When one reaches the ‘height’ of one’s ambition, it is presumed – or hoped – that one will stay up there for a while. When there is a ‘peak’ in one’s fortunes, a fall is predicated. The only way to continue along the relentless tread of time is downhill. Better, perhaps, to have peaks and troughs than to plod along on marshy lowland.
When it comes to would-be leaders, height may be a factor. Napoleon was small, smaller than I am. So was Nelson. If we had met, I would have literally looked down at them! Was their ambition partly to compensate for their lack of stature? I wonder how they made themselves seen to the masses. Were they always on horseback or on a convenient platform or hillock not out of earshot? They are never depicted with some sort of rudimentary megaphone – too undignified. I have been told that in mosques there are ‘callers’, who repeat the words of the celebrant from inside the mosque to the crowd outside, like a kind of verbal relay.
Is it sheer romanticism or a fact that a hero – or heroine in the case of Joan of Arc or Queen Elizabeth I, is more memorable when observed moving above the throng on a prancing horse fretting for action? Crucially they must be raised on high to look over and beyond the masses, not down at them. Was Queen Elizabeth I as small as Queen Elizabeth II, who manages her low stature with dignity? She visited my university college while I was there and when she passed close by, I noted how tiny she is, her clear complexion and her way of smiling both at and beyond you – a skill taught or did it come naturally as part of her birthright? It implied awareness with dignity.
Did marked differences in height and girth add fuel to the fire of incompatibility between Churchill and De Gaulle when the latter was in exile in London during WWII? Those who disliked the French leader referred to him as ‘the longest turd’, while Churchill was ‘the bulldog’, with reference to his short and burly stature. Appropriately he developed a distinctive growl. Again, height was an issue is developing how people could see and hear them and the resultant impression they made.
From too little exposure to too much, there seems to be no middle path. Before the age of the moving image, one image was usually painted to memorialise a key moment in a person’s existence. Station in life for a man, motherhood for a woman, would be celebrated in paintings displayed on the most seen walls of the most frequented room in the house – the one where visitors were received. Now images are so abundantly downloaded to create one’s appearance for whoever wants to look at it in a free-for-all frenzy. If you are, or wish to be, a ‘celebrity’, it comes with the status, part of the baggage. If that becomes too heavy a weight, can one free oneself by ignoring those who pester you online? Not so easy, as recent events linked to members of the royal family, celebrity shows or competitions have shown. Turning away with a smile is the most eloquent way to protest. Then issue a rare photo for public consumption, like those once-in-a-lifetime oil paintings that hang in ancestral homes.
Many years ago now, a friend told me how he was loading purchases into the boot of his car in a large supermarket car park and just checking he had bought everything he needed, when he heard a commotion and looked up. To his amazement, there was Princess Diana waving her arms and crying out, ‘Leave me alone!’, with her bodyguards trying to shoo off five or six photographers. One stopped by his car.’ I don’t know why she’s protesting. After all, she must have asked someone in her entourage to phone one of us to reveal details of where she would be and even the time. That’s why we’re here.’