In the olden days, when phones had a clicky dial and a curly cord, before there were 3000 TV channels and nothing on, it seemed that being “rich and famous” was an almost credible career aspiration.
Riches were gained by being successful at something, and fame was a by-product. Both were earned, usually the rewards of hard work, talent and luck in varying proportions. You just had to find what you could be really good at and get cracking.
Not so long ago, the idea of “famous for being famous” was a derogatory description of notoriety rather than achievement. Then came a new job title – celebrity. Celebrity magazines grew like toadstools and reality TV began to spore more of 'em than we could possibly name.
Keeping up with the Kardashians
Now, a celebrity no longer means a person who is celebrated – just someone who is vaguely known, by a specific demographic, over a selection of media platforms. How many of us have had students who aspire to be “like the Kardashians” without being able to articulate what that entails or how to achieve it?
Just as well really, as being born beautiful, into a wealthy LA society family, with a mother whose ferocious business sense pushes the boundaries of taste, is not really something that hard work and dedication can deliver.
As reality TV continues to churn out new celebrities, there are aspects of this culture that are a cause for celebration by us in the teaching trade. People love to watch other people learning stuff. Who'd have thought that a competition to bake the best pie would create TV gold? And occasionally such content delivers a role model that we can all cheer for.
I interviewed The Great British Bake Off's Nadiya Hussain at a live event a while back. Walking towards the stage with her was akin to being a rock star’s security guard. With every step she was surrounded by adoring, grateful women, thanking her, telling her how she had changed their lives.
Nadiya, just by being herself, has done wonders as a role model for multicultural Britain, and for anyone of any cultural heritage who just wants to be a little bit braver. What would be really helpful would be a similarly inspirational, vocational skilled, celebrity role model of similar age to our students. What the FE sector needs is the Jamie Oliver of 1999.
Ahhh, can you remember him bouncing about that kitchen in his flat? Before he was a multi-millionaire entrepreneur. Before he was campaigning and charity working. Before he’d reached and exceeded the potential that was clearly visible even then? When he was just a talented lad with loads of energy, a passion for cooking and barrage of faux cock-er-nee catchphrases, ripping up tarragon, buzzing about his band, before whizzing off on a scooter.
Young 'uns embraced him as one of them, old 'uns respected him for his culinary expertise and cheeky-chappy charm. It’s tricky to think of a mainstream media personality who has done more to advocate for vocational learning to young people in such an accessible way.
There might be another Jamie Oliver of 1999 already out there in the (not so) new media, inspiring the next generations towards their perfect vocation.
Maybe a teenage tech genius on YouTube, or a young, innovative make-up artist on Instagram. Who are they? Where are they? Show me! I want to celebrate them and show my students the real power of celebrity.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons