunderstanding; then obliged. I could hear Bronagh in the bathroom, mourning the loss of privacy. I could only imagine the weight she was carrying.
I knocked on the door, opening it. She looked up. Her young face stained by the thoughts of shattered careers, broken hearts and lives destroyed. She kept mouthing the words, “I’m sorry” over and over, but no sound eclipsed her pain.
I poured two coffees, both with healthy shots of Bushmill’s from the welcome basket. I ordered her to drink. The sobs began to give way to steady breathing. Her face reclaimed some of its puerile appearance, but anemic voids ached, where innocence once shone.
“My life if over. I wish I were dead.” She said, her voice broken-glassed and aching. She huddled against the side of the tub. “What do I do, now?”
Survive, I said.
The day crawled along with cameras at every nook and corner. She shivered. I put my arm around her. She stumbled. I offered my hand, wanting to help her find better footing. She dosed lightly against my shoulder, exhausted already by the day. I watched her, not yet certain if I was attracted to her. She was right, I had never considered her. She was a child. Wasn’t she? At her age I was divorced, had just moved to London and had a first hit song about to break open the charts. She stirred, harrowed even in sleep. She would bear no gentle dreams in the days or nights ahead.
Paparazzi with a potential scandal are malnourished sharks, feasting on the paltry drops of first blood. What you do, how you navigate their incursion will determine not what kind of career you have, but whether you will have one, at all. We have become a society of celebrity. Star status is no longer reserved for only those who exemplify the best of a chosen field. We are no longer the Dame Judi Denchs or Sir Ian Mckellens, we are the Kim Kardashians and Mikey Carrolls, shining as bright emblems of possibility and potential.
Without surprise to anyone, the festival sold out. Scalpers reportedly made triple the ticket price for their efforts. While most in attendance were there for the music, some came for the currency of our fame.
Bronagh’s agent called an hour after the final performance. Chat shows were queuing for her. A publisher wanted her life story. By the end of the week, she had been promised her own band and a European tour, culminating with a performance at the Brixton Academy.
Sometimes, not dying had its advantages.