Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Celebrity Mum

One of the parents at my daughter’s school is an honest-to-God celebrity.

She co-hosts a highly-rated prime-time talk show. It’s in Finnish, of course, so I don’t understand an awful lot of it, but even my husband (harsh and snide tv critic) watches the show avidly, commenting that it’s clever and funny.

The first time I met Celebrity Mum, I had absolutely no idea she was famous. We were picking our respective children up from a birthday party, and we got chatting. I innocently asked her, “So, what do you do?”

She looked at me with confusion – I guess she doesn’t get that question very often. Suddenly her face softened into understanding. She grinned broadly and with obvious relief, realising that I genuinely had no idea who she was.

CM: “I’m a…journalist.”
Me: “Oh, really? Do you work for a newspaper?”
CM: “Actually, I’m in tv.”

I'm ON tv, to be exact. A few questions later I finally caught on, realising that she was a “journalist” in the same way that Barack Obama is a “public servant”.

I didn’t realize quite how famous she was until one afternoon when my daughter had a few friends over for a playdate. CM came to pick up her little girl right at the same time as another mum friend of mine, S (whose child goes to a different school). I could see an instant glimmer of recognition in S’s eyes, but she said nothing and just chatted warmly with CM. Later, though, she called me.

“Oh my God. Is that who I think it was? You do know, don’t you, that she is about as famous as a person can possibly be in Finland?”

And then, at my daughter’s birthday party, my 13-year-old niece saw CM dropping off her daughter, and literally freaked out. Go and say hello, I said. She’s so nice! But my niece was completely star-struck and overcome, and could only gaze at CM, slack-jawed and in awe, from a safe distance.

I like CM. She is warm and friendly. She is cheerful and funny; self-deprecating and real. At our girls’ recent Christmas concert, she was the mum who landed a seat in the very back row, and with quiet eagerness stood up on her chair for a better view of her daughter. I asked her once, in all seriousness, if she uses some special product to keep her daughter’s hair shiny and tangle-free (no joke, this kid has perfect hair, even at pick-up time, when my own daughter’s is frizzy, bedraggled and hopelessly knotted). CM almost killed herself laughing – big, stomach-grabbing guffaws! – finally exclaiming how funny it was to hear me say that, seeing as it was a miracle if she even brushed F’s hair every day.  

She’s just so genuine and personable.

And yet, at every school concert and every birthday party, CM is the mum sitting by herself, without anyone to talk to. Everyone who knows Who She Is apparently feels too intimidated to approach her, and she seems somehow shy and withdrawn in these big social situations. If I’m the Mum who rushes around waving and hugging people, and talking excitedly (and just that little bit too loudly), CM is the mum who stands by quietly; smiling in a friendly way but remaining on the outer; giving other people the limelight.

It must be strange to be in her position. As a star with a huge fan base to protect and nurture, you would want to be friendly and social wherever you go. At the same time, you would have to be so careful (especially with Finns) not to paint yourself as a show-off who always seeks the limelight. People might behave awkwardly around you, feeling tongue-tied or awestruck because you’re that lady who’s on national tv. People might watch you with intent, waiting for you to do or say something stupid that they could report to the media. People might try to misuse photos they’d taken of you or your daughter.

She is famous and successful and widely loved and admired, and yet she is a virtual outsider within her own peer group.

That must really suck.

I had always thought it would be fantastic to achieve that level of stardom – to be a national figure. And yet, in many ways, wouldn’t it be awful?

I’m an ordinary person; unknown outside my immediate circle of friends and family; just another mum.  I blend comfortably into the crowd. People treat me like one of themselves. 

I never before realized what a great thing that really is.  

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  1. I have met a few Finnish celebrities, none of whom I knew, so i was able to remain quite natural!

    But nothing can match a family friend who once met Johnny Depp and, clearly not being a cinema goer, asked innocently: "And what do you do?". Depp answered cooly: "I am an actor".

  2. It must be a little lonely too, never quite being "in" with the mums, and yet never really wanting to be for the reasons you have mentioned above - should it be used against you. Its a shame the world is like that, but there it is.

  3. Olli, hilarious story about Johnny Depp! I can see that happening to me... "Do I know you from somewhere?"

    anobservantmind, exactly - I do think it must be quite a lonely thing to be in her position. It's as though she is being punished for having worked hard and succeeded in a difficult industry...