Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Tuesday 9 February 2016

It’s Not What You Know It’s Who You Know - Brooklyn Beckham Shoots for Burberry

Personally, I've never suffered from nepotism.

There are times when I wish that I had.

The husband always considered it to be a very dirty word, so he decided very early in my career that he was never going to talk about me to editors or publishers, or very much at all. He kept his word.

Ironically, he was instrumental in furthering the careers of many writers and artists, and of other people too. He got kids work experience and he forwarded the names of various people who approached him, putting a word in for those he met along the way, liked and believed to be talented.

He liked me, too, and he thought I was talented, but I was his lover and then his wife, and for him nepotism was and is a dirty word. If I’d been an acquaintance, a colleague or a friend, I would have benefited from knowing the husband. In the end, not only did I not benefit, I regularly gave my resources, time, skills and abilities for free in the furtherance of his career and to improve product that he was associated with, so companies got my services for free, too.

No, this is not me being bitter. If nothing else, I had a long and valuable apprenticeship, but I also got to enjoy working without many of the pressures that other writers have.

A couple of years ago, it crossed my mind that if anything happened to the husband, I would not be able to work, and it seemed ludicrous. The husband and I had a conversation… or three. I stood up for myself, and, now, the husband does talk about me, and he does acknowledge my skills and some of the work that I’ve done over the years. 

I did also get a toe-hold in the industry on my own, eventually. I submitted a novel for the Mslexia prize and took a runner-up spot. And it was I, and not the husband, who first secured the services of an agent. I didn’t think nepotism was a dirty word when I subsequently introduced her to the husband and he was also signed up with the agency.

The thing is, I always took his point, and I was always content being a backroom person. I didn’t want the glory or the pressure of being out front, particularly when I was still raising our family. I wanted to work, but mostly on my own terms. I also lacked confidence, and, to some degree, having one writer in the family, especially one as hardworking as the husband, was more than enough.

Nepotism is uncomfortable, because it so often puts people in positions that they neither deserve nor are prepared or qualified for. There are exceptions to this rule, though.

Isn’t it natural, for example, that the husband should be drawn to a woman who shares some of his creativity? Isn’t it also natural that a brother should grow up with intimate knowledge of his family’s business? Or that a child might inherit his parent’s talent? We’ve all seen extraordinary dynasties over the centuries, of industrialists, inventors, artists, writers, actors and scientists: The Redgraves, the Fondas, The Amises, The McCarthys and Wainwrights; Iris Murdoch was married to John Bailey, and Ted Hughes to Sylvia Plath.

Brooklyn Beckham behind his camera from an article inThe Guardian
Last week, it was announced that Burberry had hired Brooklyn Beckham to shoot their latest fragrance campaign. Brooklyn Beckham is, of course, the son of the footballer David Beckham and the dress designer Victoria Beckham. He is also a sixteen year old schoolboy.

Brooklyn Beckham might have a talent for photography; I couldn’t comment. I know that he doesn’t have a fully developed skill set in the craft, because he’s a sixteen year old boy. I also know that he isn’t experienced, because he’s a sixteen year old boy. Most photographers go to art schools and universities to learn their craft and then into studios as assistants and technicians to hone their skills. Brooklyn Beckham hasn’t had the opportunity or the time to do those things, not yet.

What Brooklyn Beckham does have is six million followers on instagram, because… well… he’s Brooklyn Beckham in a World where celebrity counts. 

What Brooklyn Beckham no doubt has when he is shooting for Burberry is a highly trained and experienced team of photographers and photographic assistants advising and working with him to take the pictures that Burberry needs for the campaign.

There has been an outcry in the media about Brooklyn Beckham being hired by Burberry to shoot their latest campaign, and if I was a photographer I think I’d probably be up in arms too. The fact is, though, this happens all the time in all the creative industries. Katie Price is invited to write books, Gemma Collins designs clothes, and every pop diva is responsible for a perfume… Except that Ms Price isn’t a writer, Ms Collins doesn’t, as far as I know, have a degree in fashion design, and your average celebrity chanteuse doesn’t have a highly developed nose.

Burberry made a business decision based not on Brooklyn Beckham’s talent, but on his popularity with young people. 

I’m not sure this is really nepotism at all. This is a celebrity endorsement.

Celebrity has a down side, and the down side to celebrity can be so extraordinarily damaging that I wouldn’t wish the kind of celebrity that the young Beckhams are stuck with on anyone, certainly not on a sixteen year old school boy.

If Brooklyn Beckham loses his following, if he trips and falls from the precipice that is modern celebrity by whatever means, and some of the falls we've seen have been utterly tragic, this foray into fashion photography won't save him. It will be business as usual at Burberry, who will go back to employing professional photographers for their shoots, and act as if nothing ever happened.

Most really talented photographers will work, and they’ll work steadily and make a living at the job they love to do. Some of them will be highly acclaimed and still be able to walk down the street unnoticed and certainly unaccosted. I’m confident that in most situations David Bailey, Mario Testino and Annie Leibowitz can still buy a coffee and read a paper without having to worry about being approached by the public. I wonder if Brooklyn Beckham will ever have that luxury.


  1. I choose to make the dividing line my belief in competence: I have little issue with someone getting a job they can do because they know someone who can recommend them; I do have an issue with someone getting a job ahead of other qualified candidates because knowing someone is treated as more valuable than being qualified.

    1. Yes... That's about the size of it, isn't it?

      According to the dictionary on my computer, "nepotism" comes from the word 'nephew', and refers to privileges bestowed on nephews of the pope, who were in many instances their bastard sons.

    2. Interestingly, depending on the way spiritual lineages pass, the priesthood might be one of the few jobs where being a blood relative of a current employee is a qualification.