From Rita Ora to Roseanne: celebrity apologies, rated!

More and more famous people are issuing public apologies for things they’ve done, said or tweeted. But what is the best way to say sorry?

It was Elton John, pop’s wisest banger merchant, who once said: “Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” and Elt and Blue were right about that.

It’s especially tricky for celebrities. In a culture that has realised unchecked behaviour that damages others is not cool, more and more famous people have had to issue public apologies for things they’ve done, said or tweeted. In 2016, a group of conflict management researchers found that apologies that adhered to the following five-point structure were most likely to be seen as sincere:

➻ An expression of regret – ie the actual “I’m sorry” (but, importantly, not a justification)

➻ An acknowledgment of responsibility

➻ A declaration of repentance

➻ An offer of repair

➻ A request for forgiveness

Using those guidelines let’s find out which apologetic celebrities meant it the most …


Earlier this year we all remembered Roseanne Barr existed when her sitcom started up again for some reason. Then it got cancelled. A 1.45am tweet about former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett that compared her to “Planet of the Apes” got flagged to ABC who pulled the hit reboot. Barr’s apology was, all told, “very bad”: she blamed insomnia drug Ambien, retweeted almost 100 meme tweets from her followers that seemed to back up her original sentiment, then pleaded, “I honestly thought she was Jewish and Persian-ignorant of me for sure”, which doesn’t really explain or justify the early morning racism at all. Back to Sorry School with you, Roseanne. 1/5

Jason Bateman

Jason Bateman.
Jason Bateman. Photograph: David Buchan/Rex/Shutterstock

To herald the launch of Arrested Development season five, the cast of the show did a roundtable interview with the New York Times that drew criticism for the way male cast members spoke over Jessica Walters’s emotional retelling of hostile behaviour she experienced working with co-star Jeffrey Tambor. Jason Bateman was particularly mansplain-y in the transcript, and apologised in a series of tweets, starting: “Based on listening to the NYT interview and hearing people’s thoughts online, I realize that I was wrong here.” By the metric, it was a good apology – Bateman said “sorry”, acknowledged he was in the wrong, and offered repair – but it shouldn’t take people online telling you that you should’ve apologised to someone when you were in the room with them crying. 4/5

Maya Jama

Jama’s apology earlier this year was one of my favourites of the genre, because it involved apologising for an apology, which is nowhere to be found on the five-point chart. After fans found old tweets from 2012 where the Radio 1 DJ shared a joke at the expense of dark-skinned black women with the caption “Looooooooool”, Jama quickly tweeted “My genuine and sincerest apologies go out, not just to dark-skinned women but to ALL women,” which was a real zero out of five. A follow-up explained how what she did was bad, but not much by way of repair or asking for forgiveness. Work to do. 3/5

Josh Homme

In 2017, Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme made headlines after kicking photographer Chelsea Lauren during a gig and putting her in hospital for the night. The ensuing apology was, by a chart I am beginning to begrudge, good: Homme said sorry, explained without justifying, did some forward-looking to a time where he doesn’t kick photographers in the camera so hard it hits them in the face (“Yeah, I’m gonna have to figure out some stuff I think”) and even went so far as to apologise to his wife, brother and children. Hate to have to say this about a man who kicked a photographer in the face but: good apology. 4/5

Rita Ora

Rita Ora.
Rita Ora. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Guardian

Rita Ora’s entire career is a performance art piece about how you can achieve success by being loved and loathed by the same number of people at the same time. With the release of hit banger Girls, that theory was proved correct: some camps called it an anthem, while others – including queer artist Hayley Kiyoko – criticised lyrics that presented same-sex feelings as something you catch after a good bottle of wine. Ora’s ensuing iPhone-notes-screenshot apology won a number of fans over, but others labelled her soft coming out – “I have had romantic relationships with women and men … this is my personal journey” – as cynical. Once again, Ora’s Theory of Universal Balance comes through. 5/5

Samantha Bee

Exemplary form from the Full Frontal host: after calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt” in a monologue about the missing migrant children story that has dominated headlines, Bee backpedalled when critics and fans called her out for using a gendered insult. “It is a word I have used on the show many times, hoping to reclaim it,” Bee explained. “This time, I used it as an insult. I crossed the line.” She then went on to apologise, explain, make good for the future and throw in a joke about Ted Cruz, before finishing on: “I should have known that a potty-mouthed insult would be inherently more interesting to them than juvenile immigration policy.” Watch and learn, Roseanne. 5/5


Joel Golby

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Spat’s entertainment: 10 of the best celebrity feuds
From Bette v Joan to Axl v Kurt, these very public rivalries have featured lyrical disses, scuffles and vindictive cakes

Fiona Sturges

13, Nov, 2020 @9:00 AM

Article image
Poor, capable and funny: the return of Roseanne, the sitcom that broke all the rules
Why the return of the feminist, body-positive, working-class show is welcome in the era of austerity and aspirational TV

Zoe Williams

01, Jul, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Rita Ora answers your questions
How to curb your phone addiction? What happens when your flatmate has unsavoury toilet habits? The pop star turns agony aunt

Interview by Leonie Cooper

24, Nov, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Dirty laundry, bleached bumholes and Reading Uni: the secrets behind Ed Sheeran’s success
From bleached bumholes to dirty laundry, the Galway Girl songwriter’s output reveals a lot about his life

Michael Cragg

25, Aug, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
Ozark: how an unnecessary new arrival turned drama into soap opera
The atmospheric crime thriller based around a family laundering cash for a drug cartel never held back on ridiculousness. But it met its tipping point in season three

JR Moores

04, May, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: how Roseanne’s dream turned into a nightmare
The sitcom’s honest portrayal of a working-class family made it a hit for eight seasons. Then the Connors won the lottery and everything got weird

Lucy Mangan

27, Nov, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
‘Donald Trump is the Chris Brown of politics’ – the best presidential gags
Samantha Bee, David Letterman, Aziz Ansari and more on the best jokes in the Trumpiverse

Gavin Haynes

11, Apr, 2017 @8:00 AM

Article image
'Where are the next Tom Cruises?': how the internet changed celebrity
In our social media-saturated society, modern fame has become fragmented resulting in a galaxy of stars vying for our attention

Louis Wise

27, Feb, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Rita Ora’s Anywhere: an Abba-esque electropop romp
Also this week: SOPHIE unleashes a ballad tailor-made for 2017 and Liam Payne joins the pop pantheon of the hygienically challenged

Peter Robinson

27, Oct, 2017 @2:00 PM

Article image
MNEK: ‘The tent thing is not going to happen’
The singer-songwriter shares his festival thoughts on Noel Gallgher’s questionable opinions on rap, to height-related tent woes

Michael Cragg

13, May, 2018 @11:00 AM