The first sentence of the first paragraph of the first essay in a series of columns. It’s a special moment my guys, girls and theys. I’ve been asked to write a column about something that interests me and what, quite frankly, is more interesting than exploring the dynamic nature of power and success in the creative world? Reaching potential: that’s what this column is about. Over the next five essays, I’ll be telling a wee story or two. Some are stories of mine, others are stolen from friends, but rest assured all of them will be worth your eyeballs spending at least four if not five minutes focussed on, depending on the speed with which you can read.
We all crave an opportunity to show our worth to whatever powers that be. But even if you get a shot: is it a period that can last longer than a fleeting moment? It was only when I was given a momentary seat at the table that I fully realised how flimsy my position in the industry was and how thin the ice is beneath success for someone without swathes of wealth or an influential family. In my case, the realisation came whilst actually sitting at a physical table. A rather on-the-nose analogy. Great writing, Harry: use a metaphor in a literal sense in the second paragraph.
I was invited to eat Chinese food with a friend of mine and their family. This wasn’t your local Golden Dragon, prawn crackers and a crispy beef affair: this was rich-people Chinese. The family shall remain nameless because I’m classy and kind (and modest). The entire group had their fingers and toes dipped in filmmaking pies. I’m certain the five-year-old nephew had already starred in three blockbusters, and the head of the family was a prolific, successful filmmaker. His success was so widespread that we even got some complementary starters from the chef (Xiao Long Bao tastes better when it’s free). I was in awe for almost the entire evening, but it left me feeling empty somehow. Although I had been welcomed with open arms I never felt like I truly belonged.
But before I dive into the lesson today children, we have to talk about the name-dropping. Neither before nor since have I witnessed such an impeccable and shameless disregard for the vulgarity of name dropping. I couldn’t quite believe it. “Oh you’ll never guess what Harry got up to last week…” “Harry who?”
It was awe-inspiring. I sat there not only wishing for their connections and juicy gossip, I was hungry for their confidence. It was only on reflection that I understood that it involved almost no confidence at all. Their mention of fellow public figures, whether it be Harry Styles or the Dalai Lama, was as ordinary to them as it might be for me to recount an anecdote about my Grandmother’s bunions.
Although the evening was pleasurable and I could rest easy knowing I wouldn’t have to foot the likely-enormous bill, I couldn’t help feeling daunted by the experience. There I was, a lowly twenty-something homosexual from Brighton, sitting at the table with these giants. And ever since, even though I’ve achieved things I wouldn’t have thought possible as a kid, I’ve known that my comparatively small successes will never be backed and safeguarded by a family as powerful as my contemporaries.
I’m positive that the friend who invited me to dinner will read this piece - I may even send it to them. And I know that other friends of mine who are in similar positions of privilege may read this too. I’m not too anxious about that. Because more often than not, the successful offspring of influential people are painfully aware of it themselves and often use their position to help those who are less fortunate. I’m really grateful for all the second-hand nepotism I’ve garnered from the connections I’ve made along the way but it’ll never account for the foundational privilege which is fundamentally baked into their lives. Being born filthy rich isn’t something we can criticise anyone for, but it’s important that as creative aspirational people we reflect on it properly. The point? To root our actions in realism so that we don’t get caught in the clouds. Making it in the arts is tough and lofty dreams without purpose, meaning and determination are damning… that is unless your dad is Will Smith.*
Not all hope is lost though. Because at some point that notorious head of my friend’s family was also a peasant from outside the M25. In fact he was the only person other than me at the table who hadn’t had their careers expedited. He had made it, he had a seat at the table: fuck it, he has a dynasty! And although I don’t plan on building a family empire worthy of a Jesse Armstrong HBO series, it allowed me to imagine, for just one second, that I might be able to build out my foundations strong enough to actually have a crack at all this arty farty nonsense that’d give my Yorkshire-born Grandpa a heart attack. Maybe, if I just put the work in and showed up enough, I might have a chance here. And although I was naive to think putting work in and showing up would be enough, it definitely wasn’t a bad place to start.
*For legal reasons, Will Smith is not the person I was invited to dinner to meet. As of yet I am not best buds with Jaden or Willow, although we cannot rule out that this is an inevitability.
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