Letter from Dubai

The other day I caught the new direct flight from Adelaide to Dubai. I arrived, Dubai time, at 5am in the morning fresh and lively having had a nine-hour sleep on the way. Plane travel these days is an opportunity to escape from emails, SMS messages and phone calls for hours. It’s not as hard as it once was.

The other day I caught the new direct flight from Adelaide to Dubai. I arrived, Dubai time, at 5am in the morning fresh and lively having had a nine-hour sleep on the way. Plane travel these days is an opportunity to escape from emails, SMS messages and phone calls for hours. It’s not as hard as it once was.

In Dubai I had one of those chance encounters which sets your pulse racing. Sitting just two metres from me was 007. There was James Bond! Well, to be more accurate it was Daniel Craig. So I did what any of you would do. I asked him if my friend who was travelling with me could take photos of us all together. A firm “no” was the answer! He said he was tired! Too tired for a photo? Well, I left it at that. It was true; Craig looked washed out. I found out why. He had been in Afghanistan cheering up the British troops. That was laudable. It’s always good to see rich and successful people doing their bit for the community. But I’m not all that sympathetic. The best actors earn huge amounts of money from the public so they owe it to the public to share their fame around. But it did make me think of the few encounters I have had with actors. On the whole, it’s been a mixed bag. There was the time I hosted a dinner in Los Angeles as part of the Australian celebration known as G’Day LA. Nicole Kidman arrived to a battery of flashing cameras. I had a brief conversation with her when another star appeared: Keith Urban, the country singer. So I did the honourable thing. I introduced them to each other. This was an important moment in the history of global gossip. They hadn’t met before but were all eyes for each other. If ever there is such a thing as love at first sight, that was it. They went on to get married and remain so to this day. Tragically, the happy couple have never recognised my cupidic role. I was not invited to the wedding, for example. I’ve not even received a thank you! But I do claim this as one of my significant diplomatic achievements. Actors are used relentlessly for political purposes, as you know. Political leaders wheel them out to support their causes. I suspect their support means nothing to the public. The public are too smart. They know actors are people who learn lines written by other people and have the skill to interpret those words effectively. But the public know that actors are not experts on macro-economic policies or geopolitical strategy. I’ve often thought of Clint Eastwood as a bit of a hero. But the reason I’ve thought that is because I’ve liked the characters he’s played; people like Dirty Harry. But when I saw him bumbling along at the Republican Party convention in support of Mitt Romney, it confirmed my hunch; these people don’t win votes for candidates they support. I was at a dinner in New York a few years ago and sat next to Deborra-Lee Furness. She’s a nice woman, no doubt about that. She started to tell me she was off to a demonstration the next day on Darfur. I approved, until she told me the target of the demonstration was President Bush. I wondered whether President Bush was massacring people in Darfur. Er, no, he wasn’t. But she didn’t know who was. I told her it was President Bashir of Sudan. No, he wasn’t known to her. But, she argued, President Bush should intervene and stop the killing. “Invade, you mean?” I asked. After all, Deborra-Lee had opposed the invasion of Iraq. She was flummoxed. She didn’t know. Look, that’s fair enough but my point is this: her fame was being used to support a cause but she didn’t really understand much about the cause. There’s no reason why she should. She’s an actress not a professional diplomat. But it says something about our era. PR people think the public are dumb and that they will listen to actors – not experts – on serious public issues. They won’t. And the public are not dumb. The truth is there’s a huge gulf opening up between the culture of celebrity and reality. We put actors on a pedestal not because of what they know or their wisdom. We put them on a pedestal because we know who they are. Nothing more and nothing less. I’ve met only one actor who has struck me as a real thinker; as someone who reads and learns and can argue her case. That’s Cate Blanchett. I don’t really buy her politics but I respect her intellect and her learning. It’s about time political parties and other promoters of political causes understood a simple point: the public would no more listen to an actor on public issues than accept the advice of actors on health issues. Unless, of course, it’s a face lift.  

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