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The Celebrity Guest

I am wondering if fellow EHellions could help with a sticky situation. Soon my dear friend is to become Godmother to my daughter, and I am currently planning the details. This friend happens to be a well-known Minister (as in politically). She is also the daughter of an internationally-renowned author. I have known these two for years and while humble and gracious, you can never go anywhere without people accosting them about work, particularly in the Minister’s case, of course, people always want to have a go about politics. I am afraid my family and friends might be no different and I would love for the Godmother and her mum to enjoy the day as a day off from public duties. Is it ever okay to attach a polite note to an invitation requesting that these two be allowed a day to enjoy the occasion and to refrain from work issues? (The two will be instantly recognizable by the invitees.) This smacks of bossing people around and censoring what they can and can’t say (and not trusting my friends) but I see them regularly and it is wearing to discuss the same books and political issues EVERY single time you go out. I want them to relax, not be on the spot. If this IS ever ok, how would you word it? I have the best of intentions here, but please let me know if I am being overbearing. And no, I cannot trust my family. They are likely to weigh in on sensitive political topics and it would be embarrassing…but they are kind-hearted and if I approach it diplomatically they might behave! 0921-13

Part of being  a public figure is that you are constantly “on” when out in public.  With the benefits of celebrity status comes the downside of losing privacy.  It was this recognition of the costs of being a public figure that fueled my decisions over the past 12 years to decline some very lucrative offers that would have made me far more recognizable but at a cost to my family’s privacy.   I’m quite happy in my modest niche!

That said, I suspect your friends are quite adept at dodging questions they prefer to not answer.   Public figures learn to bean dip early on.   And while your intent to shield them is honorable, you cannot play conversation cop for everyone by crassly laying down the rules of communication in the invitations.    Your best option is to speak privately with the relatives and friends most likely to annoy your celebrity guests with discussions of issues that have no relevance whatsoever to the theme of the party and request that they choose another occasion to have those politically charged discussions.   And then you act as conversational gatekeeper at the party and steer any conversations away from talk of politics.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mer October 3, 2013, 5:13 am

    I agree with admin. I would not place such note in invite, nor would I approach this topic in written form (unless, as I have with some of my friends, writing is the most comfortable communication method between you). But quiet word beforehands, perhaps not in the form of “I hope you don’t start talking politics again!” but rather “It’s so nice that Mrs. Minister will be the godmother of my girl, but I do hope we can avoid political talks in this event. It would be nice to be able to consentrate to my girl.” Works only, though, if the listener can take a hint.

  • Lo October 3, 2013, 5:40 am

    I really like admin’s suggestion to speak privately to people beforehand letting them know this is neither the time nor the place.

    I definitely wouldn’t put it on the invitations but I see no reason not to call up serial offenders of this sort and let them know they need to reign it in. Also feel free to speak up if the conversation turns to politics to reroute the subject.

  • Jinx October 3, 2013, 7:12 am

    I think if it were me, I would gather my small groups of friends invited at a time and say “I’m sure future godmother would like to focus on the event (or OP would somewhat like focus to be on the goddaughter), you are some of my most diplomatic friends, can you please steer the conversation to something else if things get heated politically?”

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

    I don’t know if this is correct, since there is a certain amount of subterfuge, but I think the key is saying “heated”, since you really can’t control the subject crossing over into politics (some people seem only able to talk about it), but it is truly in poor form for any guest to create a convo that could make others in the room uncomfortable. You place the thought of keeping politics out of the convo to people this way, and encourage them to engage in bean-dipping on the odd chance things go “too far”.

  • Abby October 3, 2013, 7:14 am

    I like Admin’s advice, particularly the point about their being many perks of being a celebrity, but also some downsides. I don’t think it’s fair to expect to enjoy the advantages of fame yet expect to be protected from the disadvantages.

