A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Fame at last, part 2

Just seven days ago Neil Pickford was a barely-known blogger. This week he was headline news.
Aha! Last week I speculated that you might soon see my face on the national news. This was meant to be a joke. Well, ha ha to me, because sometimes truth is stranger than humour.
Only a few days after writing those light-hearted lines I was extremely surprised to find my distinguished features were plastered across the Hull Daily and East Riding Mails.
I gather, as a direct result, there has been a drop off in circulation for both publications, for which I make no apologies. After all, back in the days when I used to edit newspapers and magazines it was well known that a front-page photograph of Princess Diana boosted circulation, regardless of context. The raddled features of a fat, middle-aged man with bags under his eyes don’t have quite the same positive impact.
On a personal level I don’t mind having non film star looks – I’ve got used to being told I have the perfect face for radio. I’m also aware that I’ve got the perfect voice for newsprint so I’m rather used to being kept in the background. When I’m doing publicity for the Minster I normally just feed some basic information out to the media and try to push someone else as the face of the campaign. 
With that in mind you can understand my shock when I found I had become headline news in my own right, particularly as I had thought I was just helping out with a survey on a news item.
It was equivalent to the jarring fright I had one morning, many years ago, when I was woken by the sound of my own voice on the Today news programme.
Apparently, an interview I’d done for Radio Oxford with Arthur Scargill (remember him?) had been so good that local news editors had squirted it down the landline to be considered for bigger things. All I can say is that it must have been a quiet day for news, because there I was, pontificating to the nation like a good ‘un.
I am ashamed to admit that the shock was all the greater because I was nursing a mighty hangover at the time – having filed the story only about six hours before when under the influence of quite a few glasses of wine, spirits and beer. I groaned, got out of bed and went to work without having breakfast. (What a lifestyle eh? No wonder so many of my contemporaries are already dead – but that’s another rather sad story that will easily keep for another time – provided I live long enough, of course).
Sorry, I seem to have digressed – and I must remain focused so I can explain just how I managed to become a story in my own right, rather than the fairly unimportant element of it I’d imagined myself to be.
It was with a sinking feeling that I saw the headline: “Beverley Minster virger backs web publisher” and the intro: “A man who has been linked with designing thousands of pornographic websites has been defended by virger of Beverley Minster.”
Oh dear.
I have to admit that, as I walked through Beverley in my Minster uniform on the day the story hit the streets I was wondering whether to wear a disguise or even emigrate but, in fact, not one person looked at me in either a furtive or a triumphant way.  I’d been expecting a stream of: “Aha, you’re that man in the Mail and I claim my £5,” but I didn’t even have to part with 10p.
As it turned out, my high profile in the piece wasn’t a problem – most commentators hardly mentioned me and continued where they’d left off the day before, with 99 per cent against the Hull Daily Mail and most of the rest banging on about how they’d spelt ‘virger’ wrong in the report.
The sole exception was someone in Cottingham who seemed convinced that I was a licensed member of the priesthood – sorry ‘Col’ but, when I say: “God” in church it’s nothing to do with a formal role in a service but probably connected with how hard it is to polish up the lectern.
Anyway, my own unchosen starring role in the debate has been virtually ignored in the squabble about the bigger issue – and I’m very glad this was the case. And I also found that, outside the little fevered bubble surrounding the story itself the rest of the world was going on, minding its own business and oblivious to me.
And, I’ve discovered, that’s how I like it. As long as I can witter away in a quiet corner of the media I’m happy. So here I am.
And, shhhhhh, please don’t tell anyone.

First published March 2010


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