We all know one. We've all heard the stories, seen the series, flipped through their columns in the pink magazines, inspected the pages devoted to them in the Daily Mail and TMZ. We have even wondered how it was possible. Among the many names given to them, perhaps the most appropriate would be to describe them as they are: the real gossip girls, the drama queens, those who have figured out how to climb the ranks of society, one secret at a time.
"It must be exhausting." I silently agreed. For a few seconds, before my first interviewee could elaborate, I tried to imagine the number of things they could be referring to with such a simple statement. I thought about the fatigue inherent in constantly maintaining appearances, the demand and discipline that encompasses doing so at all times, and even more so when under the scrutiny of intrusive eyes. I considered the hassle it would be to have to keep a charged social battery ready for any situation, to endure rounds and rounds of small talk, to appease the ego of uninteresting people. Without being able to digress further, K (fictitious abbreviation) continued. "Imagine constantly living in doubt. Not knowing who you can really count on, who your true friends are, who will betray you at the first opportunity so they can 'get ahead'. We're talking about a world where competition cuts deep like a knife, and there are no guidelines about what is considered too petty. Within that constant he-said-she-said it is not possible to identify lines of decorum that remain uncompromising, and it is precisely when you are tempted to believe in the benevolence of people that you understand how low that game can really get. To reach that golden moment when they feel on top of the world, some people are capable of sacrificing almost anything." K is what we can define as a true social butterfly. Invited to thousands of events a year, they’re someone who takes pleasure in keeping all their sources constantly updated, as well as a good few thousand followers on social media. I assumed they were going to share with me aspirations of a life of stardom, but it became clear that, in reverse, K embodies a certain level of compassion and even pity for the curse behind the blessing. In light of this change in tone, I found myself reflecting a bit more on the weight of celebrity. While on the other side of our screens it may be easy to dream of (even envy) the fame and influence of certain personalities, it should be equally immediate to consider how lonely it is to live under the magnifying glass of a public that attacks and defends them with equal readiness and willingness. In between the parties, glossy invitations, and heated dramas, K confessed to me that they felt constantly enticed to peek through the keyhole (now called social media) into the lives of those he somehow envied, but that there are few moments when they really realize that the price to pay for all that is to have to enjoy them alone. In a moment of instant introspection, I thought that we all, at some level, surely suffer from the same malady.
But first things first. This text delves into the understated realm of socialites - a term that encompasses all people who move within the so-called "fashionable" circles of society, and who rejoice in devoting their lives to activities of social entertainment and recreation. Whether they are the souls of the party, flamboyant and showy, or mysterious creatures, silently exerting their influence in a discreet manner discreet, these social personalities carry with them the scrutiny of the masses, as well as their curiosity, which makes them the perfect target on which to sharpen the edges of two of the fundamental spheres of human amusement: gossip, and judgement. Admittedly, when I started to structure this text, I realized that, perhaps like many others out there, I have absolutely contradictory opinions on the subject. Aware that my own references might not be enough, and by way of commitment to the quality of what we expose here, I decided to start by introducing the subject in several conversations, with friends and acquaintances of all walks of life, from which I recovered three testimonies that could collapse empires, but that, naturally, I will share anonymously and in accordance with the standards of chicness. As a preface, I can anticipate that all of them, without exception, confirmed my first theory: whether they support or not this "activity" or classification, any opinion issued about anything related to socialites is accompanied by strong feelings, stories and experiences worthy of a biography, and an astronomical amount of NDA's (non-disclosure agreements) begging to be broken.
As spectators of the unfolding life of such a restricted group of individuals, we incur in what can be summarized as an exacerbation of the so-called "healthy" levels of gossip, to a quasi-voyeurism of the details and idiosyncrasies of their lives. The trick lies in understanding that among those who hate this invasion of privacy - having to deal with it for a variety of reasons, including the recognition of professional talent - some not only appreciate this intensity and attention, but consider there to be many advantages on that side of the mirror. Among the many practical examples we could refer to, a good illustration of this dynamic is the term known as tip-off. The act of discreetly sharing sensitive or secret information is often associated with two instances: when it comes to informing the police (or any other type of competent authority), or the paparazzi. Which brings me to my second conversation. Fashion, that inexhaustible pool of resources, has given me the opportunity to meet J, now a long-time friend, and a major figure in the field of communications and large-scale events - the kind about which we all have too many questions and too few answers: Where do they source the miraculous ideas for some of the centerpieces you see out there? How do ensure a kick-ass guest list? Who decides who lives or dies (in these circles, who sits to the right or left of the host)? What happens behind the scenes, before the Instagram stories are posted where everything seems a little too... perfect? At the time of a certain international festival, J was in charge of the arduous task of managing the event's entrance. "Think of it as a skewed sample of Café Society. Everyone thinks they are someone, many try to act like it, but few really are, indeed, someone. Between supermodels, influencers, designers, glorified assistants, movie or TV stars, the personalities I work with show me daily, and perhaps inadvertently, the tricks they use to manage their ego and that of others. In my personal experience, I would say it's about knowing how to say the right thing to the right person, and perhaps even more so, knowing how to identify the times when you shouldn't say anything at all. If you knew how many scandals out there have started only and solely because those involved, in a desperate attempt to revive their career, light the fuse, call the press, and let everything around them burn..." I wondered if we weren't going too far in this back and forth. I imagined all the debates, discussions and dramas caused by trivial things that were left (or not) unsaid. Could this be the role of gossip? To throw adult men and women down that high school rabbit whole of drama once again? As if the first time around wasn't traumatic enough? J continued, "There is no naïveté in this business. There is no room for it. These people, and all the others around them, including those backstage holding the coats during the photo call, are aware of the myth of 'bad publicity.' Each and every secret serves to move up a rung and get closer to someone more influential, more relevant, with a higher status. The game is always on, and it can be highly addictive to be part of it, but over the years I must admit that while I can't imagine doing anything else, the closer I get to this whole dynamic, the more distance I want to have from it."
