As the vast, rolling ball of obesity gathers momentum, no one can be sure who will be crushed next, but of all those who cower in its path few, surely, ought to be in greater trepidation than McDonald’s. Not a bit of it. Far from being cowed, the giant multinational that brought junk food to the world’s masses and made them massier still is fair bursting with chutzpah.
Witness its latest venture in London’s West End. According to a recent report, McDonald’s is to open an “upmarket version” of one of its restaurants, in The Strand. “The firm claims leather armchairs, acres of designer chrome and glass, and soft lighting will turn it into a ‘star spotter’s paradise’.”
This raises questions, both of the philosophical and practical variety – such as what, in this secular age, do we mean by paradise? It is not a word much used in the West, other than in a trivial sense, and it seems unlikely that McDonald’s, having invested in chrome, glass and soft lighting, is anything other than profound in its intent. Nor are we much helped by the example of those who take paradise seriously. We know, for instance, that some Muslims believe the next world allocates 17 virgins for each male newly arrived at the check-in desk. But we also know from our own Christian God that deities may have a mischievous sense of humour, hence a paradise containing a serpent and a spiked apple. To be a virgin is not necessarily to be either young or comely, so there might be a catch in the Islamic version of heaven, waiting to puncture the libido.
Might not similar snares await the star-spotters eagerly perched on their vantage points at McDonald’s in The Strand? I mean, one person’s star is another person’s bore. Can you imagine the following exchange?
“‘Ere Stacey, isn’t that that Roy Strong over there, him with the extra fries?”
“Oh yeah, didn’t I read that he was involved in a nightclub spitting incident?”
“Nah, silly. That was that Dr Jonathan Miller. Or was it that VS Naipaul?”
Speaking for myself, the idea of being holed up, cheek by chomping jowl, with celebrities in McDonald’s, even a branch so luxuriously appointed it boasts leather armchairs of the kind found in the smoking room of the Athenaeum, is a vision not of paradise but of the other place. Even Dante in his darker moments cannot have imagined a fast-food restaurant in which the blameless diner, pausing on his journey along life’s rock-strewn path, finds himself cast into the midst of Vinnie Jones, Lowri Turner, the Beckhams, Charlie Dimmock, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Jonathan Ross, Alex Best, Vanessa Feltz, Dave Lee Travis, Linda Barker, Davina McCall, Carol Vorderman and Carol Smillie.
Admittedly, not all of those notables are likely to turn up at once, even when there is a special offer on a Hamburger Meal, but the thought that they might is in a way worse than the reality. The prospect would unsettle the stomach and ruin the appetite in much the way that a lascivious octogenarian virgin might disturb the equilibrium of a spectral young Lothario newly reconstituted on the other side.
Luck and the theory of probability combine to ensure that celebrities, unlike sorrows, are liable to come as single spies rather than battalions. And yet, there are places – The Ivy to name but one – where they gather in numbers with the purpose of being seen. For those of us who would rather go hungry than have drawn into our field of vision Anne Robinson, Esther Rantzen, Graham Norton, Richard and Judy, Cilla Black and Camilla Parker-Bowles, such places are easily avoided. But McDonald’s has until now been a safe place (though some of its sterner critics would exempt the food from that assurance). In future, we shall have to take care where we eat.
I have yet to mention the class of celebrity whom I classify as a screamer. I do not refer to their voices but the effect they have on the beholder. Anyone who has seen those Thirties cinema posters in which people run towards the camera, arms outstretched, eyes wild, and mouths agape in silent howls of terror will know what I mean. These people have seen The Thing, and they do not like what they have seen.
Of course, everyone will have his own idea of The Thing. Mine include Madonna, Janet Street-Porter, Robbie Williams, Susannah and Trinny, Emma Thompson, and Johnny Vaughan. But the zenith of Thingness, the horror beside which jumping naked into a viper-infested bed of nettles would be an attractive alternative, is Ruby Wax, the best example yet in God’s creation of excruciating, toe-curling vulgarity made flesh.
Some readers may have noticed an omission. Why, they might ask, have I excluded Jordan from my stars to be avoided? It is because she is mistakenly derided as “No Einstein” when in truth she has demonstrated a law as unshakably correct and universally valid as relativity itself. It is that two huge artificially-constructed tits exert a magnetic attraction over millions of the genuine article, almost all of them tabloid readers. It is for that contribution to science alone that I would happily sit alongside her in my leather armchair and watch through blissfully half-closed eyes her silicone orbs refracted through the glass and soft lighting of a star spotter’s paradise.