You know within a few moments of meeting him whether a “celebrity” is going to be a regular guy. It’s not just the winning smile, or his willingness to pose for endless selfies; it is whether or not he’s matured around a recognizable value system, the presence or otherwise of a due sense of modesty about his achievements, the way he holds himself away from the public spotlight.
Thirty years ago, in London, it fell upon me to arrange for a suitably illustrious guest to speak at a dinner for housebuilding-industry executives and their wives. I remember approaching one or two now-defunct stars of British stage and screen, as well as Carol Thatcher (the prime minister’s daughter), and various others whom I recall with something closer to nostalgia than real fondness. Most were already engaged on the night in question, and the few who weren’t balked at the modest fee I was able to offer them. At the last moment, a colleague suggested that I try the anchor (or reader, as they were then called) of the nightly BBC Television news bulletin, Richard Whitmore.
Whitmore himself answered the number I dialed, and listened briefly to my pitch. He not only said that he would come to the dinner, but told me he would be delighted.
When the night arrived, Whitmore appeared for our rendezvous a minute or two late and apologized profusely for his lapse. He had...