What strength of character, what iron will, to appear before the cameras with only weeks left to live, so that she and her husband – the actor Damien Lewis – could promote the work of the Prince’s Trust.
I marvel at the ability of people to hold onto their privacy with such stoicism. It seems all the more remarkable in this instance, given our knowledge that actors will often be expected to bare their souls as part of the latest round of promotional material for a forthcoming film or series.
But here was McCrory, at death’s door, holding onto a story that – if she’d told it before the end – would’ve allowed her to see how much affection she was held in. Instead, she went to the grave, presumably having made a decision that her cancer was nobody’s business but her own, and those close to her. In the grip of an irresistible and terminal disease, we can imagine how important it is for some people to maintain an element of control over an inexorably grim process.
I’ve always taken the opposite view.
While it’s obviously important that journalists know how to maintain a confidence, it ought to stick in their craws. Those in the divulgence business should – in my view – feel a natural bias towards sharing news. It seems odd to me that professionals who spend their lives trying to winkle secrets out of others, should come over all coy when the spotlight is directed at them. I remember thinking less well of the excellent Andrew Marr, when it emerged he’d taken legal action to protect himself from reporters who were prying into his love life.
I marvel at the ability of people to hold onto their privacy with such stoicism.
Almost two decades ago now, I found myself the subject of a tabloid, which alleged I’d got into a fight at a Christmas party. I was frustrated at inaccuracies in the reporting and disappointed with the way other newspapers ran versions of the original story without checking its veracity for themselves. But there was no point moaning at the bar. How many stories had I told on TV which I couldn’t really vouch for? A great many.
I mention all this by way of introducing the subject of my children. Later this week a film crew will come to my home to interview me about my recent decision to switch news channels. “Can we film you with your kids?” Yes, I told the producer, that would be fine.
Those in the divulgence business should – in my view – feel a natural bias towards sharing news.
That wouldn’t be fine with many people. It might not even by fine with my children, in which case they are welcome to withhold their participation. But, left to me, the idea gets the thumbs up. Am I guilty of exploiting my little ‘uns, before they are old enough to take an informed view about their involvement? What right, in short, do I have to use them as props?
At one – rather base – level, my acquiescence is a reflection of commercial realities. The fortunes of my children are bound to mine. If my career prospers, or at least if I can eke-out another year of pay cheques from an industry not known for its job security, they stand to benefit.
To be kinder to myself, there is something else at work too. My children are used to being filmed by photographers and camera crews. Much of their exposure springs from my work on family size. The book I wrote about the benefits of siblings is full of dry data and think-tank jargon. To make it accessible to a more general readership, I rooted my ramblings in the demographic laboratory of my own family home.
If I was talking, let’s say, about the importance of birth order in predicting how many children a society might find usefully creative, then I would start with a reference to the artistic gifts of my fourth child. Did said child want to be held as an exemplar of a wider statistical rule? She was scarcely out of nappies when I wrote the book, so the question doesn’t really arise.
The broader point is that I felt the topic, and my arguments about it, were sufficiently important to justify the inclusion of highly personal anecdotes in a book about social policy.
That decision felt entirely benign and risk-free, but it made my children part of my permanent public record, accessible online all over the world.
I was reminded of this recently when my eldest daughter, now at university, was trolled on Twitter. The online abuse wasn’t about anything she’d said or done, but something I’d said. The ‘sins’ of the father, such as they are, were being visited on my daughter.
Hardly fair, but surely something I’d inadvertently encouraged by not keeping my family as prudently secret as some do.
Colin Brazier is the author of Sticking Up For Siblings: Who’s Deciding the Size of Britain’s Families? (Civitas)
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