Remember Jordan, uber glamour model of the 80s? I just went to see her re-incarnation Katie Price in conversation with Alain de Botton, hosted by The School of Life. (Katie Price and Philosophy, 16 November 2016)
TSoL is 'devoted to developing emotional intelligence through culture' and the idea of this public chat was to 'discover what drives someone to surrender a big part of their identity to the public, what happens when they do, and what we might all learn from the life of a figure in a constant media storm.'
By way of introducing his guest, de Botton dwelt on the unconventionality of having a glamour model and entrepreneur talking at an organisation normally associated with academics and intelligentsia, and said his colleagues had laughed when he suggested Price as a candidate. In the audience, I felt immediately uncomfortable: wasn't Katie 'intellectual' enough for TSoL? I began to suspect that this evening may be a stunt as opposed to an authentic revelatory conversation about narcissism and the hunger for celebrity in popular culture.
Katie came on stage - all long blonde hair, make-up and over the knee high-heeled boots - looking very much the 'celebrity', glass of white wine firmly in hand. The juxtaposition was clear - we didn't need Alain to point it out further. He did all the same, and Katie asked the audience 'why are you all laughing?' Actually, we weren't all laughing.
After some introductory questions where it was established that Katie didn't want to talk about politics or religion, and that she saw herself as very 'open', chatty and amusing company (she partly puts her success as a model down to 'having a personality'), Alain produced a box of cards.
On sale at TSoL these cards ('100 Questions: Love Edition') are 'designed by leading experts' to quiz you in a searching and provocative way about relationships. Most of de Botton's selection were slightly sexual in nature.
"After a long pursuit, you realise that someone is as keen on you as you are on them. What feelings does this bring up for you?" he asked Price. The questions were similar to those quizzes in womens' mags that are supposed to reveal your personality, but succeed only in either making you laugh or belittling your intelligence. I couldn't help wondering whether de Botton would have reached for the same box of cards with Stephen Hawking sitting opposite him.
Price responded well, gamely quizzing de Botton right back. She made her interlocutor blush asking him the risqué question he'd just asked her: "Would you entertain group sex or a threesome?' (She has, but not nowadays, and he loves 'the idea but would worry about the practicalities').
Overall, however, I got the impression that Katie hadn't really thought things through. There were a lot of contradictions in her statements about herself, and although she's clearly had a life full of diverse and unusual experiences, I was left wondering how much this life had changed the worldview of the 17 year old trainee nurse who was made into Jordan by a hungry media.
For example, Katie loves the doctors and nurses of the NHS and thinks they should be paid a lot more ('they're saving our lives!'), but with the next breath proclaims she hates paying tax ('they're robbing us!') leaving us to wonder where the medics' wages would come from.
She's proud of her own openness about her extensive use of plastic surgery and Botox, and lives in a reality where she bets 'the person sitting next to you has had a bit of Botox and that, but they lie about it'.
I look at the person next to me and doubt it very much. But then those image-conscious, youth-worshipping circles are the ones in which Katie operates, and always has.
Author of 17 books, Katie also freely admits that she doesn't write them all herself but contributes 'ideas'. She's scathing of celebrities who claim to write their own books, or create their own products, when in fact they have little to do with the goods they lend their names to. Price is nothing if not honest about her career, and the extent of the fakery involved. She seems happy to be exploited as long as she's making money. She thinks winning Celebrity Big Brother was "probably rigged" and has little faith in media reports judging by the lies that are regularly printed about her own life. In Price's World there is little Truth in the public arena: life's taught her that the concept exited the stage years ago, pursued by a Paparazzo.
Katie's good fortune is built on consumerism. 'If Coca-Cola or L'Oreal want me I wouldn't say no, would I?', and the best thing about being famous is the 'free stuff,' she tells the audience.
Price delivered lots of amusing one-liners, the event becoming more of a show than an in-depth look into her motivations and wisdom. The cards didn't help.
Asked what a typical night out was, Katie explained that it was 'watching The X-Factor at home with the family, with the neighbours round', as, at 38 and with five kids, she wasn't into clubbing anymore. "Last time I went I was like, 'is it me or is it really dark in here!'"
The one moment which felt thoughtful and poignant, where Katie wasn't playing for laughs or to her public persona, was an insight she shared, during the audience Q&A. She told us that had she known during her pregnancy with her eldest son Harvey, that he would be born blind and then have complex developmental problems, she would definitely have aborted him. But, now, having been his mother for so long, she wouldn't dream of aborting for those reasons. Life has taught her that terrible things are not always as terrible as you think. As she spoke about this, her face changed momentarily.
This moment aside, both Price and de Botton seemed to want to keep the conversation fairly jokey, fairly superficial, and Price even chastised the audience for asking 'tame' questions.
I left amused but ultimately disappointed. I had expected something more insightful, dare I say 'deeper', from the conversation. More fool me. Katie was quoted on the publicity leaflet as saying "No-one will ever work me out", and she turned up and spoke true to her image, right on-brand. We didn't get to know the real Katie. However, from de Botton's blushing and willingness to engage with Price as a publicity stunt to be exploited, I came away with more questions about de Botton and his motivations than Price.Suggest a correction