Who deserves a personalised Christmas message from Snoop Dogg? | Nosheen Iqbal

Celebrity message sites are booming and they make for fascinating, but rather depressing browsing

How can a Robert De Niro impersonator be charging eight times more than the real-life Lily Allen? What is Matthew “Chandler from Friends” Perry, who famously earned $1m per episode, doing here? Has James Buckley – Jay from The Inbetweeners – really made £80,000 in lockdown recording personalised videos for fans?

A pandemic Christmas has meant a boom time for Cameo and CelebVM. The platforms allow celebrities to hawk themselves to those wanting to buy a piece of them – sorry, a message from them – as a novelty gift for friends and family. This time last year, Cameo had 20,000 celebrities (a definition stretched to its loosest sense) signed up: reality show stars, Snoop Dogg, bit-part comedians, famous faces you recognised and lots more you didn’t. But times are hard and there are now more than 30,000 to choose from. It turns out everyone has a price. For £45.65, you can get Anthony Scaramucci – aka the Mooch, White House communications director for all of 10 days in 2017 – to wish your friend Stacey a happy 44th birthday. For £249, Boy George will sing for you, putting his face behind so many Snapchat filters that he resembles an android version of himself. If you’re inclined to pay £2,075 for the pleasure, Caitlin Jenner will record you a Christmas message while telling you to “remember your roots and remember where you came from”.

As a time-sucking rabbit hole, Cameo is up there with reading through the very morose and personal comments people leave under old music videos on YouTube. Watching the very famous (and the less so) hustle from their homes, recording messages that are then reviewed with star ratings, is brutal. I’m hooked. For £294.65, you can have Lindsay Lohan appear under the bleached-out glow of studio lamps, offering to send you “love and light”. I promise you can’t watch without wincing.

How I miss eating out

I can’t quite pinpoint when I made the transition from dinner as stage one before a night out to a dinner being the night out, but I’m relieved for restaurants reopening this month. It’s dismal to see what has and hasn’t survived this year. You hope all the chat about supporting and saving local businesses takes root and that, come next year, the good ones survive. On that tip, I tried out two fancy takeouts in lockdown – one from Napoli Gang, a new delivery-only spinoff from a buzzy Italian restaurant, and the other from Chuku’s, a Nigerian tapas joint, both big recommendations as tasty distractions from your own kitchen – but it’s not the same, is it?

Ordering the new meal kits some restaurants are doing or swallowing restaurant prices for a special occasion meal at home is a way to support the trade, for sure. But mainly, I just want to eat decent food outside my four walls, surrounded by the clunk of cutlery, crockery and other people.

New year, new hope

I know a lot of people are relieved at the lack of pressure around New Year’s Eve – “What are you doing? Where are you doing it? Can I come?” being the general order of conversation – but I like new year. Not so much for the parties, because they almost always suck whether you’re hosting or attending, but it turns out I’m a big cheesy believer in arbitrary new-year beginnings.

Christmas isn’t really my bag, but I’ve always made some great life decisions around new year. It’s so fresh and so clean and so optimistic! What’s not to like?

• Nosheen Iqbal is an Observer columnist

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Nosheen Iqbal

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