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Tall poppy syndrome - why we Irish love to hate our celebs


Celebs we love to hate: Amy Huberman and Bono

Celebs we love to hate: Amy Huberman and Bono

Celebs we love to hate: Amy Huberman and Bono

When Amy Huberman married Brian O'Driscoll last year, she experienced nothing but overwhelming goodwill from the Irish public. Little could she have foreseen the backlash she would incur when she accepted an invitation to last month's royal wedding.

In fact, some of the comments online appeared downright vitriolic as Amy admitted to being "excited and nervous" ahead of the big occasion. "Would suit her better to be there for her hubby and not to go attention seeking. Amy Huberman get a life," sniffed one online commentator on an Irish news website.

"Get a life woman ... do you think your (sic) royalty? Pathetic," opined another. Naturally, such comments say more about the anonymous haters than Huberman herself, but it's difficult to deny that the online verdict about Huberman's decision to attend the royal event was anything but scathing.

Another online poster summed it up succinctly: "Now I know where the Irish get their begrudgery label." The Irish are known the world over for many things; their ability to drink like fish, their love of a good story ... and their amazing ability to resent and envy others". Certainly the evidence indicates that, once an Irish celebrity enjoys certain success or gets 'ideas above one's station', public opinion can turn quickly sour.

Just last month, Ryan Tubridy came under fire for having the temerity to consider a summer job with the BBC.

The broadcaster, who earns a cool €500k a year, is set to pocket a further €30k when he fills in for Graham Norton on BBC Radio. Tubridy has signed a deal with the BBC for a run of eight Saturdays, starting at the end of July.

Tubridy was sufficiently low-key about the rumour before the deal was confirmed. Despite being slammed for letting their main man head to the Beeb, RTE has said it would have no power to stop him as he is a free agent for part of the summer.

The public appeared less than happy for him ("I'll drive him to the airport myself," said one anonymous online poster).

Last month, footballer Stephen Ireland felt the wedge end of an unforgiving public after an interview with France's 'So Foot' magazine. "International soccer doesn't interest me. Going away for three days to play in Andorra -- I've got better things to do. Also, when you're Irish, you know you'll never win the World Cup.

"Even when I played for the youth teams, I got fed up at having to go away. Everyone else was from Dublin and I came from Cork. I had to get the train on my own, pay for a taxi, there was no hotel, no food. The organisation was amateurish."

The UK-based footballer then courted yet more controversy as he waxed philosophical about the economy in Ireland: "Ireland is reaping what it sowed," he said. "We built blocks of flats just for the sake of it and now there's no one inside them. It cost huge amounts of money and nobody is in a position to pay.

"But I don't care about Ireland. I don't know if I'll go back one day. Live in Cork? I might as well shoot myself. I prefer Los Angeles." Like many Irish people, Leigh Arnold and Caroline Morahan have also left Ireland in search of pastures new. Leigh left for New York in a bid to boost her acting career, while Morahan famously departed Ireland with a one-way ticket to Los Angeles in 2009 with dreams of stardom.

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The latter, in particular, appears to have tasted a curious form of Schadenfreude when her acting career failed to sky rocket.

"I really admired Caroline for leaving Ireland for LA, but going amid such a blaze of publicity was perhaps not a great idea," observes a TV insider. "People are only too happy to see people return with their tail between their legs."

Others have experienced begrudgery too, to varying degrees; Cecelia Ahern, Colin Farrell, Glen Hansard, Jonathan Rhys Meyers all appear to have no shortage of detractors. Their only crime, seemingly, is becoming successful outside of Ireland. And of course, Bono is also on rather intimate terms with tall poppy syndrome. A rather intriguing quote is attributed to him: "American people see the guy with the house on hill, say, 'I'm gonna work real hard and one day have a house like that'... Irish people see the guy with the house on the hill and say, 'One day, I'm gonna get that f****r.'"

Begrudgery appears to be as intrinsic a part of the Irish psyche as loving Father Ted and having a fondness for Barry's Tea ... presumably as a result of 800 years of being controlled by other people.

"For centuries, we were taught to keep our heads down and not draw attention to ourselves," says Paula Gargan, a psychotherapist at St Patrick's Hospital. "This is inherent in Irish people because of their low-self esteem. Very simply, we don't praise each other enough."

Communications expert and social diarist Wayne Cronin, is in full agreement: "Perhaps it comes from years of oppression, from a time when success was simply out of reach for the average Irish person and so it was viewed with suspicion. Some people may feel that they're not good enough, they're not clever enough, that they won't achieve their goals. So, when others succeed there is an inner rage and resentment that says, 'If I can't have it, then I don't want you to have it either'.

We're not alone in our begrudgery-- it's a popular pastime in the UK and Australia too -- but the Celtic Tiger spawned a new breed of gloaters.

"I think the boom gave many people freedom and opportunities they otherwise may not have had and so we made the most of it," notes Cronin.

"Those who didn't reach their aspirations, while everyone else did, now have a tendency to gloat at misfortune."

However, members of the Irish public aren't the only culprits responsible for the phenomenon, according to Cronin. "When it comes to celebrities, the public, and it has to be said the media, take great pleasure in knocking them off the pedestals we build for them," he notes.

"Some people just can't handle the fact that, yes, it is possible to be talented, good looking, stylish, wealthy and to be married to somebody equally so. I put it down to pure and utter jealousy."

Yet there are those who are seemingly impervious to such a fate. Saoirse Ronan, Imelda May and Michael Fassbender have all made impressive inroads in their respective fields, yet have managed to sidestep ill-will altogether.

"Saoirse Ronan seems like a nice, talented individual and she hasn't yet said or done anything to offend," observes Cronin.

"Sometimes celebrities can bring negative attention upon themselves by trying too hard to be 'cool'.

"Actor Robert Sheehan was interviewed on 'The Late Late Show' recently and his offbeat sense of humour didn't go down well with viewers and the general consensus was that he was trying to be smart."

However, the tall poppy syndrome has filtered down to the far reaches of Irish society.

"Take, for example, the ambitious executive keen to climb the corporate ladder but slandered by colleagues who are envious of their promotion," says Cronin.

"In society, everybody is trying so hard to be the most popular or the most fashionable and that's when it starts.

Take heed though: whether in a social setting or business environment, begrudgery only serves to highlight resentment and spitefulness."

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