    That being said, I’m sure the godmother has been on the receiving end of some very combative and rude comments, because people sometimes just don’t think before they speak. I agree with Admin though that a blanket warning to all guests to mind their manners will not go over well. The part about acting as a conversational gatekeeper is probably the best the OP can do.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith October 3, 2013, 7:41 am

    It’s not likely that there will be enough time at a function celebrating a new baby for a serious discussion of other issues (hopefully). If the occasion is a baptism or dedication with an after-party- goodwill is likely to prevail. (And the social forum is not likely to be as open as an evening and adult-centered party would be).

  • Kimberly October 3, 2013, 7:44 am

    I would not put anything on the invitation, because if someone does not know who they are by chance, then basically you are calling them out.

    What I would do is when at the event, if you notice people trying to talk to them about their political beliefs or ministry or such, then I would politely go over and say, “Oh, Jeanie. Today is not the day for such things. My friends are not working. They are here to enjoy my daughter’s day. How about some bean dip?”

    I would continue to divert the conversation if it goes back to the above, and soon, people will get the hint. (One can hope that they do).

  • clairedelune October 3, 2013, 7:57 am

    Aside from the awkwardness of trying to control conversation, I don’t think there’s any way to include such a directive in an invitation without it looking as if you’re not-so-subtly boasting about having luminaries at your function.

  • Wild Irish Rose October 3, 2013, 8:30 am

    I agree with Kimberly. I wouldn’t say anything to anyone ahead of time–the implication that they really can’t be trusted not to start a politically charged conversation is kind of insulting, in my opinion. But I do agree that you can certainly steer the conversation away from that type of thing IF it becomes necessary.

    Also, if I were the celebrity in question, I’d feel a little funny about my hostess thinking I didn’t have the skills to deflect rude comments myself. As Admin pointed out, people in the public eye are usually quite adept at ducking conversations they don’t want to have.

    And definitely do NOT put anything in the invitation about (un)acceptable topics of conversation! If you feel that some people are likely to start trouble, don’t invite them.

  • Cat October 3, 2013, 8:43 am

    As the host, you have a responsibility to protect your guests from other guests who might see this as an opportunity to confront a well-known person about some topic. I think I would enlist the aid of a couple of trusted friends to help me run interference if need be. As host, you cannot stick to one guest like a leech, so having a couple of people there to bean-dip if someone gets too intrusive seems a delicate way of handling it without putting it in writing that some of your guests behave like jerks if given the opportunity.

  • Kathryn October 3, 2013, 8:59 am

    If there will be (or can be) an announcement of some sort introducing the new Godmother, perhaps that is the way to help nip it in the bud? I am thinking along the lines of, “For many of you __________ needs no introduction, but today I introduce Gertrude’s new Godmother, Ms Minister”, perhaps followed by why she was chosen and how special she is to her family as a friend, not as a professional. She could follow with a comment about today being about Gertrude and her family and her relationship with God. Kind of set up the wall.

    Next, it is strange to me that you feel the need to shield the Minister and her mother from impolite conversation. Surely with the experience and graciousness that has led to her notoriety, she herself has become skillful at dodging inappropriate conversation or commentary. With the groundwork laid that today is about Gertrude, should someone start a boorish rant, she could simply say, “I appreciate your perspective, but today I am concentrating on Gertrude, her family, and the commitment that they and I just made to our Lord” or something along those lines.

  • AE October 3, 2013, 9:08 am

    I think Jinx has the right idea. A quiet word and a request for the help of your friends is likely to create the most effective buffer.
    And if anyone tries to start such a discussion in your presence, perhaps a smile and light, “Oh, let’s let Ms. X take the day off from all that! And beandip….What to you think of this Baptismal gown? It was hand-stitched of spider silk by a secret order of nuns in 1847, legend has it that…”

  • jojo October 3, 2013, 9:33 am

    A mountain of strategically placed bean dip is required here!

    One of my friends is very good at getting a party going and people talking and she always has little games – you can get saucer sized mini crackers (a link to an example is below if Admin is comfortable that it abides by her posting rules, otherwise, search for ‘saucer crackers’ on a well known trading site) with a word game like charades and a joke that would be perfect for a christening after party table favour or wedding- to move the discussion into fun, social territory and away from politics, etc.
    Silly as they are, I’ve seen her use things like this to give work acquaintances a chance to open up conversations and bond over more than their job and discuss their passions.

    You could also joke in a speech/toast thanking Godparent that they’re off duty that day-
    ” Thank you so much for taking a day out of your busy schedule to celebrate with us. Yes, repeat offender ( turn smiling and laughing to someone who wont mind being targeted) , I said a day off politics, so we’ll have none of your mischief and certainly no more discussion of jokey reference to current hot political topic like Michelle Obama’s bangs. Back to rest of speech. ”
    Other than calling up potential offenders and asking for their valuable help in steering conversations towards light topics ( alway, always give troublemakers an ‘important’ but non-essential task), I’d keep the crowd busy with entertainment if you really are dreading yet more droning on.
    Music is always good. The louder the better. Or if you really want to push the boat out, a table magician who can be briefed on people to target if you see an awkward situation arising.

    Here is a link to an example of party crackers, I believe it’s not a particularly common thing in the US- http://www.ebay.com/itm/Party-Porcelain-Crackers-Silver-/221292918464?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item338615f6c0

  • chechina October 3, 2013, 10:24 am

    I agree with Admin and Kimberley above. I don’t have any famous friends, but I have some who are well-versed in their particular fields (mechanics, psychologists, etc). Occasionally they will get cornered into giving advice. If their polite, “Oh, I’m just here to relax” doesn’t work, then I’ll step in as well to repeat the same. There was only one incident when I said, in a jovial tone, “Heads up, their fee is $150 an hour and you’re starting to run a tab.” The person was a bit put-off and scurried away, but my friend thanked me.

  • Angel October 3, 2013, 10:27 am

    The only thing that needs to be on an invitation is the date, time, location and how to RSVP. That’s it. Put anything else on there and you run the risk of people not reading the entire invitation–and maybe even getting the day and time wrong. If I saw the message that you were planning to put on the invite–I would be tempted to send my regrets. Trying to police what people say and topics that should not be discussed does not sound like a very festive occasion. The OP may end up ruining her own celebration by worrying about it so much.

  • Arila October 3, 2013, 10:45 am

    I think it’s a little unfair to call a family celebration of a new member a “public” event. So, in that case, I think that there should be some hope that they can be closer to the level of just-another-guest at this event.

    I do like the idea of conversational gate keepers, and would suggest, as someone else did, that the OP identify others who have the familial clout and diplomacy to join in the effort of conversational-gatekeeping.

  • WillyNilly October 3, 2013, 11:23 am

    I think you should just, at the party, be sure to mingle around and if you hear of either of your friends being dragged into “work” conversations, lightheartedly come in to change the subject. Perhaps any other friends of these two could also do the same.
    “Oh uncle Milt are going on about [political subject] again? Marie is here tonight as godmother, not as minister – its a totally different role! Oh hey while I have you, please do tell us about that trip you took to the shore last spring, quite a few of us were thinking of visiting there ourselves and we’d love some insider tips.” or “Cousin Jane, come now, political talk at a party is so unbecoming and you are looking so lovely tonight; Where did you get this purse, its fabulous! Marie – Jane here is a collector of vintage purses, you should see some of her stash, they are incredible.”

  • gramma dishes October 3, 2013, 12:41 pm

    I suspect that the ‘celebrity’ involved will not hesitate to tactfully and graciously remind other guests that this occasion is about your child and not about politics. She surely has some experience in doing exactly that. If you can trust her to be Godmother to your child, you should be able to trust that she can handle the conversational situation should it occur.

    And who knows? Maybe you’re selling your friends and family members short! Maybe they will behave themselves without having to be reminded that this is not the time, place or occasion for discussions of a political nature.

    If you have enough experience with your immediate family members to know they will behave badly, maybe you will need to have a private word with them in advance. But if she’s your ‘dear friend’, surely they’ve already met her (so they shouldn’t be awestruck) and should be able to distinguish between appropriate conversation at a political event and appropriate conversation at a tiny child’s Christening.

  • Elizabeth October 3, 2013, 12:43 pm

    You really cannot control for this. If other guests cannot be trusted to behave appropriately, unfortunately they will embarrass themselves.

  • Jenn50 October 3, 2013, 12:59 pm

    As I understand it, etiquette forbids suggesting that you expect people will behave badly, even if you have reason to believe they will. I agree that the most gracious way to handle it would be to issue the invitation without any mention of celebrity guests, then have a conversation with the likely offenders beforehand that illustrates that shop talk will be unwelcome. “At first, I was worried that somebody would start a political debate with Minister over the whole (issue of the day) thing, but then I realized that none of my guests would be so crass as to put an honoured guest on the spot at a Christening like that!”

  • Margo October 3, 2013, 2:30 pm

    I think it’s almost impossible to do this because what it boils down to is telling people that they can’t be trusted to behave appropriately.
    I think it is better to be alert and deflect if someone does start on a political debate. I think that Jinx’s suggestion is a good one as it allows you to warn someone off this behaviour without actually accusing them of it, but that depends on those friends who might otherwise not work out that it’s not the right time or place working out that ‘deflect others from starting conversations about politics’ also means ‘don’t start nay conversations about politics yourself’
    I would stay quiet unless you have very good reason to believe that specific individuals will behave boorishly.

  • Jaxsue October 3, 2013, 2:51 pm

    I like the previous suggestions that you not include instructions not to bother the celebrity during the event. A reasonable person would know that. Yes, I realize some people aren’t reasonable.
    This reminds me of the mega-church I used to belong to. An elderly lady who attended there was the mother of a very famous college football coach (90% of US ehellions would recognize his name). Periodically he came to our church for services.
    Our minister thought it would be a good idea to include in the church bulletin notice that he’d be at a certain service, and would we please abstain from talking to him about sports, etc. Honestly, IMO that was eye-roll worthy. And it did make one feel defensive without even thinking or doing anything wrong!
    What should have been done was to speak to people personally who didn’t respect his personal space.

  • Marozia October 3, 2013, 3:27 pm

    Not on the invitation, but speak to people privately before event is the best advice.
    There is a time and place to discuss politics and to do so at a baby’s christening is vulgar, vulgar, vulgar…Need I say more?

  • Louisa October 3, 2013, 4:45 pm

    Hi, OP here. I agree, admin makes excellent points especially that if you choose a life of celebrity then these things happen (and yes, they do all know who the two are, as everyone has at some point commented on my friendship with the Hon. Min. and/or asked for books to be signed by the author; and there will be plenty of time for this sort of conversation, as there is always a social gathering after a Baptism, at least in my parish). I will be following admin’s advice, as always, and am grateful for the pointers. I nearly inserted my own little neatly-written etiquette faux-pas in each invitation, and after some of the submissions, couldn’t bear an eternity of etiquette hell. What if I ended up next to a gimme-pig??

  • missminute October 3, 2013, 9:31 pm

    I’m friends with a man from a prominent media family and I have seen this in action. The family are very good at giving neutral answers and moving the conversation along. I suspect your friends are the same.

  • Library Dragon October 4, 2013, 12:25 pm

    Cat has some good suggestions. Some people end up as a “celebrity” through no choice of their own (a friend ended up on the cover of all major news magazines and as a character in a major film about the incident). Sometimes guests on all points of the political spectrum will want to “get your opinion” of how President X responded. Have the bean dip ready (“Hey don’t your daughters play in the same soccer league?”) is helpful as well as enlisting trusted guests to be ready to pass the bean dip.