The late and the great
I’m getting old. It’s a fact I’ll have to face. It hits me worse when I’m on a night out. I recently came to a shocking realisation. Those sad old people I used to laugh at in nightclubs when I was young? I’m now one of them.
I’m a member of a gang of vicars who like to go out dancing and drink sambuca. Inevitably, on those nights, some grown man will come up to me and say: “Remember me, Miss? You used to teach me.” He will then go on to tell me about how many children and/or marriages he’s had since he was last in my RE class.
But the fact that I’m getting old has hit me in a whole new way recently. I don’t need to tell you that it’s been a big year for celebrity deaths. The icons of my childhood are graduating to glory, and with every snippet of breaking news, my teenage heart breaks a little, too.
Bowie was a tough one. Prince was even tougher. My husband fell in love with me in a tent in Spain in the summer of 1993 to Prince’s Love Symbol album (I’d fallen in love with him – and the Purple One – months earlier). Victoria Wood was a tragedy. The minute I heard the news, I asked my husband to get the hostess trolley out of the garage while I popped to the Co-op for a Woman’s Weekly and an avocado. It was the least we could do.
When Prince’s death was announced, a brilliant video went viral showing a man with his head in his hands, playing the Purple Rain video on an interactive whiteboard. His pupil commented: “My teacher when he found out Prince had died.” I don’t think she understood what the fuss was about.
It was the same at college, trying to convey to our learners why these people were so important. I showed them Wood’s Kimberley sketch. I encouraged them to watch YouTube clips of Ronnie Corbett sitting in a big chair doing a monologue. They didn’t laugh. They had heard of David Gest, but not as Liza Minnelli’s husband or a record producer. They knew him as “that bloke off Celebrity Big Brother”. I’m not one to moan about the youth of today, but it grieved my heart when my daughter said “Victoria who?” Clearly I have failed to give my own teenager a rounded education, let alone those in my charge as a college chaplain.
It’s a sobering thought that in years to come, they will be trying to communicate to their own teenagers just how much Taylor Swift or Russell Howard meant to them in their youth. It’s about celebrating our classics but allowing them to develop classics of their own (although we all know that comparing Swift to Prince is like comparing Ikea to Chippendale).
I ended up explaining the death of Corbett to one of our bricklaying apprentices by saying: “You know Ant and Dec? Imagine if you were 41 and you’d just heard Dec had died.” That seemed to make some sense to him.
Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley