Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Adele's tacky Titanic-themed birthday party insults those who perished on doomed liner

This tasteless, vulgar celebration symbolises the narcissism of our modern age

By Fionola Meredith

Hey, I have a great idea for a fancy-dress party. Let's all pretend we're on the Titanic! We can spend thousands, get royally plastered, and dance the night away in Edwardian-era life-jackets, imagining that we're just moments from an icy death in the North Atlantic ocean.

Naff? Tasteless? Unbelievably crass, self-obsessed and entitled?

Yes, of course it is.

But apparently none of these reservations entered the mind of pop superstar Adele when she decided to host a Titanic-themed party to celebrate her 30th birthday.

She loves the film, you see, which is why she chose to dress up as Rose, the fictional heroine of the James Cameron-directed Titanic movie.

Glugging champagne and whooping it up to the backdrop of one of the worst disasters in maritime history, with the loss of over 1,500 lives - and that's fact, not fiction - did not seem to present any kind of moral conundrum for this clearly spoilt and over-indulged singer.

Probably nobody dared to say: "Er, Adele love, don't you think it's a bit icky to theme your birthday bash around a mass drowning? Won't the thought of sea-swollen corpses put your guests off the crab canapes?"

Vacuous fans and apologists for Adele say that we should get over ourselves because the Titanic disaster happened a long time ago. Well, so did Pompeii, but 1,939 years later I haven't noticed any tacky celebrity toga parties themed around death by molten lava. I guess there's still time, though. Krakatoa cocktail anyone?

Besides, the sinking of the Titanic is not an event of the distant past. It has only recently left living memory, as the remaining survivors of the disaster passed away. I had the honour of speaking to the very last living Titanic survivor, Millvina Dean, in May 2009, in a Southampton nursing home.

Aged 97, and indefatigably glamorous in a curly, silver-white wig and scarlet lipstick, Millvina told me how she was the youngest passenger on the most famous ship in history. She was just a nine-week-old baby in her mother's arms as Titanic set sail from Southampton on April 10, 1912. When the ship struck the iceberg, she was so tiny that she had to be lifted into a lifeboat in a postal sack.

Right to the end, Millvina was convinced that it was the prompt actions of her father, Bertram, which saved her life. She told me: "They heard a tremor, a tremendous noise, and my father said: 'I'll go up on deck to find out what has happened'. He came back and said: 'Apparently the ship has struck an iceberg. Get the children out of bed and on deck as quickly as possible'. So many people said, 'the ship won't sink, it's unsinkable', so they didn't care. But not my father."

My conversation with Millvina turned out to be her last ever interview. She passed away just a few days later. But her words, and the stories she told, have stayed with me ever since.

While Millvina was too young to recall the disaster herself, she had the intense memories of her mother Eva to draw on when she evoked the terror of that night.

The image remains in my mind of Eva clasping the infant Millvina close in the lifeboat, out on the dark, icy sea, desperately trying to keep her baby warm, while knowing that her two-year-old son, also called Bertram, was lost.

What thoughts must have been going through that traumatised young woman's head?

Later, on the rescue ship, the Carpathia, Millvina and Eva were almost miraculously reunited with little Bertram, who had been saved by another passenger. But Bertram Snr, who was only 25, was drowned.

Millvina couldn't bear to watch Titanic the movie, it was too painful for her, so I'm not sure what she would have made of Adele's birthday party. But her story is a reminder that these were real, live people, caught up in unspeakable horror, not fictional characters from some sloppy, over-blown and sentimental Hollywood romance.

In a way, I can understand Adele's fascination with the Titanic legend. Over 100 years later, it retains a powerful mythic hold on our collective cultural imagination.

People from Belfast, where the great lost ship was born, often feel a special connection to the vessel, a sense of mingled pride, awe and regret.

But just as Titanic symbolised the ambition and hubris of the Edwardian era, doomed to end in shipwreck at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, so Adele's tacky party illustrates the witless narcissism of our own age. It's all about me, me, me - and to hell with everyone else.

Belfast Telegraph

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