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Tim Walker's Star Turns lifts the lid on celebrity and our shifting politics

Tim Walker's Star Turns lifts the lid on celebrity and our shifting politics

Tim Walker’s new book ‘Star Turns’ takes the ‘gold dust’ write-ups on his interviews with some of entertainment’s biggest stars, tracking their careers, and in some cases their journeys into political consciousness, whilst inadvertently commenting on his own journey and reflections on the state of the world.

A career which spans the Daily Mail and the New European would suggest a development in your own politics, although Walker suggests that it is less him that has changed, but the landscape around him. Over a latte and an earl grey in a Notting Hill café, we discussed how the internet hit the art of writing, and that the media has polarised in an attempt to sweep up audience; the middle has collapsed. The Telegraph, where Walker spent more than a decade – briefly working alongside now-prime minister Boris Johnson – has exemplified this more than most. One of the staples of British print journalism has increasingly platformed arguably more extreme views, a reflection on the need for media outlets to shock readers into clicking the link and monetising their article.

But that is not what Star Turns is about, although it does comment on the changing landscapes. Star Turns strikingly portrays how celebrities are just as conscious of the world as the rest of us and have equally grand plans of how to fix things. It is an insight into celebrity, with a political undercurrent, and Tim Walker takes an approach that can be difficult in portraying the rich and famous; he does not shy away from the bad.

The honest assessments of the time he spent with some of the best-known entertainers lays bare occasional personality flaws of these characters, but demonstrates how they build the somewhat mythical celebrity character we know them to be. There is no portrayal of ‘stars’ as being provident and destined for success, but an account of how they developed as people. This is something that some revelled in, such as Roger Moore, who Walker describes as being indifferent, if not appalled, by the vanity and exceptionalism that denotes celebrity status. Though Walker notes that plenty were expecting the kid-glove treatment in his write-ups that we would expect prima donnas to demand, there are no illusions about which type of personality he preferred.

Although not explicitly a political book, rarely can Walker avoid giving his political opinion, which is lathered throughout, but the same is also true of many of his subjects. Hugh Grant’s recent career is underlined by outbursts of his political opinion even more passionate than his Love Actually character taking on the US President for coming on to Natalie.

Hugh Grant’s development as a political being is perhaps the most insightful passage in the book. Walker described Grant as being different from other stars in his willingness to openly discuss politics – opining that it is perhaps as a result of his involvement in the Leveson enquiry following his phone being hacked by journalists. Grant is described as possessing a ‘crystal clear patriotism’ that motivated his campaigning against Brexit, and against Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in the 2019 general election.

Grant’s earlier career was not underlined by politics, although he did become a symbol for the romantic comedies that dominated the early 2000’s ‘Cool Britannia’. It is a far more recent development stemming from his own knowledge of the world around him and a liberalism similar to Walker’s own, that the country can and should be better than it is right now.

Grant’s movement towards politics may have come later in his career, but many of Walker’s interviewees were steeped in politics from the beginning. Patrick Stewart was just 5 years old when he first held a Labour Party placard in West Yorkshire and was continuing to fly the flag for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017 – although he would later cool his support for the left-wing ex-Labour leader over anti-Semitism in the party.

The genius of Star Turns, is that in choosing what he says about each person’s politics, Walker reveals his own. Patrick Stewart’s quote that we are getting used to politicians without scruples saying ‘the great big lie or outrageous thing’ perhaps matters less for Stewarts own views than it does for explaining why Walker anthologised his interviews, and which quotes he included.

The theme that things in our politics and our media are getting worse is clear from every page. From Ronnie Corbett being thoroughly unimpressed by Prime Minister David Cameron – ‘too eager to please’ – to the far more damning portrayal of more recent politicians (Boris Johnson and Donald Trump) by Patrick Stewart, there is a clear sense that it has gotten worse and something needs to be done.

Using the names of such important and consequential entertainers to represent the winds of change adds far more legitimacy than any writer could on their own. These names also ensure that varied solutions can be placed on the record by Walker, ensuring different approaches that may be needed can all have their air time. Whether it be a patriotism of decency from Hugh Grant, or poking fun at our current predicament through treading the boards in satirical theatre, Walker offers many solutions that his subjects had offered to him.

It is the latter that Walker is turning his own hand to, with his upcoming play, ‘Bloody Difficult Women’. It follows Gina Miller’s battle to ensure Parliament had the last word on the Brexit deal, in the landmark legal case Miller v Brexit Secretary in 2017. He tells me that although Gina Miller herself was too put together and professional to make an interesting theatrical character, there are plenty of other characters from the media and political spheres that ensure he could make Bloody Difficult Women an entertaining play with plenty of laughs, alongside a prescient social commentary.

Star Turns may not be a book about politics, or about Walker himself, but the political commentary and his views are clear throughout; that’s what makes it not just enjoyable and readable, but a prescient book on our current predicament.

For more information about the book click here, or to find out more about Tim Walker's play, click here.

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