Monday, 17 August 2009

The Tale of the Fake Heston Blumenthal

There is a person on Twitter who posts under the screen name @hestonblumenth. Foodies and fans alike were understandably excited when he joined in May this year, and he quickly gained a substantial following of 5000 or so people, including me. His posts initially seemed innocuous if slightly bizarre, mentioning what he'd had for lunch or his plans for the menu at the Fat Duck, and we all giggled along at his updates, imagining the mad professor character we'd grown to love from his TV shows, alone with a laptop late at night, spouting his eccentric philosophies in between mouthfuls of snail porridge.

And then gradually, his tweets turned slightly more sinister.

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Mohmed al Megrahi should die in prison might not be a popular view but he is a terrorist and has no rights

what next release child abusers and give them new identitys oh hold on we have already done that with the bulger murders

my views are my views just because i have spent time in the public eye doesnt mean i cant believe what i want

Now I don't know Heston Blumenthal personally, only through his television appearances and his excellent cookbooks, but the Daily Mail-inspired, intolerant bigot that occasionally vented forth on Twitter seemed harshly at odds with the thoughtful, gentle and well-educated person who presented In Search of Perfection. Sensing something wasn't right, a fellow Twitter user @ianashworth emailed the front of house at the Fat Duck, and received a reply almost immediately. It wasn't him, and they were working to "hopefully" have that Twitter account disabled.

This was confirmed again at an event held by the Guardian newspaper for food bloggers and restaurant PR people, where Monica of Lotus PR - who represent the man himself - announced that he's not on Twitter but may be persuaded to join very soon. So, case closed, you might think.

Except in the brave new world of social media, it's never quite as simple as that. For whatever reason, the @hestonblumenth account is still active and still posting to its 5000-odd loyal subscribers such insightful gems as:

big brother should give them all a lethal injection as these people will not be missed they are all bed hoping fame whores


they were young but they tortured and killed they are not part of what i like to class as the human race just one mans opinion

So, believing I was doing a favour to Heston fans all over the world, I began to do my bit by @replying to a few of his followers whenever they popped up, telling them that his PA had confirmed that it's not him and that the real Heston would be Tweeting soon. And here is where this story gets even more interesting - in a significant minority of cases, rather than being pleased to have had this disagreeable impostor unveiled, I found myself on the receiving end of some pretty angry messages from people who decided to continue to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that it was indeed the real Heston:

Lovinf the non PR comments. Dont ever prove yourself - unless you want to give me a table. I got one once but was too ill!

"Don't ever prove yourself" - what an extraordinary thing to say. There's almost a religious zeal to this person's refusal to even entertain the idea that it isn't him, and not only that he's deliberately asking for the truth not to be revealed. He's happy as he is, ignorant and credulous. There's a parallel with the characteristics of those who claim spiritual faith that's impossible to ignore - who wants the truth when the lie is so much more comforting?

It is, however, only the minority that have reacted like that. Most are happy to accept the truth, and in some cases pretty relieved that this hate-fuelled caricature is quite distinct from the genius chef they know and love. And you may think I'm being a bit petty in taking this issue so much to heart, but I happen to genuinely admire Heston Blumenthal and his achievements as a chef, and when I see the damage being done to his image by some anonymous moron with a chip on his shoulder, it makes me wince. As of today, 5632 people are following the fake Heston's updates, a depressing number cheering on each reactionary outburst with a chorus of "Top man! You tell it like it is" and "Good with food and good sense, a winning combination. I totally agree with you.". Let's hope that Twitter get their act together and disable the account before any more damage is done.

On a lighter note, it's probably a good idea to end this post by listing just a few chefs who really are on Twitter and, to the best of my knowledge, aren't right-wing extremists:

Jamie Oliver
Tom Aikens
Mat Follas (Masterchef winner 2009)
Mark Hix
Nathan Outlaw
Antonio Carluccio

And here are some of my favourite restaurants:

St. John Smithfield
Galvin @ Windows

Although to be quite honest, if you want informed and witty comment about the London dining scene you can do far worse than follow these people:

@oliverthring of Thring for your Supper
@eatlikeagirl of Eat Like A Girl
@hollowlegs of Hollow Legs
@FoodStories of Food Stories
@foodieguide of World Foodie Guide
@Silverbrow of Silverbrow On Food
@SimonMajumdar and @HERMANOPRIMERO of Dos Hermanos

And I suppose while you're here, you might as well follow me, too. Happy tweeting.

