Go back into the 18th century and news travelled too slowly for anything other than local celebrity to be possible. By the time news of a London celebrity's misfortunes had reached Cumbria she would have been forgotten back home.
When I was a kid what are now called celebrities were called starlets. We had "actresses" like Zsa-Zsa Gabor and Jayne Mansfield who were very very famous in spite of never having acted in anything worth watching.
There's a grey area between celebrity and stardom. It's name is Elizabeth Taylor. We could argue forever about whether she's a proper actress or not.
There were female celebrities before there were male ones. Even now it's quite hard for a male personage to get into the tabloids without possessing some bona fide talent. Consider the Beckhams. He is famous because he was one of the best footballers of his generation; she is famous because...well, why exactly is she famous?
Celebrities exist to feed our insatiable appetite for gossip. They are the friends and neighbours we all have in common.
There is something arbitrary in the way people are singled out for celebrity. They are rarely beautiful. After all, beauty is also a talent and the very, very beautiful -Sophia Loren for example- qualify as genuine stars. Often there is something freakish about them- Anna Nicole Smith for instance or (for British readers only) Jade Goody. They tend to be either poor girls made good or rich girls gone to the bad. They can't be clever or witty or intelligently opinionated because then (again) they'd be stars.
Their imperfections- physical and moral- are part of the attraction. They exist to be patronised and tut-tutted over. Celebrities do not have perfect marriages or perfect figures; they do not retire to bed early. They live the lives we are afraid to live and when they come a cropper we cackle.
It's important they should be vulnerable. We want to taste and savour their pain. Someone like Kate Moss, who triumphs over adversity and spurns us like the dust beneath her naked feet, is of limited use to us. She is a bona fide star- beyond our orbit. Celebrities are there to be despised.
We want them to destroy their septrums with cocaine, to develop cellulite, to cheat on one another. This is what we pay them for. By being such jerks and losers they make us feel better about ourselves. They may be standing on pedestals of wealth and privilege but it's we who occupy the moral high ground.
Celebrity is hard work. Harder perhaps than any proper career. If you're a real talent you can walk round the streets looking like death dressed up in last year's fashions and it doesn't really matter; the core of what you are is untouchable. But the celebrity is all surface appearance; every second spent in public is performance and every second spent in private is preparation for performance. She cannot allow herself a moment off guard or off message, but of course she's always failing to please us because that's what we want her to do.
Ooh, how could she have gone out looking like that? What was she thinking of?
Actually- poor girl- that's all she was thinking of.