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Are You Flying With A Famous Person Today

Here is what not to do, writes Thando Ndabezitha, who admits to having had her fair share of starstruck moments in airports and planes that she would like to redo. 

If you are South African or resided here in the early 2000s, you will remember a popular ad that used to air on television.

A man wearing an expensive suit and a self-important air about him walks up to the check-in section counter in an airport. He is demanding special treatment, and when the airport employee on the other side of the counter refuses to comply, he is outraged. 

Do you know who I am?!” he barks! 

Switch to next scene: The employee turns on the intercom, and clears her throat. For a second it seems she is about to make a final boarding call, but no.

There is a man here who does not know who he is,” she calmly announces, much to the chagrin of the previously preening figure before her

If you know him, kindly please come to this counter and help him identify himself.” I’m paraphrasing, because I remember the ad only very vaguely. But what I do recall is how it made me feel: exultant on behalf of the woman who put this self-important man in his place.  

Everybody Is A Celebrity

While we still do hear bemusing tales of prima donnas, a lot of famous people, in whatever sphere of society, tend to be far more unassuming these days. 

But then again, almost everybody is a celebrity nowadays – just ask the parents of Generation Z children who have more social media followers than their folks can ever imagine garnering

The various media and social media platforms that have become so popular in many parts of the world in the past decade mean that almost anyone who can make compelling content can become as famous as a Hollywood star with just the help of a smartphone and social media. 

Indeed, in comparison with mainstream celebrities, YouTube stars are more popular and influentialaccording to most US teen respondents to a Variety survey.

The poll was conducted in 2014, and while in technological innovation terms five years is a lifetime ago, those of us who lived in fear of the Y2K bug in 1999 have a little more perspective. 

Many of us are somewhat awed by prominent figures – whether they be from YouTube or IsiBaya. 

And in a flight, the chances of meeting a famous person are astronomically higher than in IRL (in real life), given the way that this mode of travel has transformed long-distance travel in the past 105 years 

Types of Fans

I have figured that there are three types of fans:

  • the cool and unbothered-acting;
  • the ones who keep trying to get a peek furtively, but look away in embarrassment when eye contact accidentally occurs;
  • and those we all secretly want to be – the type who boldly and unselfconsciously approach the famous person, express their admiration for their work, request a selfie, and walk away beaming. 

Which category do you fall into? 

I read with some interest the recent reports about Ed Sheeran revealing his struggle with social anxiety. One particular quote from him in these reports made me realise why I most decidedly am the first type of fan

“If you want to, come up to me and have a conversation with me. Even if we have never met, just come up,” he told the UKs The Sun. 

“But what instantly cuts me off is that you are having a moment with them which is so genuine and so nice, and then at the end they ask for a picture. It puts you down to earth, and you are just 15 likes on Instagram. That is all you are.” 

This struck me because I can easily empathise with human beings who have no desire to connect with people unless it is in a very genuine and humane way.  

Famous People are People Too

Known people are famous for what they do, the families they are born or married into, or how they have made careers from seeking out fame. 

But primarily, they are people – something that is easy to forget in a culture that largely treats interactions with people who have any kind of social prominence as a transaction: a selfie for 15 likes or 1 500 retweets. 

“What is it like to be recognisable wherever you go?”once blurted out to a celebrity in a pharmacy in OR Tambo. We had both been on late flights, and were the only customers in the store 

“Who is the recognisable one here?” he quipped, good-naturedly.  

We both sort of awkwardly chuckled, and left it there because such conversations are really not for the airport – or airplane.  

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