Onyeka Nwelue discusses the Power of Celebrity

First time I met Wole Soyinka, I was 16.

I didn’t sleep that night. I kept thinking about him.

Second time, I was yet to clock 22. In far away India and I spent time with him and even interviewed him, for the Guardian with my publisher and publicist. I sat very close to him on a couch at the very expensive Rambagh Hotel in Jaipur, chuckling and listening to his sonorous voice, melding out strange words I could only see in dictionaries. Few people usually use those words, except these young writers who want to sound like him. But they end up, skimming through pages of Oxford Advanced Dictionary each time they want to write a sentence.

When I got back to my hotel room, I couldn’t sleep too. I kept uploading the pictures I had taken with him to my Facebook account, before I realized it was a dream. Yes, I didn’t want to sleep, wake up and realize that it was a dream.

It was no dream.

Soyinka has cast a spell on a lot of people. He doesn’t know this. I’m one of them. I know someone whose last wish is to meet Wole Soyinka. But what makes him very special? Seriously, I can’t tell. You know. We know. But I can’t tell.

Last week, over drinks, we discussed the Power of Celebrity. I’ve met and interacted (oh yes, I need to blow my trumpet) with great musicians (like Sting), to amazing actors and actresses (like Nollywood’s Onyeka Onwenu and Bollywood’s Om Puri) and to wonderful intellects (like William Darylmple and Wole Soyinka). After meeting these people, I’ve wondered what makes them special. I’ve wondered why most of us don’t dare to go close to them. I wonder why we always assume they are arrogant. I wonder why we hate them. I wonder why we don’t want to stop talking about them. At bars. At clubs. At restaurants. Even at brothels.

I cracked a joke that these celebrities wear their pants, putting one leg after another. They stand in the shower naked. They don’t stand when they are shitting. They sit too and wipe their butts with toilet rolls. Sorry I had to say that. But why is it that we make these people god and then start criticizing them when they start acting like gods? Do we let them jump buses without gathering to stare at them and giggling? Do we let them eat at cheap restaurants without judging them? Do we even let them go to the cinemas unnoticed? Do we not expect all of them to own cars? Why do we bother ourselves with what they wear? Why are we concerned about their private lives, even when they don’t know us? We even discuss their sexuality when they don’t know of our existence.

At Bogobiri last week, I told Nneka that I’m in love with her. I didn’t know when that popped out. She is mild and gentle, but speaks deeply. I had always watched her from afar, till a friend introduced me to her, in regards to my film project and I realized how laidback she is. And how humble too! You know, everything about her is simple. Her dress sense. Her language. Her life. Everything. And then you wish you want to live her Life. But she will gladly say, ‘No. You don’t know what I’m going through.’ For she has stopped going to the beaches. ‘I had to cut that part of my life off,’ she said. But why? Because she can’t be at the beach and people won’t gather to stare at her. Yes, this is a natural thing. It’s done all over the world.

More name-dropping, please? Yes, boss: World’s youngest full-time writer, 22 year-old Jyoti Guptara is my close friend. The youngest to have his piece published in the Wall Street Journal. We belong to the same organization, SANDBOX. Infact, he served as my referee for my membership into SANDBOX. We met in Delhi, while he was a writer-in-residence at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. He’s popular all over Europe (and doesn’t have the long hair that launched him into stardom long ago), so walking around Delhi, even having that sumptuous lunch at City Walk was no problem, as no one could recognize him. So, we were completely obscured. We could do anything, because we were not known there, except in the midst of Delhi writers. Oh yes, Delhi writers are celebrities too, so they don’t give a damn. Good thing for Jyoti, no one, apart from the writers, recognized who he was!

My friend, David Nnaji can’t jump buses anymore. If he does, definitely a kid on the bus would tap his mother by the hand and say, “See Ifeanyi in Dear Mother.” And they will giggle. Everyone would turn to him. He would smile back at them say, “Hi.” That is good, but that I find irritating that he even responds. Maybe, he doesn’t want them to feel he’s arrogant? Or something? It has happened severally. Even while we were drinking at Griller’s Café; some girl started giggling when his glass of beer crashed on the table. I mean, what-the-fuck? Are they not supposed to make mistakes too? Are they so perfect? We make them gods and when they start misbehaving, we begin to complain. Why so? Why can’t we just deal with what we started?

Comments (5)

  1. Celebrity is as celebrity does. Me sef i been dey think am since say shey na when person begin to pompous dey go call am celebrity abi na make everybody know ya name?

  2. Amazing blog, bookmarked the website in interest to read more!

  3. Spot on, Onyeka! I am so in love with Professor Soyinka too. Why? I don't know! I have met him a number of times but my earliest memory of him was being brought of my room to 'greet' him as a 13 year old. I rememeber feeling he was amused by my appearance-no shirt&very short shorts…anyway, am I a celebrity? I remember you telling me you'd thought Seun Idowu would be a taller or bigger dude..

  4. Nice writeup Onyeka, you have written again and again. We make them gods, we always think they are more perfect humans that doesn't make mistakes because they have spoken like gods, they have touched lives like gods, and i don't think we made any mistakes by making them gods. Yet i believe in this, only the people who envy them will not expect them to make mistakes.

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