Dame Emma Thompson is said to have been “horrified” to learn a waiter lost his job for asking for a selfie with her while he was working. The story raises questions about the correct etiquette when it comes to photos with celebrities (and brings back memories for one BBC reporter).
When most of us go out for a meal, we generally want to spend a leisurely evening catching up with friends over a nice glass of wine.
So you can understand why some celebrities get irritated when fans disturb them to ask for photos, just as they’re tucking into their main course.
While most actors and pop stars are all too happy to meet and take selfies with fans on red carpets and at premieres, the rules of engagement are slightly more hazy when it comes to their personal lives, as one waiter found out last weekend.
Dame Emma Thompson was eating out at the five-star Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, according to The Sunday Times, when a waiter approached her and asked for a picture. Thompson politely declined – saying she didn’t want to impose on her fellow guests and spoil the atmosphere.
The next day, the waiter was suspended from his job, having apparently broken the hotel’s strict protocol.
But when The Sunday Times told Dame Emma of this development, she phoned the manager of the hotel and encouraged Brown’s to reinstate the waiter.
The hotel’s managing director Stuart Johnson told BBC News: “Caring for the privacy and wellbeing of both team members and guests, we are unable to make further comment on this matter.”
The story had particular resonance for this reporter – although my anecdote fortunately didn’t lose me my job.
In 2005, I was working as a waiter in a branch of Frankie & Benny’s in South Queensferry, just outside Edinburgh.
This was my first proper job out of high school and several years before I became an entertainment reporter for BBC News.
One Tuesday in December, during the mid-afternoon lull between the lunch and dinner services, five excitable female customers walked through the door and sat themselves at a table with their small entourage.
They were our only customers in the whole restaurant. I was sitting at the bar on my lunch break at this point so a colleague of mine, Lisa, went to take their drinks order.
“That’s Girls Aloud,” she said casually as she came up to the bar to make their drinks. I assumed she was joking but turned round to take a proper look at the table and immediately realised she wasn’t.
‘Selfies are a duty’
We found out later the girlband had just done a signing at a local HMV (again, it was 2005) and were popping in for some food on their way back to Edinburgh airport.
I just about fell off my chair with excitement. As a massive pop fan, I knew I had to get a photo with Girls Aloud before they left.
This was the age before smartphones, remember, and most people didn’t carry cameras around with them. So I did what any normal Girls Aloud fan in 2005 would do – called my mum and told her in no uncertain terms to race up to the restaurant with her digital camera.
She did so in record time (I spent extra money on her Christmas present that year), before Girls Aloud had finished their main course.
I waited for my moment, after their manager had paid the bill, and asked if I could have a photo before they left. Luckily, they were happy to oblige.
I had a quick chat with them (Nicola Roberts suggested the meal she’d had should’ve been served with gravy by default – a fair point) before they said goodbye and headed to the airport.
My picture with them ended up in the local paper, and for the next few weeks customers would make comments to me like ‘shame we weren’t here on the Girls Aloud day!’
Far from being fired from my job, my then managers were delighted with the publicity from the Queensferry Gazette, but then again this particular branch of Frankie & Benny’s wasn’t quite as exclusive as Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair.
In a high-class venue such as that, asking for photos with guests is said to be grounds for a disciplinary, and the restaurant was within its rights to suspend the waiter who had spoken to Dame Emma.
But the story has sparked a debate about whether or not celebrities should pose for selfies with the public when they’re going about their private lives.
“Smiling for selfies is a duty,” Judge Rinder said on Sunday, after the Dame Emma story emerged.
“It’s part of the deal for the privileges and perks that celebrity brings. Asking nicely matters of course but by doing very little, you get to improve the chemistry of somebody’s day. Celebrities who grumble about it might consider getting a real job.”
“Those ego-crazed celebrities who refuse to pose for photos should remember they’re ONLY celebrities because of the public that pays to watch them,” agreed Piers Morgan.
Some celebrities have found a halfway house. Sir Ian McKellen charged £5 per selfie after recent performances of his one-man show, but with the funds going towards the upkeep of the theatre.
But other celebrities, such as Meryl Streep, more fondly recall the autograph era, where it didn’t matter whether or not you had your best face on.
Speaking to The Sunday Times in 2015, Dame Maggie Smith said: “What’s awful is it used to be just autographs, but now everyone wants photographs. There’s nothing like privacy, but nobody will have that soon. Nobody’s private any more.”
Many restaurants and private members clubs ban photos of any kind in order to make their guests as comfortable as possible.
“Our members’ privacy is very important, so please don’t bother anyone you don’t know. Posting about fellow members on social media is not allowed either,” Soho House’s rules state, for example.
The house rules at Annabel’s are slightly more nuanced: “Photography within the club and posting to social media should be discreet and not involve or feature other members and their guests.”
Many exclusive parties attended by A-list celebrities ban photos entirely, such as the party Beyonce and Jay-Z held after the Oscars this year.
“As you go down the stairs, they have a sign that says ‘this is the last picture you’ll take’. No phones, no social media, no nothing,” Emilia Clarke told Graham Norton on Friday. “And then you get in and you’re like ‘oh, that’s why. This is hallowed ground.'”
Mark Stephens, an English solicitor specialising in media law, told BBC Breakfast: “I travel around with celebrities a lot, and frankly if you’re in that kind of private space, then it’s probably inappropriate.
“We have a ‘red carpet rule’. So if they’re in a public space, and they’re doing a job, then in those circumstances of course, ask and they will do a selfie with you. But if they’re on an airplane or out for dinner with their family, then it can be very disruptive.
“My advice to people is, if you want a selfie with someone famous in a restaurant, wait by the door when they leave, and they’re likely to give you one on the way out, as long as you haven’t interrupted their evening.”