Noise And Fury

Is Paul Danan excitedly screaming obscenities at a crowd of children, teens and senior citizens in Preston city centre the single most significant event to have taken place in 21st century pop culture? Of course not. Is it where we’re going to start this story anyway? Oh, you bet…

In November 2007, Hollyoaks star and Celebrity Love Island alumnus Paul Danan was invited to turn on the Christmas lights in Preston city centre.

As gigs go, flicking the switch at an illuminations event is a relatively simple one. You greet the crowd, you lead them in a cursory countdown, you make a big deal out of hitting a big button and then you wish everyone happy holidays as you wander off into the cold, night air. It could hardly be easier.

But this time something went wrong.

Swept up in the excitement of the moment, Danan attempted to really get the crowd going – by grabbing a microphone, bouncing across the stage and screaming the words “COME ON! MAKE SOME MOTHERFUCKING NOISE, PRESTON!” into it.

Far from making any motherfucking noise, the people of Preston were stunned into silence. The crowd – predominantly made up of young children, teens and their respective families – did not take kindly to the command. Most made no noise at all. A handful left in disgust, while others complained to reporters from the local press who were there to cover the event.

The second he stepped off stage, Danan was greeted by three officers from the Lancashire Constabulary who hit him with an £80 on-the-spot fine for public disorder. From there, he was wheeled out in front of a regional news crew and asked to offer an apology to all of those watching.

Impassioned though his apology might have been, sadly, it wasn’t enough to save him.

Until the moment that he slipped his leash, Danan had been lined up to star as Jack in the city’s annual pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk. The Christmas switch-on was supposed to have been a promotional event for the production, but Danan’s potty mouth had brought them exactly the wrong sort of publicity.

With just two weeks to go until curtain up, the theatre was forced to make a decision. They had no choice but to lose their leading man.

Paul Danan was fired.

At the same time that all of this was happening – less than a hundred miles away at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton – British soap star Leslie Grantham was making his preparations to appear in a production of Dick Whittington.

In and of itself, this wasn’t unusual. Every year in the UK, there are dozens of pantomimes staged across the length and breadth of the country. Celebrities of all sorts will take up roles in those shows – and its not unusual to see Hollywood stars like Pamela Anderson, Mickey Rooney and Steve Guttenburg gladly sharing a stage with your more homegrown type of celeb like Joe Pasquale, Gok Wan or Lisa Scott-Lee.

The reason that Leslie Grantham makes for a particularly notable example however is because three years previously, in 2004, he had become wrapped up in a bit of a scandal himself – although Grantham’s was an altogether more salacious one than Danan’s.

Topless pictures of Grantham sucking his finger and proudly sporting an erection had appeared (mercifully censored) in the British tabloids. The screengrabs had been taken by an undercover journalist, who had written an accompanying story describing how Grantham used a webcam in his dressing room to conduct sneaky adulterous cybersex sessions, masturbating on camera while berating his EastEnders colleagues in between strokes.

This came as news to Grantham’s wife. It came as news to his EastEnders colleagues too – and it soon transpired it hadn’t been an isolated incident. Shortly after the story broke, three further woman came forward to say that they had been treated to similar sorts of performances. One woman detailed an experience from the 2002/03 pantomime season, where Grantham had done it for her in his theatre dressing room, dressed¹ in his full² Captain Hook costume.

(¹ Technically, not quite dressed)
Technically, not quite full)

Yet this cybersex scandal was apparently so small fry that Grantham – his finger barely dry – returned to panto the very next year: directing and starring in St Albans’ 2005 production of Peter Pan. As… Captain Hook.

Guess how long it took for Paul Danan to be cast in a pantomime again after merely asking Preston to make some motherfucking noise? Seven years.

What makes the whole thing even more mindboggling is that the webcam incident isn’t the only black mark on Grantham’s CV. Rather more significant is the ten years that Leslie Grantham spent in HMP Leyhill, working off a murder conviction that was handed down to him in the 70s after he shot a West German taxi driver in the head after first bungling an attempt to rob him.

While that all means he can probably bring a gritty realism to the role of Captain James Hook, it does make for a strange imbalance.

You’d have maybe thought that an £80 fine and a three minute apology on the evening television news would be sufficient penance for saying “motherfucker” in front of a few hundred Prestonians – but evidently not.

Similarly, you’d maybe also think that nationally-published adultery would incur a slightly harsher penalty than the cost of dry-cleaning a panto costume – but, again, evidently not.

It’s a weirdly selective attitude we have when it comes to celebrity retribution. For some celebs there is absolutely no quarter. They fuck up, they get thrown to the wolves. For others, our capacity to forgive and forget appears to be boundless.

Is there any rhyme or reason to the way we react to celebrity scandals? Do we have any consistent response to these sorts of incidents? It really doesn’t seem so…

Career Killers

Back in 2014, we attempted to figure out if there was anything that a celebrity could do that would conclusively kill their career. An act so heinous, a behaviour so transgressive, that the public at large would say “Enough!” and cut ties with them for good.

We weren’t really able to come up with a definitive answer then, and the question has only got more complicated in the years since.

The sorts of case studies we were looking at in 2014 were stars like Chris Brown, Mel Gibson, Miley Cyrus, Kate Moss, Oscar Pistorius. All of them had been engaged in some sort of scandalous behaviour; all had generated headlines that shocked or rocked the world (some more significantly than others).

And what has become of them all?

Chris Brown: Having spent time in prison for probation violations after being arrested multiple times for assault – most notably for the time he physically beat his then-girlfriend, the internationally beloved Rihanna – where is Chris Brown now? Busy releasing teaser singles for his ninth album, Indigo, which reportedly includes collaborations with multi-platinum musicians Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber and Drake (who also dated Rihanna).

