Secret Rock 'n' Roll Life Of Robert Burns, The [Radio Scotland]


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Modern day celebrities can have a rock and roll lifestyle where they can trash hotel rooms, drink and party and hit the front pages of glossy magazines, but what did fame mean in Robert Burns day? Was there even such a thing as a celebrity? Was he one while he was alive?

There were no paparazzi and tabloid newspapers, it was a more genteel and less technological world. You couldn't just whip out your trusty smartphone and tweet to your thousands of followers your latest poem or political sentiment. But there was, oddly, a strange form of social media - as status-conscious as having a pricey phone - you could whip out your diamond stylus and scribe away on the windows of the local inns while you were on tour - and get into trouble for it too.

Literary lions like Burns are a kind of celebrity we can recognise today, but this was still a society heavily based on landed privilege - what you were born into mattered a lot more than whether you were famous for writing a book. Burns would learn this the hard way when he got fou up at one of the local Big Hooses and joined the gentry in some drunken party frolics. There was one rule for the quality and another for plastered ex-ploughman poets. Fame couldn't buy you immunity to social hierarchy. It blew up his friendship with the brilliant and beautiful gentlewoman Maria Riddell, a heavy price to pay for the elite partying experience. Keara Murphy goes in search of Burns' equivalent of the rock star lifestyle.

Keara Murphy explores what celebrity and fame meant in Robert Burns's day.