The plucky little things

YOUNG stars have always been compelling: so talented, and yet so creepy. Anyone watching their fresh faces can't help but wonder at the God-given gifts and terrible psychological damage that lie beneath. But we need wonder no more, as Daniel Radcliffe's memoirs are said to be in the offing and Charlotte Church's autobiography is already in the bookstores, promising to tell us everything we want to know.

By Bidisha

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Published: Sun 30 Sep 2007, 8:21 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:55 PM

Except, of course, that they won't. Public interest in young stars has never abated because the stars never give their public what they really want: a sure route to fame. Whether in the case of a rough-diamond type such as Wayne Rooney or a serious, intense young achiever such as Ellen MacArthur, the fact is that people who achieve fame young, and maintain it in the long run, genuinely have something special. It's not just their own particular gift, it's also an evolved political canniness and a core resilience.

They'll never admit it, though. The myth of success demands that they fit one template only: the rise to glory from humble, innocent beginnings. This is the story of the plucky "ordinary" kid with only a dream, superhuman talent, energy, charisma, luck, contacts, a will of iron and some seriously calculating shrewdness.

I prefer stories depicting a fall from great heights: more realistic, given that the majority of child performers never do make it in the long term, and wind up losing it. I want to read about Judy Garland binding her breasts and fighting her co-stars for every second of Wizard of Oz screen time; Edward Furlong turning from film director James Cameron's golden boy into a fat drunk; or Macaulay Culkin "divorcing" his parents to gain control of his money.

Young stars' own accounts of their success aren't the place to look for gritty candour. Having just joined the network of power, they won't jeopardise their position by dobbing in those who mould the entertainment industry or the mercenary financiers who bankroll it. After all, they may be working together some day. You'll have to look at their work instead: think of Jodie Foster, whose adult career has been one long rebuke to the sexualised roles that made her famous in Taxi Driver and Bugsy Malone. Conversely, Jamie "Billy Elliot" Bell and Nicholas "About A Boy" Hoult got famous playing dorks, but are now busy being lithe, sexy and beautiful in Hallam Foe and Skins respectively. All are trying to escape the shadow of child stardom by doing the opposite of what brought them to prominence.

Since the stars will never tell, it's down to me to recount a true story that lifts the lid on the perils of stardom. It is the tale of a feted child actor about to become stratospherically famous after being chosen to play the lead in a mainstream costume drama. The only thing he had to do to finalise the part was to, ahem, go away for the weekend with one of the other stars of the show, a married actor in his 40s. He declined. The second choice didn't -- he's now in Hollywood and his career's booming. The first choice has since retired from acting.

But exposés of the real iniquities confronted by young stars rarely crop up in their memoirs as long as the stars remain illuminated by the spotlight - disappointingly, the order of the day tends instead to be po-faced, good-hearted niceness. It may be true that everyone has a story to tell about their "journey", but it's also true that some stories are more interesting than others.

© The Guardian

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