In the summer of 2003, in a bar in Malta, George Best was approached by a man holding a paper napkin and a pen. ‘It’s been my childhood dream,’ said the man, ‘to have George Best ask me for my autograph.’ Best obliged. As so often, his fame was so great that it turned normality upside down.
The star’s own phrase was that fame ‘turns the dial up’. He may have been associated more with another f-word, but what comes across most strongly in Celia Walden’s excellent account of her time as Best’s journalistic minder (Babysitting George, Bloomsbury, £16.99) is the role in his story of public recognition. Even when landlords refused to serve him, ‘fans’ sent across white wine (‘would that same couple give a bottle to a drunk in the street?’). ‘In belonging to everyone,’ concludes Walden, ‘Best had become detached from himself.’
This doesn’t excuse his behaviour, of course, which is why by the end our sympathy ran out. Even here, though, we were tied to him. ‘People looked forward to his death: only then would they be allowed to worship him again.’
The friendship between Walden and Best is movingly portrayed. He christens her ‘Trouble’; she realises that ‘like all the women who got close to him, part of me had been stupid enough to believe that I might be able to help.’ No chance: he had been ‘eaten up by his own celebrity’. That, to answer the famous question, is where it all went wrong.