“I was once adored too,” says Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and with only those few words the clown’s facade is ripped apart, and Shakespeare reveals a broken man, crushingly aware of his loss and of his decay into frivolity and irrelevance.
“I was once a celebrity too,” I say, and I also feel the loss – though the experience was not always pleasant. The camera is fattening, my bald head shone like a small sweaty moon, and in the publicity photos the diaphragm of my stethoscope hung down in a white blob at crotch level, looking like my zip was open and my jockeys protruding; being the centre of the universe is a tough job.
But once a media slut . . . “We’re planning a new series, Celebrity Doctor,” said the production company. “Being a celebrity yourself, would you mentor a contestant?”
My immediate reaction, apart from being secretly flattered (we celebrities are deeply insecure and thus easily manipulated), was of outrage; to collude with this circus would be a slur on our ancient profession. These celebrities hadn’t even sat the pre-medical aptitude test (for a mere £70), which shows how doctors are different from mere lay people; more ethical and compassionate, you know.
Then I had a magical thought.
“Could I have Stephen Fry?” I asked, indulging in a brief reverie, the great man and I engaged in scholarly banter by the fireside, perhaps writing a revue together, a droll spoof aimed more at the heart than the head; in revolutionary France we might have opened a salon.
“Yeh, good one,” they sniggered, “But, seriously, we are talking Z list here, weather girls, washed-up musicians, an actress who tried to lose weight by cutting her own head off, all shamelessly eager to be humiliated in any way as long as they get their picture in the tabloids. They need to be validated; we should stick nipples on the camera lens.”
“A persuasive argument,” I admitted. “Because, after all, it’s our vocation to care for everybody, even the completely deluded.”
“Yes, absolutely,” they brightened up, this was a loophole that obviously hadn’t occurred to them before. “That’s right. These poor people need your help. Absolutely. It’s absolutely your duty as a doctor.
“You’ll tutor them for a few weeks, on the job training, and so on, then, bam! They do a surgery on their own. And we film everything, all the funny incidents, the people dying like flies, the emotional stuff. We’re thinking The Hoff. Will he be OK?”
“No,” I said