The benefits of (not) being Patrick Stewart

Walking into an upscale restaurant in rural France on a Bank Holiday break, I was on my way towards our table and nodded politely to the couple at the next table. After a brief hesitation, the lady of the couple reacted. She looked at me intently for a moment, her eyes widened, she broke into a big smile of recognition and mouthed “hello” as I walked past and sat down. What’s with the hello? I definitely didn’t know her. But her reaction was very familiar. Over the past few years, often when I meet people for the first time, they give me that “don’t I know you from somewhere?” look. Sooner or later somebody will pop The Question: “Has anyone ever told you, you look like Patrick Stewart?”

The first few times it happened, I had to ask “who is Patrick Stewart?” because I honestly didn’t know. Then I googled him and found out. He was famous as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in various iterations of Star Trek, a long-running TV series that I had somehow completely missed. As far as I could see, the only similarity is that he too is a middle-aged Englishman whose stand-out feature is his baldness. So I tended to take the PS-JLP reference as people saying “you look like a bald bloke on the TV!”, which I really didn’t need to hear. It irked me. For the first year or two of hearing The Question, I hid my annoyance as best I could with smart-arse answers such as “no, you’re the first person who’s told me that … today”. And I continued in a sort of double denial of two simple facts that I didn’t much like: that I am bald, and that for quite a few people I look like Patrick Stewart.

Still, despite my annoyance, I couldn’t help noticing that everybody likes Patrick Stewart the actor and Jean-Luc Picard the character. When I looked into them more closely, I found that they are a lot more than just famous show business faces like any number of other people who appear on TV. Captain Picard is loved and respected as a wise, gentle, eloquent leader who has faith in other people. And as Patrick Stewart shaped the character and embodied him, it seems that the actor and the character increasingly merged. As he said “I became a better listener than I ever had been as a result of playing Jean-Luc Picard because it was one of the things that he does terrifically well.”

As for me, I have come round to accepting that some people think I look like PS-JLP. It’s a fact of life, they do it whether I like it or not, so why not embrace it? In fact, I suspect there are benefits. Even when people find out that I’m not who they think I look like, on some level they still think I am him. They’re primed to find me wise, gentle and eloquent, a good listener who has faith in other people. And gradually, as we chat, that’s what they find. Without trying, I may well embody more of PS-JLP than I know!

If I were more hard-nosed at marketing my coaching work, I suppose I could take advantage of looking like PS-JLP, along the lines of: “How boldly could you go with the help of your own Starfleet Captain coaching you?” But on this point, I am very much like PS-JLP – that would be just too crass for our taste. I won’t make it so.

UPDATE: Now, when people pop The Question, I can whip out my iPhone and show them this blog.