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Sun 26 May 2019 02:05 PM

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The moral high ground or the dollar playground?

When someone does something morally wrong, it's a problem. When they are rich, famous, successful and you're a big fan of them, then it's a dilemma. Is it really possible to separate someone's professional life, no matter how talented they are, from their personal indiscretions?

The moral high ground or the dollar playground?
Tony Robbins: The renowned American celebrity speaker, author and life coach, who last week hit back at sex abuse allegations, is set to appear in Dubai in September.

About ten years ago, while working for a Sunday newspaper, I had one of those rare insights into what life is like for the rich, famous and successful.

I flew on a private jet to Malaga, stayed in a palatial five-star hotel, ate at a fancy restaurant, ended the night at a VIP nightclub and then woke up early to be driven to a villa out of town for a meeting with the legendary British PR guru Max Clifford. The focus of the trip was a profile on the celebrity mastermind and his long list of clients.

I’d expected to really dislike the much-despised 'king of the tabloids' but as the 20 minute meeting turned into an hour and he told story after story of huge celebrities - from the Clintons to Brangelina (most of which was scandalously unpublishable) - I was won over by his charm and directness. On the jet back home I berated myself for being so judgmental.

Of course, this was all long before he was jailed in 2014 after being found guilty of indecent assaults against underage girls. Clifford died in December 2017 but comments by the British TV broadcaster Louis Theroux last week reminded me of the dilemma I faced when I learnt of Clifford’s crimes.

Theroux interviewed the British DJ and presenter Jimmy Saville in 2000 before he died, but years after the show aired accusations of sexual misconduct against Saville led to the opening of a can of worms that resulted in several British celebrities, including Clifford, being arrested and jailed.

Theroux said he now feels uncomfortable about the experience: “I’m still a bit confused about how was I able to experience him as a somewhat likeable person in the year or two after making it,” he said in a BBC Radio 4 interview.

It begs the ethical question: Can you support someone professionally, no matter how talented they are, if they have done something morally corrupt? In the midst of the #MeToo movement many female movie stars have now said they regret working with male directors and producers who had been accused of harassment, exploitation and abuse.

While some find their moral compass means they can no longer support someone accused of such crimes, many people often put dollars before dogma

English actress Kate Winslet, who has worked with directors Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, both who have been accused of sexual abuse, addressed this issue last year during a speech in London: “I realised that I wouldn’t be able to stand here this evening and keep to myself some bitter regrets that I have at poor decisions to work with individuals with whom I wish I had not.”

By contrast, American actor Alec Baldwin said those who are now voicing their regrets about working with Woody Allen were “unfair and sad”. It’s all a personal decision, take Michael Jackson, for example. The Thriller superstar has been the subject of sexual accusations over the years. When these resurfaced again in a new TV documentary, many radio stations around the world decided to no longer play his music. In fact, I know of one local Dubai DJ who told me at the time that he had decided to quietly stop playing the Moonwalker singer’s songs on his shows.

While some find their moral compass means they can no longer support someone accused of such crimes, it seems that isn’t the case with everyone and many people often put dollars before dogma.

American singer R. Kelly was reportedly set to perform in Dubai recently, but a travel ban stopped him from leaving the US. The singer is facing ten counts of criminal charges for allegedly abusing four women, but his lawyer claimed he had received more than 150 emails in the last six months from venues around the world – including Dubai – requesting Kelly “to perform in just every place possible you can think of”.

Similarly, when boxer Mike Tyson was in Dubai I remember his trip generated much heated debate on a journalists Facebook group I am part of, with many calling for a boycott of the press event questioning how any reporter could interview someone who has admitted punching his ex-wife.

Which brings us to world-renowned celebrity speaker, author and life coach Tony Robbins, who last week hit back at sex abuse claims by former fans and staff ahead of a one-night event in Dubai, which organisers say will go ahead as planned in September.

Robbins denies the claims against him but will the accusations stop Dubai residents handing over the $272 minimum needed to go see him speak? Robbins has declined all requests to do an interview while in Dubai so at least I won’t be faced with the potential moral dilemma of meeting him and finding I really like him.

Shane McGinley, editorial director, Arabian Business.

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