Rob Rinder

Old Jewish wisdom offers a useful Guide for the Famous

When my TV career took off, I tried to keep constantly in mind the necessity of derech eretz

June 15, 2023 11:37

The papers seem crammed right now with stories about the bad choices made by celebrities.

I can’t help but feel that every one of them needed a honest friend to grab them by the lapels a few years back and tell them to stop with all their mishegas.

But more often than not, those necessary people, the straight-talkers and truth-tellers, were dropped long ago.

For so many — from reality stars to actors, royals to WAGs — old pals are replaced with a fawning entourage of hangers-on (normally dependent on “the talent” for exposure or money).

It can happen so easily.

When I first arrived on television I’d come more or less directly from the mortuary. My barrister-shaped life back then included an awful lot of autopsies, murders and human rights abuses, not to mention an unbroken parade of knotty legal questions being fired from every angle.

I was held to account by everyone — clients, opponents, judges, juries — a rolling, 360-degree torrent of voices telling me exactly what they thought of everything I said. Under that level of scrutiny, sloppy thinking and bad ideas got instantly vaporised. Gruelling, yes, but quite the education.

Then, suddenly, fame beckoned me with sparkly fingers into her twinkly boudoir and I found myself in the world of TV. As soon as I was on set, I felt the power of celebrity exert its gentle tug: my ego was given the kind of full body, deep-tissue massage that usually gets touted in the shabbier sort of phone box.

Where once I was relentlessly harangued by lawyers, now I was being asked how many chocolate flakes I wanted on my goatmilk latte.

Not only that, but they all told me I was utterly marvellous. Disraeli once said, “everyone likes flattery, and when it comes to royalty you should lay it on with a trowel”. For celebrities today, it’s applied with a water cannon.

I could feel reality softly drifting away but, mercifully, my mother’s good sense — filtered through my Jewish childhood — came to the rescue.

I knew that I needed to find someone who’d be equivalent to a chavruta, the Talmudic study partner who sharpens your thinking and holds you to account. As if by magic, there was my beloved executive producer, one of the best and bluntest people I’ve ever met.

“I know what I’m like,” I told her despairingly. “I’ll be Kim Jong Un in a week if this carries on.” She replied in purest Wolverhampton: “Don’t you worry about that.”

From that day forward, whenever any slightly imperial tendencies began to surface, her voice would appear in my ear, suggesting my head had been replaced with a danglier bit of my anatomy.

It was just what I needed. Again and again, she kept me from floating off on clouds of toxic self-importance.

Not only that, but I tried to keep constantly in mind the necessity of derech eretz — respect. As a Jew, it’s something fundamental to my understanding of how everyone must interact with the world.

It’s always solid rule of thumb: to see if someone’s a good ’un or not, establish whether they are respectful towards their most junior colleagues (the ones who can’t easily protest).

Just as you need the chavruta equivalent, you need the mensches too. While my producer kept a steady grip on me at work, my friends did (and do) the rest of the time.

They well know my buffet of imperfections, and there’s not a one among them who wouldn’t call me out the instant I became too swanky or stopped listening to reason. They tell me like it is and I love them for it.

If you get to have a moment or two in the limelight, it’s incredibly tempting to let critical voices get shoved out of view. Dissenting friends can be so easily dismissed as being “unsupportive” or having “the wrong kind of energy”.

Even professionals begin to give you less-than-objective guidance (look at some of those unwise cosmetic procedures, those reckless court cases).

But those three things; the chavruta, the mensches and, above all, derech eretz (concepts woven deep into the tallit of my Jewishness) have hopefully meant that, over the years, I’ve avoided acting too foolishly.

Goodness knows, I’m not perfect. But thank goodness, I have plenty of friends to remind me of that fact and, without a doubt, they’re the ones I need the most.

June 15, 2023 11:37

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