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What's a Diva: Demon or Darling?

Jul 1, 2008
The Encarta Encyclopedia defines the word diva as a spoilt brat, attention-seeker, show-off or bragger. Derived from the Italian, the word diva used to mean "goddess" or "exceptional female singer" but over the years the word has become known in popular culture to describe a very difficult, hard to handle woman or man. Wikipedia calls a diva "manipulative, highly strung, privileged and demanding. He or she does not believe the law and accepted rules of courtesy apply to him or her." Another designation I would add is prima donna.

Just for fun, I decided to see what my computer search engine would come up with when I typed in the word diva. Not surprisingly, the first names to pop up in the MSN Search were Celine Dion, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Mariah Carey, Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti!

The people listed are all definitely known for being fussy and perhaps even fiendish. I've worked in the entertainment business for a long time, both in front of the footlights and behind them, and encountered my share of divas, to be sure. However, even if you don't work in the theatre or the diva populated worlds of film, television, or opera, I'm sure you have a diva or two you've run across. Sitting at my hairdresser's one morning, the lady next to me found out that I was writing about divas, and remarked: "I could use some advice about my teenage daughters. They're both divas and impossible to handle!" People talk to me about their kids, mother-in-laws, ex-wives, and bosses. But are all divas demons?

I think it's a mistake to lump all the divas of the world into one category. I agree that the great soprano Maria Callas was known to be a very demanding lady, but what a glorious voice she had! I personally knew the lovely opera diva Beverly Sills. Did you know that her nickname was Bubbles? Does that sound like a name for a fiendish diva? She was one of the kindest ladies I've ever met.

Divas get a bad rap because many strive for perfection. That's where the line between nice gal and conceited maniac get blurry. The following story about tenor Luciano Pavarotti is a perfect example: A number of years ago Luciano took a limousine to an opera house where he arrived to sing that night. He instructed the driver to return at a designated spot and time after his performance. The driver complied. Because the singer had to greet his fans after the opera was over, he didn't reach the limousine until late into the night. When Luciano finally arrived, walking in the crisp, icy evening air to the limousine, he immediately chastised the driver for not having the car warmed up. The driver was shocked at the prima donna's outrage, but the singer quickly explained: "I expect to ride in a warmed up car as my voice is my career and without it I am nothing."

What seemed like a tantrum, and indeed, it was a tantrum, was justified.

I'm not saying that those divas we love to read about in the magazines aren't sometimes over the top with their demands. Jennifer Lopez use to demand that her dressing room only be decorated in all white. That included the walls and any rugs, chairs, and flowers. Rock musicians ask that all brown M&Ms be removed from their candy dishes or they won't go on stage. The list goes on and on. But I do understand the demands on many divas to perform as close to perfection as possible. We the public have put celebrities on a pedestal, making it almost impossible for them not to eventually fall. No wonder they are picky and grumpy. You would be too if your every move was

I say give the divas of our lives a break. At least until the next tantrum which we will then be psychoanalyzing on national television until the cows come home. I love the freedom of the press!
About the Author
Shelley G. Anderson is the personal assistant to self-help author Louise L. Hay, and writes the column Dear Miss Know It All. She is the author of Dealing With Divas: A Survivor's Kit for the Celebrity Personal Assistant (or Anyone with a Pushy Boss). To learn more about her, visit Dealing with Divas.
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