Being a professional celebrity look-alike is not nearly as tawdry and pathetic as it sounds. (That would not be possible.) I know whereof I speak. Having impersonated Queen Elizabeth II on numerous occasions over the last 30 years—and been undercompensated to do so—I consider myself something of an expert on this subject.
As I look back at my slightly spotty but otherwise long and happy celeb look-alike career, I am filled with a warm glow. A montage of images, mostly featuring me opening nightclubs and hosting events wearing a tiara and a sash, flits through my brain. Ah, the pay may have been lousy, but I would not trade in those squishy memories for anything! And I certainly would not trade in being a look-alike for being the real thing. Why? Because to be the impersonator of a particular celebrity is much, much, much more fun than actually being that particular celebrity.
Think about it:
You can be Britney without ever having slept with Kevin Federline and lost your marbles.
You can be Michael Jackson without having to entertain all those annoying children.
You can be Marie Antoinette or Eleanor Roosevelt without being dead.
You can be Anna Nicole Smith without being dead or having been obliged to lap-dance an octogenarian.
Simply put, being a look-alike is infinitely less demanding and stressful than being the object of your impersonation. The expectations are so much lower. There is simply no comparison.
Always Carry a Purse
I realized this important fact on my first outing as Queen Liz.
On this particular occasion, her majesty was in an especially boisterous mood. With good reason. The year was 1981: Her son was marrying Diana on that very day. While the real queen was attending the dreary, endless nuptials in rainy England, I was living it up in Hollywood.
If my memory serves me correctly, the reigning monarch kicked off the evening with a heavy lard-infused Mexican combination platter at ‘El Coyote,’ her favorite Mexican restaurant.
Keeping with the Mexican theme, she then proceeded to knock back about five large margaritas. The cost of these beverages was absorbed by Her Majesty’s subjects, who seemed to take a perverse pleasure in watching yours truly get thoroughly smashed.
This was a lethal combination for a British stomach: neither the Queen nor I was up for the challenge. (Tip: It’s nice to have something in common with your look-alike. It creates a sense of ownership while impersonating.)
Red-faced and somewhat disheveled—and missing one of her long white gloves—the Queen fell into the backseat of a friend’s banged-up Camaro and headed to the official engagement of the evening: I was being paid $35—plus unlimited drink tickets—to cut the ribbon at a brand-new Hollywood nightclub.
During the short ride, the Queen began to feel queasy. Her foundation garments, constricting her digestive tract as they were wont to do, were not helping matters. She thought she needed some air. She rolled down the window. Her nausea increased. Ere long, her Majesty arrived at her destination. She hurriedly performed her official obligations to a blizzard of flashbulbs.
She knew she was about to vomit, but in which direction? Even in her drunken state she knew that it would be decidedly un-regal to blow chunks directly onto the splashy, vibrant new carpet with which this new establishment had seen fit to cover its floors. Her Maj took the only course of action available to her: She snapped open her large white purse and filled it with regurgitated enchiladas.
It was at this exact point that I realized how lucky I was not to be the actual Queen. How on earth would she, Betty Windsor, have coped with the embarrassment of such an episode? How could she ever atone? There would be no way to reclaim her dignity. She would have been obliged to immolate herself in front of Buckingham Palace, waving all the while.
And what of her subjects? It’s impossible to imagine what the Brits would have made of the sight of the real queen puking into her purse. Nobody could argue that this would have anything other than a tremendously negative impact on her image and approval ratings.
And yet, as her look-alike, I faced no such PR crisis. Whereas her prestige would have plummeted, mine soared. As a look-alike I was—rightly or wrongly—not held to the same exacting standard of decorum. Nobody seemed to object to my purse-puking. Au contraire! They cheered. Loudly.
Though bookings dwindled over subsequent decades, my career as a Queen impersonator refuses to die.
Follow Simon Doonan via RSS.