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Getting a ‘celebrity’ to front a campaign or, even better, finding one willing to be a patron or president, can undoubtedly boost an organisation’s profile, but along with the benefits there can also be a downside.
When the League Against Cruel Sports announced their new president in 2003, actress Annette Crosbie of the sitcom One Foot in the Grave fame, she gave an interview to the Mirror newspaper. Explaining that she thought “humans were the nastiest species of animal on the planet” didn’t exactly fit with the image the LACS was trying to convey at the time, just prior to the passing of the Hunting Act. Stating she was a “whole-hearted proponent of animal rights terrorism, including activists who break into labs and campaigns of harassment such as those carried out by Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty” prompted some to say this was more like One Foot in the Mouth.
But then that’s celebs for you, most of whom see a campaign more as a vehicle to promote themselves rather than fully understanding any particular issue. Take, for example, the reality TV ‘star’ who, when asked about endangered species, thought this meant dangerous animals.
Some members of the glitterati are prepared to engage a little more deeply in debates, such as Queen guitarist Sir Brian May, but they too can come unstuck when the argument shifts from what they dislike to what they actually support. In May’s case a question about which wildlife management methods he advocates resulted in a juvenile swearing outburst – not perhaps what is expected from a vice-president of the RSPCA.
For years, Chris Packham, now the president of the RSPCA and a vice-president of the RSPB, has been getting bolder with his outbursts, such as this recent tweet about the Glorious 12th, “Here you go . . . barren, burned, persecuted and the preserve of a few, our uplands, right royally f***ed up so people can kill wildlife for fun . . . Madness. Let’s end it.” Again, not a very polite comment, which doesn’t even reflect the official position of the supposedly neutral RSPB on the issue of grouse moors.
Packham was joined in condemnation of grouse shooting by the RSPB’s new ‘celebrity’ president, Dr Amir Khan, who referred to scientific studies showing grouse moors produce higher numbers of red list species, as “crap” – again, not really the type of language expected from someone in that position.
Yet there are many examples of far better breeding success for certain endangered species, such as lapwing, red shank, golden plover and curlew, in areas where predator control is exerted, often overshadowing breeding levels on RSPB reserves.
While that creates problems for bodies like the RSPB - predator control being a touchy subject with the membership - it also causes difficulties with ‘celebrity’ figureheads too. Having an image to preserve in the media while at the same time arguing in favour of activities involving the killing of animals doesn’t sit easily. Explaining reasons for limiting populations, protection of vulnerable species or curbing disease are obviously too complex and controversial and must be avoided.
Khan also opposes hunting, including trail hunting, and appeared in a shirt bearing the slogan “Don’t be a hunt” – the offensive inference being obvious. These ‘celebrities’ obviously think the arguments against activities such as hunting and shooting have been won in the minds of the public, so there’s no need for detailed knowledge; all that’s required are a few key statements for a virtue-signalling boost.
When the inevitable rebuttals come, they’re often described as abuse, perfect for those in the media who have the platform to plead they too are victims. Genuine abuse is not justified, but when privileged media outlets are exploited in order to condemn certain people and activities, often using ignorant and offensive language, it’s hardly surprising when those who are better informed than TV ‘celebrities’ respond robustly.
This article was first published in Countryman's Weekly.