I like to think that I’m too intelligent, too sophisticated and too cultured to get excited by the presence of a famous person. Let the manipulated masses enjoy the bread and circus of celebrity; we enlightened members of the metropolitan elite are far above that sort of thing!

Or so we like to think. Whenever I encounter the famous, something very strange happens to me: I go all groupie. I get excited. I giggle. I inwardly drool. I long to please. I want to be their new best friend. I want to tell all my friends...

I like to think that I’m too intelligent, too sophisticated and too cultured to get excited by the presence of a famous person. Let the manipulated masses enjoy the bread and circus of celebrity; we enlightened members of the metropolitan elite are far above that sort of thing!

Or so we like to think. Whenever I encounter the famous, something very strange happens to me: I go all groupie. I get excited. I giggle. I inwardly drool. I long to please. I want to be their new best friend. I want to tell all my friends about meeting my famous new friend — who isn’t actually my friend, but never mind. I was reminded of my groupie tendencies the other day when I went to the Idler Festival, Britain’s best arts and literary festival. I usually hate those sorts of events. But this one is small, charming and fun. There are no big-name authors swanning around trying to make people like me feel small.

So there I was sitting on the lawn listening to a serious Turkish novelist discuss the crisis of liberalism, human rights and her new novel when I spotted the actress Rachel Weisz walk in and sit down in the audience. And so did everyone else. The word spread fast: look, there’s Rachel Weisz. Suddenly we all thought the same thing: screw the crisis of liberalism, how can I get a selfie with Rachel?

I spent the next twenty minutes practicing my opening lines — and I was just about to move in and make contact when she took off. I was going to give chase when I thought: get a grip! Don’t be such a starstruck slut! Have some dignity! And then I ran into Jarvis Cocker, the former lead singer of Pulp, a British band who had their fifteen minutes of fame in the 1990s. I’m not a big Jarvis or Pulp fan — but that didn’t stop me from launching into a lavish and embarrassing display of Jarvis-arse (Jarse?) kissing. Later, when I tried to sit on his lap, he pushed me away, gently.

What is wrong with me? Rationally, I know that fame is fleeting and fatuous and the famous are no different from you and me. For Heaven’s sake! I’ve read Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and Seneca on the subject — and yet I can’t stop myself.

Wonder what sort of a sad sack asks for a selfie with someone famous? Answer: me. Of course my selfie is an ironic selfie. I tell myself I’m deconstructing the tropes of celebrity; but I tell my friends: hey, look at who I just met! The truth is that we who are hip to the machinations and manipulations of celebrity culture are often the biggest groupies of them all. I have a female friend who has a PhD and has taught at Oxford, but introduce her to a famous person and this formidable intellectual becomes a gushing fangirl.

Not for the Justin Biebers of this world, I hasten to add, but the rock stars of intellectual/academic life. She once confessed that she’d shag Slavoj Žižek if given the chance. I said, “You’re such a groupie!” “No!” she said, it was his “brilliant mind” that turned her on. “You mean his famous brilliant mind, don’t you?”

Fame is the difference between platonic admiration and intimate penetration; it’s the stuff that makes you a legend and gets you laid. But it’s taboo for intelligent and bookish people like my friend to admit they are impressed by or interested in the famous.

They are, though, and that’s why they go to literary festivals. They pretend it’s about books but nobody goes because they’re passionate about books; they go to bask in the company of famous writers. And they are much too high-minded to ask for an autograph like some common pop fan — unless it’s a signed copy of the famous author’s new book. It’s so uncool to care about famous people until you realize that no one is so infatuated with the famous as the famous. That’s why they hang out together all the time. Have you ever seen Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters fame talk about the time Paul McCartney came over to his house? He’s like some big kid who has wet his pants.

I shouldn’t mock. Once I was in bed with a woman when my brother knocked on the door and told me Eric Clapton was downstairs. Eric Clapton! I immediately withdrew, got dressed and charged downstairs to meet Eric, leaving my baffled lover all alone for the next three hours. For some reason she never returned my calls. What did I care? I got the Eric Clapton encounter!

I have talked about my fame problem with Zadie Smith and Jonathan Franzen — two of the loveliest and smartest people you will ever meet. I unfortunately haven’t met them yet — but I have worked out my opening lines in case I do.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s September 2022 World edition.