We live in a media age driven by TV, Radio, Newpapers and Internet, where the definition of entertainment has changed: We are interested in personalities and no longer satisfied with persona – being in the media as part of a job is no longer possible, we want everything – be it Jordan getting her tits out in public, Chris Evans being pissed in a pub, Richard Branson going for another failed balloon ride or David Beckham texting his latest indiscretion. We want to know these people, we want a piece of them. Tuning into their radio show or watching them kick a ball about is simply not enough.
The proliferation of gossip magazines and reality television were natural extensions to the trend in late ‘90s personality lead tabloid journalism. A byproduct is a group a savvy individuals who have accrued fortunes far beyond their wildest dreams and, arguably, far beyond their talent.
And the participants can only manipulate this trend to their advantage for so long – there is a down side – the public fascination is as greedy for the bad news as the good news. The media is not stupid, what goes up must come down and the coming down sells at least as well as the going up.
So who is Gordon Ramsay? That shy, quiet, upper class lad in the Rangers dressing room? The man who has amassed a reputed £20 million fortune? Is he a case of what you see is what you get?
Gordon’s flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road is the undisputed king of restaurants in Great Britain – number one in The 1% Club – holder of 3 Michelin Stars, 10/10 in the Good Food Guide and 5 AA Rosettes. Those in the know, know it is perfection. Gordon has undoubtedly great talent, drive and professionalism and in every respect has earned the right.
So what is his new, enhanced, media profile all about? The Boiling Point fly-on-the-wall had the ingredient of a ‘cool angle for a TV programme’ as it focused on the personality; an aggressive, bullying NCO. Was that real or briefed? Who knows? The public bought it and loved it. Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen fed us some more of this personality, only offering occasional glimpses of the expertise that has made Ramsay the master of his craft.
From Parkinson – where he talked movingly about his relationship with his father (doesn’t everyone on Parkinson) – to Desert Island Disks, Gordon has embraced the media age.
I can only imagine that he (or his advisors) believe there’s a need to ‘broaden the brand.’ While the majority of the millions who now know him will never eat at his flagship restaurant, this may not stop them from buying his books or paying a visit to his mid-market eateries.
Since Delia made her millions, the revenue opportunity from books is not to be underestimated – WH Smiths has an ever expanding section dedicated to writings of chefs. Not just recipe books, personality books – biographies and such.
But is it worth the risk to Gordon of putting his personal life under potential scrutiny?
We saw during the second week of Hell’s Kitchen, the tabloid press dig up an old 1993 charge of gross indecency in a Green Park tube station toilet. While Gordon laughed this off as ‘drunken high jinx between friends’ he was notably seen in the same tabloid press a week later being photographed with is wife leaving The Ivy. Welcome to the circus!
It is also a pity that the media generates an emphasis on style over substance. Had you never experienced Gordon Ramsay as food on a plate, you’d be forgiven for differentiating him from Ainsley Harriot as the ‘potty mouthed rude one.’ Of course, this is another price of mass appeal, your entertainment value is packaged and labeled by your profile and not your genuine talent.
I’ve seen it written that he’s The Johnny Rotten of the chef world (in The Observer no less). And this indeed plays to the profile, one which Gordon is happy to play back. He was asked in a one minute internet interview when he last lied. His reply was ‘yesterday to a vegetarian in my restaurant, I told them the sauce was made from vegetable stock when it was made from Chicken stock.’ (Subsequently retracted)
This is where things start to get a little dangerous. It’s a question of priorities. Gordon is not Anthony Bourdain; he is a great chef and recognized as such by his peers and industry watchers – surely that must be paramount to him. The sex appeal of being considered a rebellious rock star or a Kitchen Confidential character might be exciting but the excitement is hollow.
These are characters of relatively limited talent. I genuinely hope that Gordon Ramsay is a man we don’t know at all; a man with genius who understands his Slim Shady and where to draw the line, and above all, that the ‘success can be skin deep’ philosophy of the media age does not leak into his kitchen.