Edit: Removed one of the credulous Heston followers' comments after she started furiously DMing me. I tried to make the point that if you don't want something to be public, don't post it on a public forum. But there's no arguing with some people.

Edit 2: As of 21st August, the fake @hestonblumenth account has finally been disabled by Twitter.

Edit 3: And on 4th September, the Real Heston was finally welcomed to Twitter as @HestonFatDuck.


Hollow Legs said...

Well said.

I must admit I did also follow @hestonblumenth and then swiftly unfollowed him; his spelling and grammar physically pained me to read.

Oh, and of course the bigotry etc.

catty said...

Good post! WHY haven't twitter shut him down? It's shocking that he's running around the web spreading unjustified bigotry to the sad people who actually believe in him.

Helen T said...

I'm with Lizzie, the spelling began to grate before the hate started. Was thrilled to find out it truly wasn't him, and unfollowing quickly followed. From a celebs point of view though, why can't Twitter act more quickly? I am not clear on the laws on defamation etc, but surely posing unsavoury commentary as being the word of someone you're not must be (potentially) damaging and therefore possibly open to legal action by the "real" person. Lets hope the real Heston stops by soon, and is not put off doing so by this imposter.

Ben said...

Oi! Just because I haven't actually posted on the blog in a while, doesn't mean you can't follow me for informed and witty comment. Sometimes even about food.

As for @hestonblumenth I don't think I honestly believed it was him even when I first hit follow. But I figured what's the harm? I've managed to miss all the nasty posts, though. Unfollowing now...

eatmynels said...

nice one chris!

it was actually quite unbelievable some of the crap he deemed to utter... i hope the real Heston hits our tweetdecks soon!

@ianashworth said...

Something I forgot to mention in our tweets on the subject was that I sent the imposter details to Twitter via their help/contact page and, while they were quick to turn it around, got this snippet as part of their bog-standard reply:
"Impersonation accounts are only removed if Twitter receives a complaint from the person/entity being impersonated, or legal counsel authorized to act on behalf of the person/entity being impersonated."

I guess neither Heston himself, nor his legal representation, have been in touch with Twitter if the above is true. In light of his more recent, reputation damaging comments, I would hope that someone with authority to act does so soon to end this issue.

Chris Pople said...

Ben: Sorry mate - but no room for everyone and I had to prioritise those people who are as at least as addicted to Twitter as me :)

@ianashworth/eatmynels/catty/Helen T: Yes I hope Twitter really do get their act together soon. It's seriously damaging having a person like this loose on the interwebs.

Krista said...

Ditto Lizzie and Helen. In the beginning when I started following him, I was like, "Um, pretty bad spelling and grammar for a famous guy." But then I started rationalizing it and thought, "Well, I can spell (most of the time) and I know my prepositions but I can't cook so maybe Heston's got it the other way around."

Hopefully someone within Heston's organization will see your post and comments and get this bozo to cease and desist.

Helen said...

Yep, ditto to all of those comments. I unfollowed him rather swiftly when I found out but well done for hanging in there to deliver the truth to the people. I must say I didn't get the bigotry stage, what an idiot. Now, if only the real Heston would sign up...

ChefsWhoTweet said...

Thanks for the list of chefs and restaurants on Twitter! Cheers.

Anonymous said...

You forgot @wahaca!

I must admit I kind of wanted it to be him. Not sure why! I'm still following just for fun but don't think he's posted in a while.

Part of me still wants to believe it WAS him, and his PR said it wasn't to save face. But I don't actually think that. Can't wait til he actually starts tweeting.

Helen Yuet Ling Pang said...

I think I only follow one chef on Twitter. But I don't understand why he hasn't has his account terminated like other imposters. Feel a bit sorry for the real Heston...

Kavey said...

I followed him when he appeared too but quickly became suspicious, as did many others, that he wasn't real.
That was before all the vitriolic Daily Mail-style tweets which I've happily missed!


Helen T said...

Chris, just caught up with edit #2, that's great news, if a little delayed on the action front from Heston and Twitter! Wonder who they'll pick on next?