Curse of the famous sibling

By Thandekile Moyo

One of my uncles is famous. He is a celebrity of note; everybody knows him. He has several siblings, but when you google him, only one comes up, and he is also a celebrity in his own right.

When we visit his father’s house, we all scramble to take pictures with him and conversation is centred on his achievements, his plans, and whatever project he will be working on at the time.

Quite a number of my other uncles are employed by the famous one, some as managers of various projects and others as bouncers.

Serena and Venus Williams have eight other siblings. One of them, the late Yetunde Price, was Venus’ personal assistant. Their parents have both acted as their coaches.

The Jacksons had 10 children. The eldest sons performed as members of the Jackson 5, and were a successful pop music group.  The younger siblings also became musicians and all of them achieved different levels of success.

Michael Jackson’s solo career was the most successful and we now refer to all the other siblings as Michael’s brothers and Michael’s sisters.

Beyoncé has three siblings. One of them, Solange, is also a musician; but before she is that, she is universally known as Beyoncé’s younger sister.

Before today, I had never heard of the other two siblings. Her father was her manager at some point and her mother is her business partner in several ventures.

This has me wondering what it feels like to have a famous sibling. I am sure it has its advantages, financially, professionally and socially. I cannot shake off the feeling that it must be tough too.

It cannot be easy to forever live in the shadow of your sibling. To forever be known as Serena’s sister, and never as an individual in your own right, must hurt.  How many sacrifices do these siblings of famous people have to make as a direct result of their siblings fame?

I am wondering: how many of Solange’s school events did her parents miss when Beyonce was having a show?

I wonder if Serena and Venus’ parents ever spent much time with their other children, considering how taxing it must be to be coaches to two successful professional tennis players.

They probably spent a lot of time on the road, travelling to and from their girls’ matches all over the world.

Who would remain with their other children? Did they even play much of a role in their upbringing? How often did they get the chance to help them with their homework? How many birthdays did they miss as they were chasing the dreams of only two children out of the 10 they had?

American musician, Taylor Swift, has a younger brother called Austin. They say they are best friends. Taylor once missed the Europe MTV awards ceremony so she could watch him acting in a school play. She also attended his graduation from the famous Notre Dame in 2015.

But…when Taylor was 14, the family moved from their hometown; so that Taylor could pursue her music career.

Was Austin ever considered in the decision for them to move? Did the parents realise that he was giving up his lifestyle, his friends and probably his dreams so that her sister could achieve hers?

Was the decision based on the fact that one child’s dream, was bigger and more lucrative than the other’s? Or was he actually considered, and the move was in fact meant to benefit both children?

My famous uncle’s brother passed away last week. He was the first born child of their parents. I didn’t know him that well. At no point in his life was my attention ever on him, except in relevance to his brother.

When we heard the news, some family members thought it was the famous one who had passed away, I sensed their silent sighs of relief when they were corrected.

I wonder if Michael Jackson’s parents would have been secretly relieved had they been told sorry, it is not Michael who died, its Rebbie, his not-so-famous sibling.

How do families of famous children handle big events, like awards ceremonies? How do you celebrate Michael Jackson scooping several awards when Janet Jackson is locked up in her bedroom crying because she did not get the one award she had a chance to win at the same ceremony? Life must be tough in these households.

I have seen this in our families as well. There is always that successful sibling, usually with a car and lots of money; who is the law of the family, and is above less financially fortunate siblings when it comes to decision making.

He is the one who decides when the burial will be held, where the Christmas celebrations will take place and which cow will be slaughtered.

Subconsciously, parents give more relevance to kids who are more successful. We are materialistic by nature and all our support is invested on those children we feel have dreams that will bring us fortune.

Where money is scarce, we channel the little we have towards nurturing the talent of one child and neglect the dreams of the one who seems to have less potential to succeed.

That said, I cannot ignore the fact that the success of one member of the family can positively alter the lifestyle of the entire family.

Several siblings of famous people bask in the glory of their successful brother/sisters and go on to succeed in their own endeavours as a direct result of their connection to the famous one.  I also cannot downplay the joy, excitement and pride we all feel when our brothers and sisters excel.

I just wish that parents could find a way to help their non-famous children to remain relevant, despite not being as successful as the famous ones.

April 2017
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