Through the interstices of these first impressions, some lines of reasoning were beginning to take shape. Whether near or far, at a more or less high-status level, there is a certain addiction to gossip at both ends of the spectrum. If from the perspective of the socialites - from those we know from reality TV shows to those who prefer a more restricted fame - it is because using their privileged access to people and information seems to them the only viable option to go further, for the rest of the world - those peeking through the keyhole - it is due to the discovery of this new form of entertainment, where nothing is more interesting than watching and judging from a distance. It is too easy. We judge the contexts in which these people are inserted, the decisions they make, the principles that motivate them, and, perhaps above all, we judge the jackpot that is having access to platforms that, although sometimes garbed with fallacious concepts, give them access to a certain level of recognition (regardless of how founded it is or not). Deep down, we feel some envy at the ease with which all this seems to unfold, both within and outside the confines of the television, the parties, the glamour, the social media narrative that we so gladly consume. And so, this leads me to my last interviewee - let's call them T –, a personal assistant to a so-called socialite for two and a half years. After assuring them that I was looking to write a reflection piece rather than an exposé, T accepted my invitation to talk, although somewhat reluctantly. After spending so much time side by side with one of the most influential personalities in high society, they are more than used to dealing with indiscreet requests, external pressures, and elusive attempts in the name of finding that one piece of secret information that, when shared with the right person, can move mountains. I remember well the initial enthusiasm with which T accepted the job alongside this particular socialite. An incurable fan of reality TV, and a victim of what we now know as the All About Eve factor, I remember how they faced the opportunity with that sparkle in their eyes, typical of someone who can see the stars aligning just for them. T began by admitting that the early days were tough. The pace was dizzying, and between managing personal agendas, anticipating needs, and coordinating tasks together with five hundred other people facing the same difficulties (and without much patience for explanations), they quickly realized that it's no accident that being a socialite is considered a job and not a hobby. "It is a full-time job, but unlike any other. The 'job' of a socialite is to build oneself up, in plain sight, but without allowing anyone to notice. It is a perpetual attempt to make the world believe that they live the ideal life, that it’s possible to wake up in the morning perfectly combed, to the sound of birds in the window, and that although they attend events every night, they wouldn't know what a hangover is even if they looked it up in the dictionary because champagne never leaves a trace the next morning." Between laughs, I thought about the light years we would have to travel to reach the parallel reality that is to classify these kinds of concerns as pertinent, and yet it remains so close that if we reach out our arm (or take the right job), we can almost touch it with our fingertips. I openly asked T if it didn't seem empty, childish even, to make that dynamic a purpose of life. After an almost solemn minute, they replied, "Our perspective on things is something you practice, it's a skill. The way you fill your days and the satisfaction you get out of them is changeable. I think that rather than 'empty', a socialite's life is based on a very active choice to separate who they really are from what they project, in order to maintain some sanity, and in that case, emptiness takes up a huge space. Gossip is forcibly part of that, of course, as a tool to upkeep the illusion, but the biggest mistake would be to think that given the opportunity, or if we were to find ourselves in the same context, we wouldn't all do it in the exact same way." Would we, though?
After a moment, it was my turn to gather my thoughts and regroup. I have always believed that occasion is not the sole dictator of free will (it’s called free for a reason). It is not because we are presented with a certain opportunity that we take it, that we know how to take it, or that we even see it as such, and in the case of socialites, there is a detail we must not forget: not everyone who can, wants, and not everyone who wants, can. The absolute jungle that has been described in the previous paragraphs proves it. The world we are talking about is full of trials, traps, and dynamics that unleash a true form of natural selection in its midst. It takes a specific profile to allow survival, a set of intrinsic characteristics that make sure our inner compass still points North, regardless of the circumstances. Maybe that is the only way to know how to deal with a life of gossip... But that’s one secret we’ll never tell.
Translated from the original on The Gossip Issue of Vogue Portugal.
Full credits and stories on the print issue.