My wife and I have just returned from a vacation in my native Britain, where we indulged, as usual, in one of our guilty pleasures: buying the celebrity magazine Hello.
Unlike People, US Weekly, and some other celebrity magazines, Hello treats celebrities—especially royals—with respect and reverence. The approach pays off. Celebrities willingly grant the magazine’s writers and photographers access to their homes, weddings, vacations, and other aspects of their lives.
A typical issue of Hello contains about 150 glossy pages. Filling them each week with fresh news about (mostly) British celebrities might seem challenging. But in 21st-century Britain, celebrity status is conferred not just on famous actors, flamboyant millionaires, and victorious athletes. Participants in reality TV, wives or girlfriends of soccer players, and comedians whose heydays are long past also merit Hello‘s editorial attention.
Indeed, part of what fascinates me about Hello is that, somewhat incongruously, even celebrities whose achievements are modest are subject to lavish photo spreads and detailed, irony-free writeups. The 27 May issue devoted four photo-packed pages to Nell Andrew, whom Hello describes as “a model and exercise guru” and “former I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me out of Here! star.
That same issue happened to coincide with the magazine’s 25th anniversary. One of the articles documented the celebratory party that was held at the Wallace Collection, an art museum in London. Rod Stewart, John Cleese, Joan Collins, and Sarah, Duchess of York, were among the guests. And so, too, was the physicist, popularizer of science, and rock musician Brian Cox.
Although I was surprised to see Cox in the pages of Hello, I shouldn’t have been. Besides being a member of the ATLAS team at the Large Hadron Collider, Cox is also an engaging and prolific broadcaster. His clear, direct style and enthusiasm for physics comes across on radio and TV. He’s even been credited for a dramatic increase in the number of British students who want to study physics.
I don’t know whether Cox seeks celebrity and enjoys its perks or whether he puts up with it in the name of science. But it doesn’t matter. Even though celebrities are hardly normal citizens, the fact that the readers of Hello see a physicist in the company of supermodels, boxing champions, and other mainstream celebrities helps—paradoxically—to make physics seem less arcane and more attractive.
Cox’s success makes me wonder if any of America’s gifted popularizers of physics should follow his example and embrace celebrity—for the good of science, if not for the parties.