Harper Beckham still has a dummy at four. Who cares?

Ellen's son with his dummy

Ellen's son with his dummy - Credit: Archant

Parental judgement has become a national epidemic. Like obesity, binge drinking and texting at the dinner table. It’s no longer the remit of meddling mother-in-laws, writes Ellen Widdup.

These days everyone has an opinion and we like to declare it – no matter whom it hurts.

This is especially true when it comes to the rich and famous.

In many ways they provide a benchmark for the rest of us about how – and how not – to behave.

We revel in their images, the juicy bits of gossip, their relationships, wardrobes, mishaps and misdemeanours – all of which is brought to us by the great British press.

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Now, the UK media has a psychotically confused relationship with celebrities.

On the one hand it elevates them to the status of minor deities.

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And, on the other, it prints clinical close-ups of their makeup-free faces or dimply thighs beside a caption reading “Ugh! Disgusting!”

It’s a catch 22 for the fame-hungry.

They need the exposure – they make their money living in the public eye. And yet some scream complaints about intrusion and breach of privacy whenever they meet with some unsavoury coverage.

Recently, there’s the injunction taken out by the “prominent and successful sportsman” to prevent a female celeb from revealing details of their affair.

Unless you live under a rock or shun all social media you will know who the two individuals are by now, but I’m still bound by law from spilling the beans. The judge in the case labelled the woman involved as a “shallow, one-dimensional, cut-out character who broadcasts her entire private life, so that anyone embarking on a relationship with her knowingly takes the risk that it will be made public”.

Well then. Serves him right, if you ask me.

Which is bound to be an opinion shared by many others.

Now, of course, there are times when making private lives public knowledge is abhorrent.

If it’s illegally obtained, for example. Or unjustified.

But if a politician claims to have strong family values while he’s having affairs, a “clean cut” children’s TV presenter unwinds at the weekend with a bit of wacky baccy or an athlete claims to have a rigorous training regime when he resorts to steroids, then they deserve to be shown up for their hypocrisy.

Equally if, like the Kardashians, you are famous for being on reality TV, you can’t later complain that pictures of your bottom that appeared in the glossy mags were obtained without your permission. That would be professional suicide.

Celebrities – by their very nature – offer us ample opportunity to judge. And many would say they are fair game. But if you ask me, this all changes when you involve their kids.

Just last week Kensington Palace claimed the paparazzi harassment of Prince George has increased and photographers’ tactics are becoming increasingly dangerous.

Now, the little royal is third in line to the throne. Naturally we want to know everything about him. But he is also two years old. He didn’t ask for all this. And surely he should be allowed to enjoy a relatively normal childhood before he is thrust into a role he had no choice about accepting?

Then there are the stories about other celebrity kids.

Suri Cruise, age nine, the daughter of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, has been pictured with ice-cream all over her face, her finger up her nose, throwing a screaming tantrum in the street, going to gymnastics. She has been shot in tears, in pain, in fits of giggles.

Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s kids were recently pictured crying amid reports of their parents’ impending divorce. And Lourdes Leon, daughter of Madonna, was snapped puffing on a fag at age 15. Angelina Jolie’s brood has been photographed looking tired after a long-distance flight under a headline criticising her “dragging” them from continent to continent. Yes, because nothing ruins a child like seeing the world, does it?

Their guardians did not grant permission for the images to be taken. But they were somehow deemed to be in the public interest. You see, photos of celebrity kids allow us to pass judgment on their parents’ abilities. Which is why poor David Beckham was left to deal with a storm of controversy only a week or so ago.

Golden Balls was snapped with daughter Harper who, at age four, had a dummy clasped between her lips. It was a joyous family picture, the father tousling the hair of one of his sons while his littlest ran alongside. But instead of celebrating the bond, the fact they were spending time together, the furore that followed – in the media, online, in parenting circles – was venomous. Harper could develop “speech or dental issues” later in life, the critics claimed. David was a “lazy father” for not taking the pacifier away.

Victoria should be “ashamed of herself”.

Well, guess what. My son had a dummy until the age of four, too. I’m not ashamed of it. Just like I’m not ashamed of bottle-feeding, co-sleeping, bribery with sweets, pregnancy weight gain and occasionally losing the plot.

Of course, I am glad my decisions, transgressions and contraventions are not played out in the public eye – except for here in this column, I suppose. But stories like these simply highlight just how mean-spirited we have become towards other parents and their choices.

David Beckham rose to the top of his profession as a teenager and has remained there for more than 20 years. As far as British stars go he dwarfs – in terms of global familiarity – anything else we have produced. Frogs in swamps in the Amazon jungle have heard of this guy.

Even the ones that don’t like football.

And part of this is due to the showbiz status afforded to him by the media.

As such, we should be allowed to discuss his sporting prowess, marvel at his ever-changing hairstyles, dissect his marriage to his equally fame-driven wife.

Hell, it’s even OK to laugh at the way he speaks. After all, he has chosen this career path. He knows scrutiny is part and parcel of Brand Beckham.

But delving into the lives of his kids, photographing their every move and judging his parental ability on whether the youngest still has a dummy?

Well, quite frankly, I think that sucks.


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