Britney Spears: harder to stalk than I had imagined

This might bring a whole new audience to Strangers On The Shore and (another) one that will be bitterly disappointed.

I went into t’ Smoke yesterday for a meeting on AQR ambassadorial business and had a spare half hour afterwards before my schlepp back to Jericho (in Oxford, not the West Bank). So I popped into the National Portrait Gallery. I’d last been when I lived in London village in the 90s and was really impressed with the overhaul it’s had (no doubt several years old by now).

Enjoyed David Beckham sleeping on video. However, I saw Tilda Swinton doing the same thing in person inside a case at the Serpentine in the mid-90s and I can attest that there’s nothing like the live experience of watching a celeb sleeping.

The John Swannell room was a giggle, with a marvellously cheesey 80s photo of George Michael and the very funny portrait of museums curator Sir Roy Strong looking like a cross between an extra from Shakespeare In Love and Captain Birdseye:

Sir Roy Strong: An Elizabethan Reverie, by John Swannell, 2010 - NPG - © John Swannell / Camera Press © John Swannell / Camera Press

It was shortly after this that I spotted – or at least think I spotted – Britney Spears with someone else who looked very familiar but I couldn’t place. Writing this now I’ve just realised it was quite possibly Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (of whom I’m a fan).

Karen O and Britney Spears in some horrific alternative reality

Of course I could be completely wrong. But while wolfing down a sandwich in Pret afterwards, my curiosity got the better of me. I thought it would be an easy thing just to Google Britney Spears on the iPhone and see if she was indeed in London that day. Yes I know, it’s borderline weird celeb stalking behaviour and it is beneath me; but anyway, I did it.

But no dice. I’d imagined that your modern global celebrity is pretty much papped 24/7 and her movements would be effectively electronically tagged by the cyberworld, like a recidivist burglar. Perhaps I wasn’t looking in the right places, but I was really surprised how little her movements seemed to be known by the stalkerati. And I gave up, unable to establish the whereabouts of the troubled pop diva. I’ll have to wait for her (I’m sure rigorously detailed) autobiography.

Back to the art though. The highlight for me (and I only had time to whizz around the contemporary stuff on this visit) were the self-portraits by the Bradford-born artist Tony Bevan. There’s a link to his website here: Tony Bevan at the National Portrait Gallery

© Tony Bevan. No sign of Britney Spears or Karen O. I accept I have no evidence.

As ever, it looks much better in real life. I liked the tension between the gritty, bodily rawness here and a more cerebral design sensibility, making art out of the real. It’s as if he’s playing out the conversation between figurative and abstract painting on his own face; and playing out for that matter the body/mind dichotomy there. It’s really quite striking and reminds me of some of the (recently croaked) Lucian Freud’s better stuff.

So a better use of half an hour than fiddling on twitter I’d say, vital though that is for the future of Western society.

Published by Simon Riley

Qualitative researcher in the UK. I listen to people from all walks of life and think about what it all means. I work for leading brands, media companies and government.

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