Celebrity columnists are nothing new. In the 1940s Louella O. Parsons and her rival Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper attracted the attention of 75 million US newspaper readers and radio listeners – half the country at the time.
However, unlike today’s celebrity columnists, they gained their notoriety through their columns, albeit heightened by their ongoing feud with each other, rather than being chosen to write due to their fame.
Now it seems that celebrities are selected as columnists primarily for their ability to be controversial and opinionated rather than knowledgeable in their area of writing. Guardian ‘Bad Science’ columnist Ben Goldacre is a doctor and cognitive neuroscience researcher who feels that journalism should be carried out by “people who actually know about stuff”. When we read some of the columns of the following celebrities, we can’t help but agree.
Many people have taken comfort from the fact that the ultra-outspoken columnist Katie Hopkins doesn’t currently have a public platform for her outpourings, having been ditched by Mail Online in November 2017. One of the most controversial celebrity columnists of our time, and still very active on Twitter, Hopkins seemingly goes out of her way to create a reaction with her unadulterated comments.
She rose to fame on reality TV show The Apprentice, where Lord Sugar told her she was unemployable. Hopkins later went on to be a much-reviled Big Brother contestant before starting her columnist career at The Sun. It was here that she caused outrage by calling African migrants crossing the Mediterranean ‘cockroaches’, even going so far as to suggest they should be stopped by gunboats.
Hopkins then went on to write for the Mail Online for two years, during which time she was able to freely broadcast her far-right views on immigrants and Muslims. In her role at Mail Online, Hopkins was regularly accused of deliberate provocation. At the time, Mail Online publisher and editor-in-chief, Martin Clarke, played it down, saying “Even if you don’t agree with what she says, she certainly knows how to engage and entertain an audience.” It was during the same period that on Twitter Hopkins called for a “final solution” following the Manchester attacks. The outcry from this comment caused her to lose her role as LBC radio show host.
It was cited that Hopkins’ tenure with Mail Online came to an end “by mutual consent”. However, it was revealed the following day that Mail Online had to pay damages to a teacher libelled in the column. At least for now, Hopkins is censored from this level of national coverage. Although, we can’t help but feel that, due to her unshakable nature, Katie Hopkins might make a return.
Motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson reached celebrity status for co-hosting the cult TV series, Top Gear. However, Clarkson was swiftly dropped from the BBC show after he assaulted the producer. He now writes a column in The Sunday Times News Review, with his bio delicately suggesting that his reviews “rarely sit on the fence.”
Clarkson certainly doesn’t seem to think about the implications of his turns of phrase and colloquialisms for certain groups. In an open letter from the chief executive of the RNIB, he was slammed for saying art pieces were “so ugly you’d have to be blind to buy them”.
And in talking of his week-long hospital admission in Majorca for pneumonia. He shows little regard for those who have to stay in hospitals long-term or who may be suicidal. The Telegraph reported his hyperbole: “I was in there for an hour, on my own, with absolutely nothing to do. The boredom was so bad I thought often about killing myself.”
Clarkson is known to have an ongoing feud with fellow opinionated columnist, Piers Morgan, who writes for rival outlet Mail Online. In much the same style as Parsons and Hopper in 40’s Hollywood, we can’t help but feel that some of this rivalry is laid on for the purpose of gaining readership. After all, they didn’t look too bitter when they bumped into each other on holiday last year.
Piers Morgan’s story is a little different, as he started his life as a reporter before going on to be editor of The Mirror and News of the World. Although notorious for his involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, it wasn’t until he appeared as a ruthless judge on America’s Got Talent and Britain’s Got Talent that he rose to fame in his own right.
Showcasing his somewhat dogged personality on national TV gained Morgan various other onscreen roles, including presenting his own show, Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, and co-presenting Good Morning Britain. The latter of which it’s recently been announced he is going on extended leave from.
This may be a result of some of Morgan’s more forthright comments in his Mail Online column. They’ve ranged from slighting feminists to belittling mental health issues, while Morgan himself is also a staunch supporter of Donald Trump.
As part of the candidate selection for celebrity columnists, having controversial views that attract online views seems to be towards the top of the list.
After all, many write for online media outlets for whom a click is a click, even if it is to a provocative and potentially offensive article. But it’s clear that these columnists don’t have complete freedom to express their sometimes derogatory views, as what brought them to these roles has also, in some cases, been their demise.
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Check back soon for our blog piece on ‘Columnists who write with flair and elegance’, to see who gets it right.