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Why I don't (usually) ask celebrities for autographs or photographs

Why I don't (usually) ask celebrities for autographs or photographs

Ever since I started working properly in the media business, well-meaning friends and family will often ponder if I can get them an autograph for someone. This is a little tricky because:

  • I don’t generally meet celebrities any more in my line of work anyway!
  • Even if I did, it’d be very hard to interrupt an interview or a meeting with a “Oh by the way, can you sign this for my grandma?” or “Can we just pose for a photograph?”
  • I’m terrible at asking anything of strangers. Unless I have to.
  • How many journalists do you know who interrupt press conferences to ask for an autograph? It’s just not done.
  • Most importantly, I’m usually the only Chinese person in the room. Which means:
    • They’re far more likely to notice me – I tend to stick out like a sore form even when I don’t say anything – and thus, form an opinion, good or bad.
    • The last thing I want to do is enhance the racist assumption that Japanese/foreign journalists are idiotic and don’t know the ‘rules’

Having said all that, outside of work, it seems to be OK. During one birthday celebration in a Soho pub, June Whitfield came into the pub. Before you know it, my then evil scum of workmates had corralled her into posing for a pic next to me – I’m not too sure where that picture has gone, but it’s around here somewhere, with the odd sock. And somewhere in my archives, I also have Woody Allen’s autograph.

Of course, it seems to be just me who has a problem with asking celebrities for autographs where I work. My friend Shari in New York, who’s a radio engineer, had her pic taken with Hugh Jackman and was very proud of it. Stephen Fry, as ever, is the realist and has the do’s and don’ts of approaching a celebrity.

Do you work in the biz, as pretentious people like to call it? Do you collect autographs or photographs, or just get on with it and work with them as colleagues?


  • I generally don't ask anything of famous people unless I'm actually interested in them. Fame itself wouldn't entice me to ask for a name on a piece of paper, which I'd probably only end up throwing away.

    I did make an exception recently. I was in Abbey Road and Rufus Wainwright sat down next to me, as a fellow guest at the event. When I realised I had a brief chat with him, then asked him to sign my notebook for my wife (who's a big fan, though it probably sounded a bit lame).

    I've interviewed a few famous people over the years and have, I think, only asked for one autograph – Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals, who posed for a pic and signed some CDs for me. But then I was a student journalist and not doing it in a professional capacity, so I didn't feel too bad.

    In the music dept where I work there's a pinboard of photos of staff members with famous people they've worked with – Paul McCartney, Chuck D, Tom Jones etc. That's pretty cool – something personal, and which has minimal resale value on eBay. But asking for autographs? Never say never, but I think it's generally not the done thing for journalists.

  • I'm training to be a journalist- and I'd be too scared to do it unless it was either Metallica, Green Day or David Tennant; I would try not to pass up that sort of opportunity.

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