As I wandered home from work the other day I saw a curious thing. Walking towards me through Soho came Hugh Laurie in disguise. Bearded, cycle-clad and clutching a motorbike helmet; Lt. George channelling Ewan McGregor on the Long Way Round. Surreal though this encounter was, living in London, it has not been my only celebrity encounter. A few weeks ago, again near my office, I was almost run over by a lorry in an attempt to avoid treading on Griff Rhys Jones. Kate Middleton (or rather her/Prince William's dog) once trod on me, rounding a corner of the Kings Road. Grace the covers of Tatler and Hello she may well do, but she did not say sorry!
When I first moved to London I stayed with a hugely kind relative in a flat above a fine Chelsea restaurant. "It's always full of famous people. You'll see loads of them" she assured me, "Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger, Christine Hamilton". (Christine Hamilton? Now on a par with Peter Andre and Christopher Biggins after her stint in the "I'm a Celebrity" jungle?!). Well I lived in that flat for nearly four and a half months. Care to hazard a guess how many celebs I saw in the restaurant below? None. Not one. Until the moment I came to move out into my current flat. A friend arrived to pick up my stuff and when I opened the door to her she bolted inside then squeaked at me for 30 seconds. "OhmygodIthinkthatsColinFirthhavingdinnernextdoorhesrightnexttothewindow" And yes it was. Colin Firth (Mr Darcy, for heavens sake!) watched as I shamingly trogged my belongs to and fro - he saw the endless pairs of shoes, the strange oddments left in my fridge, the family-sized bag of toilet roll, never-ending plastic, hence deeply un-Chelsea, bags. I could've died of mortification. (The only consolation was the fact he looked so shattered and scruffy, and very un-Darcy-like, we could almost pretend it wasn't him.)
Disgraced former Blue Peter presenters crossing Piccadilly Circus, non-disgraced former Blue Peter presenters buying shoes on Oxford Street, movie actors at either end of the Tottenham Court road. The streets of London are positively heaving with thespians of stage and screen, singers, writers and, today's latest infamous bunch, politicians.
Maybe we just see them more as the sheer number of people who now qualify as celebrities grows and grows. A story about seeing Colin Firth merits relaying to one's friends over a glass of wine, but shockingly so does an encounter with an actor from student-staple soap Hollyoaks or a glamour model who once appeared on Big Brother. Or now an MP who claimed thousands of pounds to re-do his bookshelves.
Surely one should not be surprised to find one shares the pavements of London (although rarely the public transport system) with people who we see more usually in the news media or television screens. London is not merely somewhere us mere mortal office-workers inhabit. For every office there is a recording studio. For every shop, a television channel headquarters. What is harder to reconcile oneself with is the thought that for those in "the entertainment industry", going to work is just the same as for us. Early mornings, late nights, being told what to do and often doing the same thing over and over again until it's perfect. Everyone works to make a living; to buy a house, to go grocery shopping, to be able to spend their weekends shopping and having picnics in the park.
Some of my friends who also live in London claim never to see anyone famous. Maybe they are just better adjusted at seeing celebrities as people whose lives function within the city as much as ours. Or maybe they just read less trashy magazines.