How to Greet Celebrities

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

Dear Annette,

Throughout my business travels I often encounter public figures - in airplanes, in elevators, at conferences. What's the appropriate etiquette for greeting celebrities?

Star Stuck

Dear Star Stuck,

A few years ago, during the filming of a smash British Invasion-inspired comedy, I was dining in an exclusive Indian restaurant in London's fabulous Mayfair. As I contemplated the handsome, well-appointed dining companion seated across from me, the sound of voices wafting over from another table suddenly interrupted my train of thought. What broke my concentration was the subject of the other party's conversation, which was the speaker's own renown. It was the star of the film, talking about himself. Had he not drawn such audible attention to his celebrity plight, my eyes and ears might never have strayed from dear Nigel.

Famous people are not People. They are Celebrities. Personalities. Public Figures. Or as Lena Lamont put it in Singin' in the Rain, "I ain't people. I'm...'a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament'."

They can't so much as go to the corner drug store for rash ointments or family planning supplies without someone recognizing them and saying something silly. Although many stars are polite, well-meaning creatures with decent manners, most of them have never even met each other, and are highly unlikely to have heard of you.

At the same time, many famous people are real people. They behave with and respond to common courtesy: holding the door for those with cumbersome packages; offering to get someone a drink at a party; saying thank you when someone returns a dropped wallet. They're civil to people they recognize, decent to their friends, and accessible at networking functions, weddings, and church. They introduce themselves to their classmates at breakfast in the Calhoun College dining hall (though Jodie hasn't called me in years). They don't want to be isolated from the world, yet they don't want to be smothered by it either. After all, suffocation leaves unbecoming discoloration around the eyes and mouth.

To make a courteous yet nonthreatening impression, you've got to read the signals, which differ from place to place and from star to star. When my dog Dickie and I visit friends in the Hollywood Hills, we drive right by the impressive quarters (!) of my number-one Hollywood heartthrob. He drawls hello almost every time, so it's all I can do not to invite him to sleep with me and take all my money. But in my neighborhood, Beverly Hills, I could pass the same must-see sitcom brother in the green Range Rover every day, and he would face straight ahead without ever making eye contact. Alas, Dickie and I forbear in the name of courtesy.

With practice, you can get comfortable with the luminaries around you. Remember, just be yourself - because if you're not, who will be?

Annette's tips on chatting up celebrities

SituationFabulousNot fabulous

You're in summer residence with a major orchestra when you encounter Maestro at the salad bar.

Say something innocuous about the food.Ask if he would reconsider the move to Vienna.
You habitually encounter a celebrity neighbor walking her dog in the morning.Greet the pet.Suggest that, since you're neighbors, you should hang out once in a while.
You're seated next to a professional athlete on a transcontinental flight.Thank the athlete for thrilling moments, then read a book or work on your computer.Ask why the athlete is leaving the country during the regular season.
You're seated next to a business mogul on a transcontinental flight.Introduce yourself and give a 30-second synopsis of your business plan or career goals.Talk about yourself the entire way to Paris.
You're attending a conference where a celebrity is a keynote speaker.Take the time you need to state your business.Almost anything goes - you've paid your conference fees, and the celebrity is on dutyStay fabulous,