Wednesday, 4 June 2014



As Sir Freddy Mercury so memorably put it, 'friends will be friends, right to the end.' But maybe not on Facebook.

Like so many things, Freddy had this friends thing sussed. (Image: Queen)

I interviewed a film producer earlier in the year who told me a story that really started me thinking about the nature of friendship. He discovered that a good friend he'd known since the 1950s was dying of asbestosis, a horrible, painful illness. The friend didn't want to go into hospital, preferring to live out his remaining time at home, but, being single and not very well off, couldn't afford the specialist home care he'd need. Without hesitation, the film producer said he would move in and look after him. His friend took a year to die. True to his word, the producer stayed until the end.

I couldn't help thinking about such a moving and selfless act in the context of today's twenty-four hour, instant culture, where a quick look at Facebook shows you can have anything upwards of a five hundred 'friends'. Meet someone at a gig or at a job, say 'I'm on Facebook' and at the click of a keyboard key, you've got another chum. You don't even have to ask them about their likes, dislikes or personal background, as it's all laid out neatly for you; instant compatibility. It doesn't mean instant loyalty, though: when someone I know deleted his Facebook account, only two people out of the hundreds of FB friends he had got in touch by other means to ask if there was anything wrong.

He was an author, so I guess a lot of those people were just keen to say 'Hey, I'm FB friends with so-and-so' and leave it at that. Which is fine: FB is just a useful tool for starting in touch with a lot of people you've met, however briefly (and it's a particularly good way of staying in touch with old friends overseas). But it should be where friendships start or continue, not stay.

The film producer's story set me thinking about the essential people in my life who, as one of them once wittily put it, 'you'd call if you woke up next to a dead prostitute' (fortunately, that hasn't happened very often). I reckon it's maybe six. Doesn't sound like a lot, does it, in this digital age where you're dazzled with the prospect of hundreds and hundreds of virtual friends?

Which is why I was knocked out by my recent fiftieth birthday party. Rather than six people turning up, there were around fifty packed into the Walkers' bar and restaurant just off Whitehall.  There were friends I hadn't known long but felt like I'd known all my life; friends I hadn't seen for upwards of sixteen years, and seeing them again was like I'd seen them only yesterday; friends I don't see as often as I should who were still happy to come along. I should have spent longer talking to people but I was running around trying to give everyone some of my time. It was a great night and it’s the biggest cliché in the world, but the dear people there really were a case of quality not quantity. Five hundred Facebook friends? Doesn’t mean a thing, mate.

I don’t know if I’d have the strength to be as generous and supportive as my producer friend. I’d like to think so, but I've had some sad news this week which, if anything, has made me appreciate and value the people in my life even more. So, if you're thinking about putting off that phone call, email or text to a mate until tomorrow or next week - don't.

Get in touch now and tell them you love them.