Belfast Telegraph

Why it's time to stop prying into Van's private life

By Gail Walker

By instinct, it is kind of anathema for a journalist to speculate that the public's right to know is not somehow without boundaries - that there are areas where no one has a right to stick their neb in (sorry, in which to stick their neb).

But sometimes there has to be a point at which the Press (and by definition the public - sorry, folks but journalists wouldn't be grubbing round in the bins of celebrities if there wasn't a prurient demand to know everything about them) must turn its head away from a gripping but essentially private business.

And surely that point has now been reached as regards Van Morrison, who has been engulfed by the most unbearably tragic sequence of events.

Last year Gigi Lee died in a Belfast hospice, aged just 44. Following her death, it emerged that her son Ivan Morrison III had died months before his mother, at just 13-months-old.

Now Morrison has launched a legal bid to stop a newspaper publishing the contents of Gigi Lee's journals. Who could blame him - or fail to have compassion?

Morrison is not your seven-day wonder celeb who courts the tiniest bit of publicity to keep their name in the public eye. There have been no 'At home with Van' spreads in Hello! or heart to hearts with showbusiness hacks.

Quite the reverse, in fact. For half-a-century he has jealously guarded his privacy, cultivating a curmudgeonly image, and always making clear distinctions between the music and the man.

And if he takes his private life seriously, who are we to insist on a wee nosy into it every now and then just because we're curious? Given the nature of what Morrison has been contending with, the very idea of snooping around in Gigi's private diaries is morally repellant. How did the newspaper in question get hold of them anyway? Would poor, dead Gigi Lee have wanted her most private thoughts and reflections made public?

Morrison is not an elected representative. He is not a religious or moral leader. He makes no pretension in telling others to take his life as an exemplar for theirs.

If anything, he seems to go out of his way to stress his ordinariness. No teacher, no method, no guru, to quote the title of one of his albums. He also has other family members, including young children, he undoubtedly wishes to protect.

One of Belfast's most famous sons, Morrison is a wonderful songwriter, up there with Dylan, Lennon and McCartney and Cohen. But while his work springs from his northern background, his genius is all his own - the truth is that he doesn't owe the gawking millions a thing.

Nor does he 'owe' Northern Ireland. Simply by coming from here, he has done a huge service to his country.

We must remember, too, that the 'Grumpy Van' persona may be just that. Or at best only a small part of a complex picture that also includes, for example, low key but high return charity gigs at the Culloden. There, as ensuing photos proved, in company he trusts, Morrison can smile and be as affable as anyone else.

If Morrison's songs are anything to go by, he is a man of great and deep feeling - and one who has lost a loved one and a son within a short space of time. Few of us can imagine such grief. Or how we would react to such emotional devastation.

When cast into the darkest depths, some of us - maybe most of us - wish, at some level, to share the pain, to talk to others in a bid to make sense of it all. But there are others who wish to deal with trauma on their own, who may never wish to lay bare the extent of their suffering.

In this touchy-feely age, however, we are perfectly happy to let people talk about their anguish but feel a slight sense of betrayal at those who want to keep private what is important to them.

We are wrong about that - it is up to the individual to decide what is too important, too sacred, to be shared.

While Van Morrison may know the secrets of the human heart, that doesn't mean that he is under any obligations to show us his own.

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