I’ve never forgotten seeing an interview with Dannii Minogue on television in, I believe, 1996, in which she talked about what an attractive trait confidence is in a human being. She was discussing not so much what she found attractive in a man but making the point that being confident is the key to being an attractive person oneself. (I’ve also never forgotten the way Dannii and her personal trainer, High Voltage, were always all over the cover of Woman’s Day during that era. Where is High Voltage now?) This interview with Minogue is just one of the reasons why I spend a lot of time contemplating the desirability, or not, of being possessed of a lot of self-belief.
Through the course of my life, I haven’t met a huge number of people who wholeheartedly exude this quality. The ones I have encountered who do, I’ve met through having worked in publishing. In my experience of dealing with people who have written books, a person’s level of confidence is frequently in inverse proportion to the amount of ability that they actually have. However, there are exceptions to any rule, and I did once work with an author who was not only extremely talented but a total stranger to self-doubt. She somehow hypnotised me into purchasing her entire backlist, with my own money, through sheer force of personality and the strength of her conviction that it would be impossible for anyone not to adore reading every word she had ever written. She was also highly convincing when putting forth the thesis that actually seeing her speak her own words aloud was about the greatest treat that life could have to offer, which meant that I once spent an evening at a Gay Games poetry reading. The event had begun especially badly for me when the hostile female dwarf who was manning the door spoke to me sharply after I had tried to walk in without her say-so, which I had done only because she was below my eye line and so I simply had not seen her. Still, this encounter was an appropriate overture to the misery to come, which involved VB on tap and hours of verse about clitoral stimulation.
Speaking of authors, I have often heard the story of one who, having self-published his first novel, gave copies of this work to all his then-colleagues so that they could read it. Now, I have always found this tale intriguing, in terms of the psychology involved. How would any normal person feel the morning of the day on which they were doing this; carrying the books into work in a big box and looking ahead to the unspeakably embarrassing conversations they were going to have with people while handing out the weighty tomes? I would rather be force-fed a carton of glacé fruit than try to pull off something like that, largely because I know exactly how much opprobrium I myself would heap on any colleague who waltzed in one day, thinking that all his co-workers, to a man, would be dying to read his self-published tale. However, the individual in question has become massively successful, so who’s laughing now?
The thing is, are you better off being overconfident, even if virtually everyone else in the world finds your actions a cause for mirth, if all that pushiness gets you somewhere? If you’re forging ahead and moving on, like Robin Stone in The Love Machine, do you just feel so marvellous, and is your life so great, that others’ slings and arrows count for nothing?
While at a green grocer’s recently, I overheard a conversation between the young woman on the counter and someone who was, I assume, a friend of hers. The friend was really the one who was doing most of the talking. Despite her total whiteness, she was saying at the top of her voice, ‘He’s pretty, but I ain’t datin’ him!’, sounding strangely like she should have been sitting on a ‘stoop’, speaking these words under the direction of Spike Lee. Now, not to put too fine a point on it, this girl weighed about twenty stone, yet was apparently refusing to go out with someone for whom Oscar Wilde would gladly have gone to prison. On the one hand, I knew I should theoretically be feeling all ‘You go, girlfriend!’ at this teenage female’s massive self-confidence, but, on the other, it really just got on my nerves. I was annoyed with her largely on the basis that I wouldn’t have turned down a date with anyone at all when I was her age, and I hadn’t even been as fat as she was. But what do I know? Maybe thanks to all this self-love, that teenage girl is, as was my author friend, able to hypnotise others into worshipping her, while there I was, merely an old trout purchasing a solitary onion.
I’ve realised that what I principally need to aim for in this life is not to look any stupider than I do already, and have observed that one line of attack that people take in order to try to ward off ridicule is to get all English, and be wittily self-deprecating, in the manner of a character from Notting Hill. Now consider the fact that the alternative to this approach is, say, following the example of Rose Hancock (as she then was) when she appeared on 60 Minutes in 1986, denying rumours about her past by screeching, ‘Would I have been a maid, with these looks?’ Notably, however, it has been alleged to me that Rose once renamed one of her own maids after a luxury clothing brand. Not only do I find this titbit intriguing, just look at what it says about the station in life that all that chutzpah has enabled her to reach.