02:19, March 25 273 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-25 02:19:07
Ant McPartlin’s case shows we can be kind, even to celebrities

Now back in rehab, Ant McPartlin could at least take solace in what appears to be strong cultural resistance to attacking him. It’s not as though people are condoning his behaviour, and nor should they. If he was driving drunk, McPartlin endangered the lives of several other people, including a small child. Awful as it was, that scenario could have ended much more horribly.

However, there still appears to be a steady baseline of public goodwill towards McPartlin, which is being viewed in some quarters as proof of the redemptive power of celebrity. But that doesn’t really work. Fame, per se, doesn’t protect against public censure, quite the opposite – usually when celebrities fall from grace, they’re criticised, attacked and destroyed. If anything, their celebrity is weaponised and deployed against them. Yet, with McPartlin, there seems to be scant public appetite for the kill.

Why? Put very basically, McPartlin is well liked, and, despite recent troubles, viewed as a decent, grounded sort of guy. Even after the drunk-driving charge, if public goodwill were a bank, he’d still be safely in credit, and unlikely to become overdrawn. As it happens, many years ago, I briefly met McPartlin at the Brit Awards, and he and Declan Donnelly were both nice, friendly and funny to everyone around them, exactly as they are on screen. This seems to be the deal with that old showbiz cliche, “likeability” – just as it can’t be bottled, neither can it be faked or forced. And it doesn’t just vanish during the bad times.

There’s no logical reason why McPartlin shouldn’t receive sympathy anyway. Compassion isn’t a finite entity – there’s plenty to go around for him and the people who’ve been adversely affected by his behaviour. However, it’s still interesting, and kind of heartening, to observe someone being quietly wished well by countless strangers, not because of his celebrity, but almost despite of it.

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist