Victoria Mary Clarke's struggle to be a VIP: 'People would push past me to talk to Shane and take pictures of him as though I were invisible'
She started name dropping at nine, and from then on, for Victoria Mary Clarke, life was one big mission to be famous and important. She tried to do it lots of ways, mainly by hanging around with celebrities, even though she often had nothing to say to them. And then, she learnt her lesson in a very curious way
I first started name-dropping when I was nine.
It was an accident. At a new school, one of the teachers found out that I was related to the poet Austin Clarke, and seemed to think that was special. I liked the feeling of being a bit important, so I started telling people about my famous grandfather. I even began to write poetry, in an attempt to emulate him, and my teacher was so impressed that he entered me in poetry competitions. This backfired when I didn't win. Although, later on, when I met Bono, he said that he was a fan of Austin Clarke. So my name-dropping did pay off in the end.
For a while, I tried to impress people by using my talents. I wrote plays, and took acting classes, and played the piano, and danced. But these activities got a lukewarm response and not the rapturous applause that I longed for, and that only made me resentful.
What strongly motivated me was a desire to look like a pop star, and to meet pop stars, even if I didn't have the nerve to actually become one. Because of this desire, I opened a vintage-clothes shop when I was 16. The vintage clothes all came from London, where I got to meet Boy George at the Camden Palace: my first encounter with a proper VIP.
The excitement of this was ridiculous. I was rendered speechless and frozen to the spot, nose-to-nose with him on the stairs, staring at his perfect eye make-up. I can still see him politely waiting for me to either say something or go away.
I decided that I would need to live in London if I wanted to meet more pop stars, and before my parents had even noticed I was gone, I was living in a flat in Finchley and selling second-hand clothes in Camden Market. It was while doing this that I was introduced to my partner, Shane MacGowan.
I fell hopelessly, madly in love with Shane; I worshiped him; I wanted nothing else except to be with him. He was everything that I was not. He had talent and focus and charisma and self-belief. When we went to parties full of famous people, I got so excited and nervous, it was like I was on crack. But Shane didn't even notice them, until inevitably they would approach him and introduce themselves. People like Robert De Niro, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Serge Gainsbourg; all the great artists wanted to meet him, and he showed just as much interest in taxi drivers and homeless people.
I wanted to grab hold of the glamour and the fame; I wanted to feel important. So I spent my life dieting and exercising in an effort to look good, and I went with Shane to all the premieres and parties, hoping to be noticed. But people would push past me to talk to Shane, and to take pictures of him as though I were invisible. It was excruciatingly painful. At the Oscars, Jim Sheridan found me sitting on the ground in my torn evening gown, with mascara all over my face, bawling my eyes out because nobody was noticing me, when obviously it was Jim who was up for the Oscar and not me.
Being insecure and terrified of rejection, I had absolutely nothing to say for myself, no matter how fabulous the people were. Because Shane was always the point of connection, and because they loved his music, they would always want to talk about him. I would often find myself meeting someone that I had a massive crush on, such as Matt Dillon or Matthew McConaughey or Joaquin Phoenix, only to find that Shane was the only thing we spoke about. Which always left me feeling hopelessly inadequate, and which led to me resenting Shane and his fame so much that I wished he would not get to number one in the charts. I wished he would become anonymous like me.
Being nervous and having nothing to say didn't stop me wanting to be around the celebrities. I just got very drunk and collected their phone numbers, and later I dropped their names into conversations with people who might be impressed. My friends and work colleagues were sometimes envious, but their envy didn't give me what I wanted; it was never satisfying. I did make friends with some very famous people, and those people were worth the effort, but it was difficult because it involved taking risks and calling them even when I suspected that I was not good enough for them. And it was really embarrassing when they didn't invite me to their parties. When Kate Moss got married, I agonised about what I would say to people if she didn't invite me to her wedding - but luckily she did.
In another attempt to be around famous people, I became an entertainment journalist, interviewing actors, writers and musicians. I got to be alone in hotel rooms with all kinds of people this way - Aidan Quinn, Jeremy Irons, Kiefer Sutherland, and anyone else who was doing the rounds. I made myself look as good as possible, and I prayed that one of them would notice me, think I was an undiscovered genius and pluck me from obscurity. It never happened. Then I wrote a book about Kurt Cobain, which he hated so much that he threatened to kill me. That got me on television, but it was quite frightening and not really what I had in mind.
Johnny Depp was one of Shane's admirers, and when he was opening his Viper Room club in LA, he wanted Shane to sing at it, so we spent a lot of time hanging around with Johnny in Hollywood, surrounded by velvet ropes and bodyguards and limousines. It was an incredible rush for me, to be walking past all the 'civilians' and into the extra-VIP mirrored booth; it was thrilling to know that people were watching me sitting with Johnny and wishing they could be there, too. When Johnny decided to film a video for Shane's song, That Woman's Got Me Drinking, with me as the female star and Johnny as the male love interest, I almost exploded with delight. But even having hit the mother lode of VIP status, I still found myself afraid to speak, terrified that I had nothing to say, and so I sat in the limo with Johnny, feeling awkward and stupid and wishing he would go away.
The stuff you learn at school, I found very easy, and the exams were effortless. But they didn't teach us anything about emotions or psychology or relationships. I wanted love and attention from my parents, but I signalled this
to them by wearing bin bags and smoking fags and listening to the Sex Pistols, and by being as hostile and contemptuous as possible. I presume they were terrified to come near me. But somehow it seemed logical to me to make it my mission to make the world notice me and validate me, in order to get their attention and approval.
Just before I cracked up completely, I went on a massive binge of trying to get myself famous. While we were in LA, I had discovered Deepak Chopra, and I devoured all his stuff, especially his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, which, to my mind, suggested that what I needed to do was get enlightened, and this would get me famous. I followed his advice religiously, and I wrote a novel about my spiritual journey - kind of like Eat, Pray, Love. I fully intended this to get me on Oprah and to make me into a global guru and a millionaire motivational speaker. I also wrote a screenplay based on the book, and I pitched a television series about myself to Channel 4.
While I was waiting for success, I made a sculpture of an angel dressed in Prada for Charles Saatchi. Shane and I had taken to hanging around with people like Damien Hirst in the Groucho Club in Soho, and it had occurred to me that becoming a famous artist was a certain route to stardom. And possibly a very easy one, if only Saatchi would discover me. The novel, the screenplay and the TV show were rejected, and I found the sculpture in a bin bag at the Colony Room Club in Soho. So I checked into The Priory hospital, and told them I was suicidally depressed because I wasn't famous or important.
The psychiatrist in The Priory told me that I needed to work on my self-esteem, and accept being ordinary, which just made me angry. The only thing that cheered me up was Martin McDonagh, who visited me and sympathised with my predicament and burned all my rejection letters.
Being told you need to love yourself is infuriating beyond belief. Because it's really hard to do. After being released from The Priory, I left Shane, who was struggling with drug addiction, and I moved to Dublin and spent a year just lying around, feeling hopelessly depressed, in a damp, gloomy, grotty bedsit, which was so small you had to stand on the bed to get at the kitchen. My world view was similarly catastrophic.
Miserable as I was, I was also furious about having wasted so much time on self-help and spiritual development with no discernible results. I did not know if I believed in the Universe or The Secret or any of it, but I decided to challenge whoever is up there deciding that I don't get to win the lottery or become a supermodel or live happily ever after. So I sat in the bedsit with a notepad, and I wrote a question to whoever is up there, just asking for help. And I refused to budge until I got answers.
What happened next was astonishing. Something spoke to me. It didn't speak out loud, but it forced me to write - like automatic writing - and while I was writing, I felt like I had been taken over, possessed by a very benevolent being. The being said that it was an angel, but I didn't actually care what it was. I was just excited to be getting a result, and intrigued by how warm and comforting and safe it felt, and interested in the results. Like an invisible life coach, the angel began advising me on how to improve my mood, my relationships, my finances, my career and my appetite for life. It started just by asking me a lot of questions about what happiness really meant to me, and why I thought I hadn't achieved it. It suggested to me in a good-humoured way that my attitude was the problem; that if I insisted on seeing everything as a failure, and if I was intent on blaming everyone else, and not taking an active part in changing my life, things would stay the same.
It asked me to pay more attention to what was working than to what was not, to even just acknowledge the good things in my life. It gently and sometimes forcefully guided me to find work writing the health page for the Sunday Independent, which resulted in me interviewing a lot of people who had really awful things to put up with. Some had been paralysed or blinded, or had been diagnosed with cancer. Without exception, they were more cheerful than I was, and all of them were glad to be alive in spite of their challenges. I discovered two things after speaking to them. One was that I began to appreciate my perfect physical health. And the second was that while I was with these people, I completely forgot about my own misery.
Every day, things improved. I found it impossible to go back to feeling totally hopeless. Every day I had conversations with the angel, and often it would surprise me, astonish me, make me laugh, and make me see things from a completely different perspective.
From being alone, miserable and totally broke, I began to have a career and friends, and to have a sense of belonging and achievement. I even got back my relationship with Shane, when I stopped blaming him for my failures.
I continued asking for advice and discussing my situation on a daily basis, filling stacks of notebooks. I still do this. The angel suggested that I turn them into a book, and I did. The book was called Angel In Disguise and Kate Moss said it was "F***ing brilliant", which I used as the cover quote. It was not a global bestseller; I didn't get on Oprah. But real people came up to me in the street and wrote to me, and told me that it had rescued them from depression and really helped them.
That was my first inkling of what it might be like to create something of value, rather than just doing something to get status and success. I liked it very much. It occurred to me that every single one of my famous friends was making something of value that gave pleasure to other people, which might be why they all seemed more interested in their work than in their fame.
Gradually, I got up the courage to teach other people how to channel their own inner wisdom, I called it 'channelling your angel self', because I realised that we each have access to a wise and compassionate part of ourselves, even if we don't always realise it, and you don't have to believe in angels to do it. People liked it. They hugged me and told me that I had helped them and inspired them and made them feel good about themselves.
For the first time in my life, I experienced what it is like to have no need or desire to be important. The attention and energy I had been trying to get from strangers was flowing out of me to other people, and their genuine appreciation was wonderful.
One day I was invited to give a talk to a group of business women about how they could get publicity. I was nervous, but I told them everything I knew about what journalists are looking for and about how to tell their stories with passion. Afterwards, they asked me to media-coach them, and I agreed to give it a try.
I did not believe that I could enjoy seeing someone else get all the attention, but that is exactly what happened. I used all the energy that I used to put into getting fame for myself to get fame for them. And it is riveting to me now to help people to sparkle and shine, and to see pictures of them in the papers, almost as though they are my children.
Like any drug, getting media attention can be an enormous buzz. But like any drug, the buzz wears off and you need a bigger hit. I cannot pretend that I don't still get off on it. Of course I do. I love it as much as I love chocolate.
But I have come to realise that there are better and easier ways to feel good about yourself. And I am glad it's not too late to have learned.
Victoria Mary Clarke will be presenting 'Get Your Business Famous', a one-day seminar for women in business on April 18 in Dublin. For information and tickets, see victoriamaryclarke.com