I don’t know about you, but I didn’t care about this coronavirus outbreak until Peter Andre almost had it. We never stop to think about what we would do if Peter Andre was forced into a period of self-isolation. Our world would surely change beyond recognition, no? Who would soothe the Loose Women with a biweekly pop-in? Who would walk through the corridors of exotic hotels making explanatory hand gestures on This Morning? Who would – what else does Peter Andre do? He, uh … Hmm. The shadow Andre casts is huge compared with the actual career that preceded it. If you really think about it, he did one song and married Jordan for a bit, 15 years ago. But Andre has a unique place in British culture and British hearts, and for that reason, were he absent from celebrity life for any time due to coronavirus, our economy would soon sink like a ship.
I should clarify, before the lawyers get involved, that Andre does not have coronavirus. But this week he acted as a sort of canary-in-the-coalmine for what would happen if one of our daytime TV stars did get it, and what would happen, broadly, is “mild to medium panic”. At a meet’n’greet event Andre held in Southampton on Saturday, signs were allegedly put up reading: “Due to recent cases of the coronavirus please DO NOT have any physical contact with Peter Andre. Please DO NOT take any selfies with Peter Andre. Apologies for any inconvenience.”
After Andre started trending on Twitter – for the outlandish and diva-like demand of not wanting to get actively infected with a deadly respiratory illness – he issued a denial, stating that he did hug everyone at the Q&A who asked for it, and that he never asked for the posters to be put up. “OK this must be a wind up because I hugged everyone I met,” he said. “People were saying to me that they had been told not to touch me and that there were signs. I thought they were joking. Brilliant.” Thing is, it would be very Peter Andre of Peter Andre to get coronavirus from politely hugging too many giddy Southampton mums, wouldn’t it?
Celebrities are cautious of coronavirus, just like the rest of us are; they just express it in very different ways. While we all panic-wash our hands for 20 seconds and get incredibly tense when someone coughs on public transport, stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow share face mask selfies from the recline position of the first-class cabin of a jet airliner. Same disease, different threat: if we get coronavirus, we get up to 14 days off work, statutory sick pay and an increasingly arsey set of emails from our boss (“How ill are you, really? That spreadsheet can be done at home if needs be”). If Gwyneth Paltrow gets it, she gets to recline on a pile of jade eggs, drink a load of juice until it’s over, then sell an essential anti-coronavirus candle on Goop straight afterwards for $80 a go. And you will buy it, won’t you? You measly little pig.
This reaction – a sort of arms-length, I’ll-be-fine-but-the-rest-of-you-should-definitely-stock-up-on-sanitiser approach – is, to be fair, about the best thing celebrities can do in the circumstances. The realms of showbiz and world trauma have rubbed up against each other for long enough now that they all know there is nothing, really, their influence can do. Take the Australian bushfire crisis at the end of last year, for instance, where the world’s hallowed blue ticks were hamstrung. What are they supposed to do; grab a hose and get Drake’s jet over to start fighting the flames themselves? Be realistic. They did all they could: tweeted their thoughts and prayers, pumped out a donation link for their followers to click on, put a sad koala gif over any scheduled sponcon, then got on with life as normal.
Considerate inaction isn’t great, and I am as sad as you are that Peter Andre hugs are off the table for a bit, but it’s at least better than doing what Matt Le Tissier is doing, which is tweeting: “Why scare the entire population with this corona virus [sic] stuff. It’s only the elderly and people with existing conditions that are at risk.” Stand down, World Health Organization; that lad who was good at penalties once has got this health crisis covered.
The brief flirtation coronavirus had with the world of celebrity this week means we have to be on our guard for more, because – frankly, and statistically – someone famous is going to get coronavirus soon. And we need to know what we are going to do in that situation, and what they are going to do in that situation, and a lot of that depends on the level of celebrity the person infected is at.
Let’s say an absolute distant-world A-lister such as, I don’t know, Jamie Foxx gets coronavirus. This is sad for Foxx, obviously, and a polite reminder to the rest of us that we are all delicate and mortal. (If Jamie Foxx can get coronavirus, then someone like you or me – patently not Jamie Foxx! – can really get it. Better double-wash your hands.) But it does not have a huge impact on our immediate world. There was no chance we were ever going to bump into Foxx. He was not going to cough in our faces in the checkout queue at the Spar. Foxx lives in a mansion, behind a gate, probably with security and staff, and will be on some sort of plasma drip thing now, watching top-package cable channels on a really big TV. Foxx is different to us. Under the whip of a hypothetical coronavirus, he would probably be fine.
But what about the other end of the fame ladder? Say, Someone Who Used To Be On Hollyoaks But Left Because They Thought They’d Have A Lot Of Acting Opportunities Post-Hollyoaks But That Turned Out To Be Misjudged gets coronavirus. Or perhaps their reality-TV equivalent, Someone Who Is Not Getting Their Contract Renewed For The Next Season Of Towie And Knows It.
These are my favourite types of famous people because they will happily sell any misfortune or small win in their lives as tabloid fodder. Then they pad their fame level not by working but by existing, oscillating with increasing regularity (as their actual work dries up and their headline work becomes their main income) between adulation and despair, until they are famous for being famous, and they don’t have time to work. That’s because they have to find new and original horrors to befall them so they can get some cash in an envelope from a tabloid journalist they only know because he pretends he’s their friend.
For them, a coronavirus diagnosis would be, frankly, magical. A weak little thumbs-up drip-in selfie from the hospital. A tell-all interview, once they have recovered, about what it felt like to have coronavirus coursing through them (“I wouldn’t let my mum come and see me. I would never have forgiven myself if I infected her”). A legal obligation to describe them as “coronavirus survivor” in every descriptor for the next year. Enough exposure to get them a run on I’m a Celebrity …
Coronavirus may not exactly be welcome in the world of celebrity, but you can’t deny it has the potential to be incredibly lucrative for someone who was once in the background of a fight scene between Gemma Collins and Arg.