Fascination is universal for what Aaron Spelling, a prolific producer of American soap operas, once called “rich people having problems that money can’t solve”. The fascinated in star-struck Britain have no equal. The country has a profusion of titles devoted to chronicling even the smallest doings of celebrities. Britons buy almost half as many celebrity magazines as Americans do, despite having a population that is only one fifth the size. Celebrity news often makes the front page of British tabloid newspapers, providing a formidable distribution channel for stories about celebrities. New figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations show that the ten best-selling celebrity publications and ten most popular tabloids have a combined circulation of 23 million.
Satisfying this voracious demand has turned what was once a shoddy, amateurish business into an entertainment industry in its own right. Its business model has two distinguishing features. First, celebrity has become the product – rather than just a device for marketing films or music. The “talent” (if that is the word) owes its standing chiefly to the celebrity machine and not to any particular gift. It, therefore, depends on the attentions of the press to make money. Second, celebrities, agents, photographers, and picture desks have found that the most efficient way to create an endless supply of celebrity news is to work together. A business that used to be based on intrusion has discovered a preference for collaboration.
It is also expanding abroad. In the past few weeks, Northern & Shell has launched an American edition of OK!, a celebrity magazine that already has Australian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern editions. EMAP recently launched Closer in France and already published a South African edition of Heat, a best-seller in Britain. Celebrity hounds who cut their teeth in Britain’s competitive market are in demand abroad. The National Enquirer, a hard-nosed American scandal sheet famed for pushing back the boundaries of taste – and of free speech – was relaunched earlier in the year by a team led by Paul Field, formerly of The Sun, and stuffed with alumni of British tabloids and magazines.
Celebrity magazines were not a British invention. Hello!, which is still widely read but which has been waning of late, originated in Spain, where Hola! provided a hint of glamour to women under Franco’s drab reign. Before that, magazines grew up around the film industry in America. Some reported what the studios wanted them to say; others, such as Confidential – which became the biggest-selling magazine in America in the 1950s – aimed to dish the dirt on the stars. In Britain, celebrity news has been used to sell newspapers for more than a century. The News of the World, which gleefully reported aristocratic scandals in the 19th century, first appeared in the same year as Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”.
Modern Britain has given the gossip a new sophistication. Part of the secret has been to separate celebrity revenue streams. Julian Henry of Henry’s House, an agency for celebrities, distinguishes between a celebrity’s craft (such as singing, stripping, or kicking footballs) and their celebrity rating, which has a trajectory of its own, and often has an inverse relationship to the talent a famous person has, or once had. This second stream can often be more valuable than the first, and Britain’s celebrity industry has become adept at creating and selling it.
Take Peter Andre and Katie Price, who are to marry later this month. The pop singer and the model better known as Jordan, met when their careers were flagging, on a reality TV show – that essential new cog in the celebrity machine. They have sold rights to the wedding, built around a Cinderella theme, as an exclusive to OK! for a small fortune (a price, the gossip press says, that has irked Victoria Beckham, whose marriage to her footballer husband was covered by a million-pound contract). In the past, such sums have been reserved for authentic stars such as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The deal included more than wedding snaps: over a year of the couple’s life – from prenuptial nerves to the first birthday of the expected offspring – was bundled together and sold as a commodity. Ms. Price, who once said the only book she had read was the story of the Yorkshire Ripper, has now signed a three-book deal with Random House.
Paul Ashford of Northern & Shell, the company that owns OK!, calls this stuff “relationship journalism”, and it is pretty easy to spot. The process has become so effective that the three celebrities who insiders say shift most copies of OK! have all been manufactured in this way. With celebrity stories able to have such a powerful effect on sales, it is unsurprising that their manufacture is not left to chance. Modern celebrity in Britain is also more egalitarian. Tittle-tattle about dukes and duchesses is worth less than stories on ordinary folk, partly because ordinary folk make for more colourful copy. The News of the World boosted circulation by 250,000 when it put the Beckhams on its cover last year after David Beckham was alleged to have had a love affair. Such cases show how celebrities’ willing participation can come back to haunt them if they transgress. This is less common than you might think: many of the celebrity pictures that look like plain intrusion into private lives are staged.
This is partly thanks to the profit motive. Many celebrities don’t see why they should give away their image when they could make money from it. Darren Lyons runs a photography agency called Big Pictures that specialises in shooting celebrities through long lenses as if for a paparazzi picture. The profits from the picture sales are then split between the subject, the agency, and the photographer. “We’re almost known as the friendly paparazzi,” grins Mr. Lyons from the high-backed, red leather judicial chair in his office, a lion-skin rug spread across the floor. Collaboration allows celebrities to retain some control over choosing the pictures that appear.
For each question, only ONE of the choices is correct.
27. British people buy
A as many celebrity magazines as Americans do.
B more celebrity magazines per head of population than Americans.
C a grand total of 23 million celebrity magazines each year.
28. The National Enquirer is
A a tasteful magazine.
B now owned by British people.
C now employing many British journalists.
29. The News of the World
A is an American newspaper.
B has been published for over a hundred years.
C published extracts from “A Christmas Carol”.
30. Darren Lyons
A works with celebrities.
B is disliked by many celebrities.
C doesn’t co-operate with newspapers and magazines.
Complete the following sentences using NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the text for each gap.
Britain’s celebrity industry is good at (31)………………………a celebrity rating.
Peter Andre and Katie Price’s wedding will have a (32)………………………..
According to some, the three stars that can increase sales of OK! most all participate in (33)…………………..
(34)………………………make more interesting subjects for stories.
If celebrities co-operate with agencies and photographers, they (35)…………………….with regard to which photographs of them are published.
Do the following statements agree with the information given in Reading Passage 3? In boxes 36 – 40 on your answer sheet, write
TRUE if the statement agrees with the information
FALSE if the statement contradicts the information
NOT GIVEN If there is no information on this
36. Aaron Spelling has produced many American soap operas.
37. The “talent” (paragraph 2) refers to the celebrity.
38. Confidential was first published in the 1950s.
39. At Henry’s House, the celebrity’s ability is linked to their celebrity rating.
40. Peter Andre and Katie Price were becoming more successful when they met.