This week’s lesson is that if you want something to go away, do less, not more. This is not only the lesson of the week from Nphet, but one to be taken from the to-do around actor Dominic West.
It started out as a stack of photos of him potentially too up-close-and-personal with co-star Lily James in Rome, and turned into a week-long sensation and scrutinisation of his show of strength with wife Catherine Fitzgerald.
It began as potentially nothing, and it might even have gone away overnight, even in the atmosphere of obsession with our ever-shrinking lives, where distraction is dynamite.
The doorstep declaration that West and Fitzgerald are together and strong really made no difference to whatever conclusions people drew from the original images of West and James, first published in a UK paper on Monday. What the declaration did, however, was to add a whole new angle.
There were the comparisons with Tories such as David Mellor, and their post-scandal parades of family unity. There were analyses of the couple’s body language – defensive, they said, no kidding – and there were all those memes based on West himself, in particular a grimace towards the cameras after a kiss with his wife.
Despite reminders that real people’s lives were involved – not to mention those of their four children – the speculation was feverish for days. Not so much as to whether the snaps of West and James captured something innocent or otherwise, but as to who thought the doorstep idea was a good one.
The intended show of strength served to provide an opportunity to read ‘signs’: the tissues clutched in her hand, perhaps for tears; the lupine smile of West after their embrace; the way she turned her body to his, while he seemed to keep his fixed towards the cameras. The only thing missing was a handwriting analysis of their co-signed note, which read: “Our marriage is strong and we are very much still together. Thank you.”
Speculation was rife as to which party pushed for this display, and who it served. It also led to the fact that the story continued to run as result of it. People are bored and sick of their own lives, so of course an imagined glimpse into another, possibly more exciting one was welcomed.
We watched in Ireland with a sense that we had skin in the game, given that this wasn’t just English people. Catherine Fitzgerald is the eldest daughter of the late Desmond, Knight of Glin, Co Limerick. With West, she has restored the castle on the banks of the Shannon, renting it out to pay sky-high maintenance costs and keeping it alive.
The couple might live in the Cotswolds house outside which they posed early last week, but they are also firmly rooted in Ireland, and reportedly ‘fled’ here last week.
The pair first met at Trinity College Dublin in the early 1990s, while Fitzgerald was an undergraduate studying English and History of Art.
I did the same degree at the same time and knew her then, though I know nothing of her for 25 years since. West and Fitzgerald went out together for a while, then he went on to have a relationship and a child, while she went on to marry Ned Lambton, Earl of Durham, from whom she was later divorced.
West and Fitzgerald met again in their early 30s, through a mutual actor friend. They reignited the romance, married in Glin Castle in 2010, and have four children together. She works as a successful landscape gardener, and he has had considerable success as an actor, significantly in the US, where he has broken out of the posh Eton boy mould and played American characters in The Wire and The Affair.
Until last week, Fitzgerald flew very much under the radar as Dominic West’s wife. She really only surfaced in relation to publicity around Glin Castle, which her family put up for sale after her father died, and the title of knight with him.
Fitzgerald, the eldest of three daughters – and therefore not the new knight – decided to take on Glin with West. They revived and refreshed the 15-bedroom house, made it available as an exclusive private rental and, from time to time, including in the Sunday Independent LIFE magazine last year, she appears with West to publicise it.
That was it, until last week.
Then, the pictures were published of West in Rome, allegedly on a “romantic” break with James, his co-star in an adaptation of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. There were rather a lot of photographs.
The pair were snapped at lunch – with an aside that also at the table was their mutual manager and her child. There was a gesture that looked like a kiss from West on James’s neck at the table. There were shots of them taking in the sights, seeming to frequently touch or reach out to one another with casual intimacy while doing so.
There were a lot of photos, some of which, you could have said, looked more intimate due to camera angle. We all know this is possible now, having taken enough socially distanced snaps angled to create an illusion of closeness.
That said, if another lesson is to be taken out of this, it’s that there’s no way to travel on an electric scooter without it looking both undignified and intimate. Photographs of West commandeering an electric scooter around Rome, with James standing in front of him, his arms either side of her to steer, simply didn’t look great.
Regardless of how innocent the relationship, the optics weren’t great.
We have time for such analysis these days. A glance, a kiss on the neck that might be the cheek, a touch on the chest that seems excessively friendly, even for a pair of actors. We have time for this, but then, inevitably we move on, back to who’s on which level and what’s coming next.
Without the doorstep defiant show of strength by West and Fitzgerald, that might have been it. Photographs open to interpretation on Monday, forgotten by Tuesday.
By stepping out with their hand-written note and embarrassed clinch, however, the couple truly at the heart of this – and not West and James – became the bigger story.
Their relationship suffered the scrutiny, their intimate emotions became the stuff of giddy speculation. They kept the story alive, even as they tried to do the opposite.
To make something go away, do less, not more.