It could be Baroness Thatcher, or Kate Moss. However, a search to find Britain’s greatest living icon suggests that we are still living in a man’s world. Nominations close on Monday for a BBC Two The Culture Show poll to uncover the individual who has played the most significant part in shaping modern British life.
Names from the worlds of sport, film, literature and de- sign are among those suggested for their continuing impact on British culture. They include David Hockney, Alan Bennett and Sir Paul McCartney.
But amid the hundreds suggested by text and e-mail, barely 10 per cent are women. The show’s producers are surprised that female authors, actors and artists are considered less worthy of recognition than, for example, Pete Doherty.
The selection criteria are sufficiently flexible to include controversial outsiders. Eligible icons must be “living in the United Kingdom”, even if they were not born here.
Votes for Madonna, who has made England her home, will be accepted. The singer also appears to pass the second test: the icon must have “made an impact on British cultural life”.
The Queen is among the few women nominated so far, along with Dame Vivienne Westwood, the fashion designer who popularised punk style.
Trevor Beattie, the advertising guru behind new Labour and French Connection, has made a film for The Culture Show promoting Kate Moss. David Bailey is backing Damien Hirst. As Tracey Emin has yet to be nominated, there seems little chance of her name being included when the top three contenders are announced at the National Portrait Gallery in December.
Nominated icons should pass tests set by the BBC. If they died tomorrow, would they make front-page news? Have they made a cultural impact beyond their own field of work? Longevity and popular awareness are important. Will their name be recognised by young and old alike? Will we still be talking about them in ten years? A spokeswoman for The Culture Show said: “The poll has provoked a lot of argument, but there is still time to address a gender imbalance. The criteria mean that, for example, Elizabeth Taylor is eligible.”
Dame Elizabeth, 74, was taken to Hollywood as a child and appeared in her first film aged 9. Despite suffering ill-health, she continues to campaign for humanitarian causes and received the Britannia Award for Artistic Excellence in International Entertainment last year.
Voting closes at midday on Monday. The top ten icons will be announced on BBC Two next month before a vote-off to decide the winner.
Early front-runners include David Bowie, whose 40-year, chameleon-like career spans music, art and technological innovation. Sir David Attenborough, 80, is also a popular choice, as is Michael Palin.
One contender, Beryl Cook, famed for her illustrations of large, scantily clad women, talks to The Culture Show
tonight about turning 80 and still not having had her work shown in the Tate.