Why Are We Obsessed With Celebs Dating 'Muggles'?

the idea of you still
Why Are We Obsessed With Celebs Dating 'Muggles'?Amazon Prime

The second a celebrity falls for a normal person on screen, audiences know what to expect. It’s a story that has been told ad nauseum: the A-lister swoops in, humanity cloaked in camera flashes and stardust, and after some sort of manufactured meet-cute, the regular person (let’s call them a 'muggle') finds themselves thrust underneath the celebrity’s strange and surprisingly lonely spotlight.

Despite the variety and nuance we graciously give to other love stories, this one is, for some reason, almost always the same. The couple overcome a few inevitable hurdles – think fake news reports, paparazzi scandals, and wily puppeteering agents – before falling madly in love and discovering that, against all odds, they’re perfect for each other because (guest what!) celebrities are normal people who need and deserve love too.


That’s not to say the stories aren’t still compelling, or worthwhile pieces of pop culture, but with each new inclusion, it seems odd that nobody is too bothered by the fact that, as Taylor Swift puts it, we’ve 'seen this film before' and subsequently, most of the time, we know how it ends.

anne hathaway and nicholas galitzine attend the idea of you world premiere
Daniel Boczarski - Getty Images

Of course, the most obvious example is Notting Hill, Richard Curtis’s beloved romcom starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in which a nerdy bookseller finds himself falling for a glamorous movie star. But then there’s Starstruck, Rose Matafeo’s razor sharp BBC comedy series that follows a young woman who has a drunken hookup with a man only to later realise he’s a major film star.

Last year, there was also Romantic Comedy, Curtis Sittenfeld’s bestselling novel (soon to be a film backed by Reese Witherspoon’s production company), which tells the story of a comedy writer whose fledgling flirtation with a famous Bon Jovi-type musician turns into a lockdown romance.

The most recent addition to the canon, though, is The Idea of You. In case you missed the frenzied fanfare around the film adaptation starring Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine, which was released on Amazon Prime at the start of May, allow me to give you a little recap. Originally a novel written by Robinne Lee, The Idea of You was released in 2017 and soared to success during the pandemic, when Vogue dubbed it a 'sleeper hit'.

It tells the story of a successful, American 40-year-old single mother who begins a secret affair with a charming, and very attractive 20-year-old British boyband star who bears a somewhat striking resemblance to Harry Styles – maybe readers have, somewhat unfairly, labelled the book Styles fanfiction, as a result. With a significant age gap at play, this narrative offers a different look at how misogyny feeds into a celebrity-'muggle; relationship; the protagonist, Solène, is vilified in the tabloids.

Nonetheless, all the key tenets of the genre are ticked off: the 'muggle' is indifferent to the celebrity’s fame, which makes them more attractive. The celebrity is revealed to be just as vulnerable as the rest of us, which makes them more attractive to the 'muggle'. Then after news of their romance reaches the press, and the usual barriers are crossed, the duo find their way back to one another. Spoiler alert: this isn’t actually how Lee’s book ends (the couple break up) but in the film, it’s suggested they reunite.

harry styles and olivia wilde
Neil Mockford - Getty Images

There is nothing wrong with any of these stories – in fact, I adore all of them. But together, they present a very limited view of what it means to be a celebrity, and specifically, how fame affects the power dynamics in a relationship with someone who is not famous. Consider how these dynamics play out in real life.

Whenever a major star is seen canoodling with a 'muggle', or someone substantially less famous than them, it’s only a matter of time until a ruthless scavenger hunt begins to uncover every last morsel of information on them. If the 'muggle' is a woman, the hunt typically takes a sexist turn in a bid to find something salacious to undermine or ridicule them. It has happened to just about anyone and everyone Leonardo Dicaprio has ever been seen getting remotely close to, likewise Paul Mescal, Jacob Elordi, Brad Pitt, Styles, and almost any other famous man who dates women.

Among all this, the celebrity’s character is rarely ever questioned. Why? Because we’ve put them on a pedestal so high, we couldn’t possibly see them as capable of causing harm. And this is a narrative that’s reflected by popular culture over and over again. The trouble is that if celebrities are just like the rest of us, that means they are fallible people capable of behaving badly. And given the power and subsequent impunity society grants them through fame, well, who knows how much damage they could be capable of causing and getting away with?

The thing is, we do know how bad things can get – just look at Harvey Weinstein and the entire #MeToo movement. Consider the women who made allegations of sexual assault against Russell Brand (which he denies), likewise the former students of James Franco who accused him of sexual misconduct – again, the actor has said that any sexual contact between him and his students had been consensual. I could go on and on, because there are many others whose reputations have been smothered in so much glitter for so long that it can take decades to unearth what might have been hiding underneath. And then there are those we still don’t know about.

All this is part of what drew me to writing Gold Rush, my debut novel in which a young woman, Rose, spends the night with a famous musician, Milo, only to wake up the following morning unable to piece it all together. To me, the power we give celebrities is problematic – and while not all of them will abuse that power, we know that some will. Because some have.

So maybe it’s time to change the conversation around celebrity-'muggle' relationships, and bring in new narratives that ask questions about power dynamics, sexism, and how all this trickles down to everyone else, preventing us from discerning the good guys from the bad guys. Because let’s not forget, as William Shakespeare puts it in The Merchant of Venice: 'All that glisters is not gold.'

Gold Rush by Olivia Petter is out on July 18, published by 4th Estate. Pre-order the book HERE.

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