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:
Mat Follas (Masterchef winner 2009)
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.