a. congratulates me on my recent marriage (yes, very quietly, last November) and then b. asks me: ‘what’s it like to be recognized’?
While hoping not to sound grandiose, I calculate that I’ve become 2.5% famous.
(This is on the scale of the Queen being 100% famous, Paul McCartney 98%, etc. Clearly I’ve chosen a numerical rather than an alphabetical measurement because 2.5% sounds better than ‘Y-list celebrity’.)
Anyway, here are the pluses and minuses of my new condition:
1. Plus: People saying nice things
The best thing is having people of all ages writing to me to tell me they’ve been inspired to read more history, learn more history, sometimes even go to college to study more history, because of some project or other with which I’ve been involved. (This is just great, and outweighs all the minuses below.)
2. Minus: People saying nice things … in person
People sometimes stop me to talk. Now, being essentially rather shy, I don’t handle this very well. I’ve been told that I react as if I’ve been caught red-handed doing something wrong. I’m a little bit better at it now.
3. Plus: Being amusingly mistaken for other people
However, a positive side of this phenomenon is a succession of amusing cases of mistaken identity. I’m often complimented on being Amanda Vickery, for example. And only this week I noticed a woman looking at me narrowly on the train. ‘I recognize you!’ she said, proudly. ‘You’re a teacher, aren’t you, at the Trinity School, Leamington Spa?’
4. Minus: Not in fact being recognized at all
Recently, during the interval of a concert at the Barbican, the lady sitting behind me tapped me on the shoulder. I put on my smile and got ready to say ‘thank you so much!’ Alas, it wasn’t required. ‘Can you please’, she said, ‘not WRIGGLE ABOUT so much in the second half?’
(See no. 2 above? You thought that was just Bridget-Jones-type-paranoia, but here’s evidence that it’s not.)
5. Another minus: Being half-recognized
Uncouth people shouting: ‘Oi! Are you off the telly?’
But here’s another recent memorable incident: I was walking quietly down the street with my rather nice cream Dowager-Countess-of-Grantham-type parasol. A man in a van wound down his window and yelled:
‘Oi! Eff off back to 1912!’
A curious mixture of uncouth, yet at the same time historically accurate.
6. Plus: Getting to meet interesting people.
For example, I went along to the amazingly star-studded Jubilee party at the Royal Academy. There was even a red carpet (but it didn’t occur to me until later that I could have walked up it. I sneaked furtively round behind all the photographers’ backs, again probably unwittingly giving the impression that I was a gate-crasher. See no. 2 above).
To be honest, while I was pleased to be in the same room as Paul McCartney, I haven’t got that much to say to him. But I was thrilled to meet various people whom I much admire in the lower third quartile, like Mary Beard (35%) and Nigel Slater (42%).
7. Minus: Not knowing what to say to them
However, because of the above-mentioned shyness, I didn’t manage to say much to either of them either. My problem was that I was lacking a prop for conversation. I also recently found myself in a lift with Dara O Briain and Rob Brydon. On this occasion, fortunately, I wasn’t at all tongue-tied because luckily I had with me my very first pair of underpants (left). That got conversation going.
8. Plus: Going to interesting places
I have more invitations to go to interesting places, very often to give a talk. However, this is problematic because of…
9. Minus: Not having time to go
This is a huge reversal of the last fifteen years of my life, where my default position has been:
‘You’d like me to give a talk about history? Of course. What date and time?’
And very many evenings of the last fifteen years I have been out and about with my PowerPoint presentations.
(NB my PowerPoint presentations are much more interesting than the words ‘my PowerPoint presentations’ may initially suggest.)
However, now I simply can’t say yes to everything I’d like to do or else I would never be at home. So I’ve learned the hard way to say a reluctant ‘sorry no’ sometimes – but honestly, each time it feels like stamping on the head of a kitten.
10. That’s it! But it felt wrong to leave it at nine …