On the face of it, you wouldn’t think that Katie Price, Esther Rantzen and Arnold Schwarzenegger would have much in common, would you?
Well you’d be wrong, as each has joined an ever growing list of celebrities who have tried to make the cross-over from celebrity to the world of politics. It’s a journey that multibillionaire and US Apprentice star Donald Trump seems intent on completing with his never-a-dull-moment presidential campaign.Politics has always sought to exploit the illusion of glamour and popularity that comes from celebrity endorsement. Martin Freeman, Eddie Izzard, David Tennant have each offered a Labour endorsement in a series of party political broadcasts. Not to be outdone, the Tories have in the past flirted with the likes of Gary Barlow, Peter Stringfellow and Paul Daniels.
However, Trump isn’t offering the traditional celebrity endorsement but attempting to present himself as a serious, credible candidate, and succeeded in attaining the status of Republican frontrunner by a comfortable margin.
On both sides of the pond there is a real divide between the celebrity politicians who run as populist outsiders for their own fame or cause célèbre and those for whom politics marks a genuine career move.
In 2001, former glamour model Katie Price (or Jordan as she was then) promised voters in Manchester free plastic surgery, more nudist beaches and a ban on parking tickets. Unsurprisingly, she only polled 713 votes but certainly turned a few heads on the campaign trail.
Then there was Al Murray, who ran as his pub landlord character at least year’s general election in an effort to spoil ‘serious’ UKIP candidate Nigel Farage’s chances. Murray had no intention of securing a Commons seat but it certainly upset Farage’s campaign.
At the opposite end of the spectrum we have had Glenda Jackson, a 40 year veteran of stage and screen, enter the House of Commons in 1992 and act as a vocal and vociferous campaigner for over 20 years. We’ve also seen success from track and field with former medal winners Sir Menzies Campbell and Lord Sebastian Coe ‘running’ successfully for political office and making serious marks on their parties.
Perhaps the greatest embodiment of the crossover between celebrity and politics was Ronald Reagan, a figure still revered within Republican circles and the man credited with ending the Cold War. Not a bad legacy for a former B-movie actor for whom politics was very much a second career.
Not everyone looking for that career move manages so successfully and indeed Jackson, Campbell and Coe are very much the exceptions to the rule. Former television presenter Esther Rantzen ran for office as an independent candidate, ultimately coming fourth. Only time will tell whether Kanye West can make more of a success with plans for a White House run in 2020. We suspect that if he’s up against an incumbent Trump that year then just about anything is terrifyingly possible.
That said, perhaps it’s a little more difficult than it looks? While the public might forgive a gaffe or two from an eccentric or well-meaning candidate, they’re far less forgiving of their elected leaders. Celebrities used to universal popularity might not feel so loved when they have to make real decisions about budgets and services.
And while the door to politics remains wide open for celebrities – we still need to remember there are a few who are trying to travel in the opposite direction. Think Lembit Opik (remember him?), Nicola Sturgeon on John Stewart’s Daily Show and Alex Salmond on Have I Got News For You, for example.
The boundaries between politics and celebrity are crumbling.
So as we look back over some of the failed campaigns of celebrities it makes me think – what fate awaits The Donald and the superpower he aspires to lead? Time will tell.