Mel Gibson: Arrested on suspicion of drink-driving in 2006, whereupon he unleashed a bluntly antisemitic rant against one of the arresting officers; also investigated on accusations of domestic violence in 2010, where audio recordings were released in which he made some violently racist threats against his partner of the time. All of this was enough to have him cast loudly into the wilderness by his Hollywood peers, who said they couldn’t stand for such disgusting behaviour. Where is he now? Directing a new World War 2 film called Destroyer, after his previous World War 2 film Hacksaw Ridge won two Oscars in 2017, with him also nominated personally for Best Director.

Miley Cyrus: Once best known for being Hannah Montana – Disney’s most famous (/hugely profitable) teen idol – Miley Cyrus caused huge controversy in America by posing for a run-of-the-mill Vanity Fair photoshoot in which renowned artist Annie Leibovitz draped the then-15 year old in a white bedsheet with her naked back on show. Yet when she posed actually naked clutching a whopping great strap-on for the notorious sex pest Terry Richardson, the general outrage was far less vocal. Where is Miley now? One of the biggest stars in the world, worth about $200 million.

Kate Moss: After a long career in which she very clearly and very regularly took humongous amounts of coke, Kate Moss lost a couple of lucrative modelling contracts shortly after pictures of her snorting lines were splashed across the front pages of the Sun and the Daily Mirror in 2005. Where is she now? Signed back up with most of the companies who dropped her in a panic back then and estimated to be earning double what she did before all those “COCAINE KATE!” headlines hit (especially impressive in an industry that’s famously age-averse).

Oscar Pistorius: Up in court on a murder charge after he fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in his flat on Valentine’s Day 2013, Pistorius was very quickly dropped from his multi-million dollar Nike campaign (in which he posed with the unfortunate caption “I Am The Bullet In The Chamber”). As he’s now in prison, serving a 13 year term, it’s highly unlikely that Pistorius will be in any condition to compete at an international level upon release – so his athletics career is almost certainly over. The good news is that there’s probably a place for him in the cast of Mother Goose at some regional theatre now that Leslie Grantham has left a vacancy.

What Now?

What conclusions can we draw from this? Depressing ones? Certainly – but they might not be entirely accurate.

From Chris Brown’s enduring career you could reasonably assume that domestic abuse just isn’t really a dealbreaker when it comes to celebrities. But then you don’t see Justin Lee Collins on screen much these days, do you?

Mel Gibson’s continued success might suggest that you can be ostracised for a racist outburst yet return to the top of your craft within a decade. It doesn’t seem wildly likely that Roseanne Barr will be able to claw back much of her career after she was unceremoniously written out of her own eponymous sitcom though.

Kate Moss’s short-lived blacklisting implies that a coke scandal is nothing you can’t bounce back from stronger. Tell that to Tulisa Contostavlos, who went from being a ubiquitous force in television, music, fashion, fragrance and celebrity literature to now having the occasional cameo in the column inches after she got caught up in a tabloid drugs sting.

(And if you think the problem was Tulisa’s drink-driving arrest, Ant McPartlin was back hosting Britain’s Got Talent long before his license got reinstated, so obviously we’re capable of not caring about those things too much either.)

A rational explanation for those counterexamples could be that there is some sort of celebrity hierarchy at play. But while big names are undoubtedly afforded a lot more latitude for bad behaviour than smaller ones, in recent years we’ve seen some pretty big fish getting snared in the net, while the minnows who swim in their wake have slipped through the gaps.

Harvey Weinstein is currently in the process of striking a $44 million settlement with his accusers. Kevin Spacey will struggle to ever get a lead role again. Max Clifford died in prison, halfway through a very grim sentence. Bill Cosby will be lucky to survive his too.

They’re all massive names, but it’s not like there weren’t counterparts and contemporaries of theirs – lesser-known movie producers, music executives, PR gurus, stars and showbiz impresarios – who weren’t all up to their eyeballs in similar sorts of objectionable shit too. It’s just their stories won’t ever make the front pages.

Is it maybe the case then that, at a certain point, your fame starts to become a liability? That as you rise up you become a lightning rod for controversy?

It certainly hasn’t harmed Donald Trump, who – in the scandal stakes – in really shaping up to be one for the history books. There’s barely a scandal of any stripe that he hasn’t been associated with and he appears to be barrelling along just fine.

It’s not a particularly fresh observation to make, but it is nonetheless outstanding that we have watched an American president trundle through a news cycle in which reports surfaced that he’d had an affair with a porn star while his wife and newborn son waited for him at home, paid a six figure hush money fee to a magazine to have them cover it up, lie about it multiple times to reporters, have his personal lawyer turn on him and show the actual remuneration cheques he received for facilitating the hush money payment – and meanwhile nobody talks about it any more because there have been fifty other scandals of varying magnitudes which have broken in the year and a half since.

So, after twenty years of reporting on this sort of stuff, can we provide a conclusive answer to the question: can you kill your career?

No, we can’t – but we’ll be delving into more of the weird and wonderful grey areas over the next few months…

Coming Soon/ Parts 2, 3, 4, 5 etc…

– Jeremy Clarkson punches a producer for a steak!
– Jude Law sues a fireplace company!
– The late Mayor of Toronto smokes crack!
– Rebecca Loos wanks off a pig!
– Janet Jackson plops a tit out on telly!
– Paul Chuckle takes the stand!

…and much, much more.

NB: If you want to hear Danan’s own retelling of the events of that fateful night in Preston, he spoke candidly about it on an episode of his podcast The Morning After. (May the heavens bless and preserve that boy…)