We Need To Be More Honest About Nepotism –

Your easy-read explanation to the Hollywood buzzword.


by Guy Pewsey |
Updated on

In 2020, Chloe Madeley owned up to what many find a difficult truth. The TV presenter and fitness expert spoke to The Radio Times and acknowledged that being the daughter of broadcast legends Richard and Judy helped her in her career. ‘I was accused of nepotism because I was Richard and Judy’s daughter’, she says. ‘It was true, therefore it hurt.’

Honestly, it was a relief. It's surprisingly rare for someone in the public eye to acknowledge, even briefly, that their success stems from who they are related to.

What is nepotism?

ICYMI, nepotism is defined as 'the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives, friends, or associates, especially by giving them jobs.'

For me, I am genuinely grateful each time anyone acknowledges that nepotism has had even the smallest influence on their career and I wish celebrities would do more of it. When Kylie and Kendall Jenner pretend that years of hustle – rather than being members of one of the world’s most famous families – got them their latest modelling campaign, my blood pressure rises. When Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, was cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, I pictured the thousands of young actresses who weren’t lucky enough to have a mum who happened to be the director’s beloved muse and friend. When Brooklyn Beckham released a lacklustre photography collection, I pictured the other amateur photographers – more talented, less famous parents – who would have killed to see their work fill the shelves of bookshops across the world. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but it would be easier to do so if they were just a little more frank about how they found their place in their field. Willow and Jaden Smith. Anwar Hadid. Nicole Richie. Dakota Johnson. Lila Moss. The Freuds - 'bunch of no talents with an ancestor', according to Ab Fab's Eddie. The Corens. The Goldsmiths. Half of the cast of Girls. Am I asking too much?

I would like to establish that I don’t automatically loathe every person who got their foot in the door thanks to their parents or other familial connections. It is natural that actors, watching their mother and father accumulate great wealth and fly around the world, would gravitate toward the industry. Of course some children of journalists want to be journalists too: it’s a fascinating career that, while challenging, can be hugely fulfilling. The offspring of politicians, raised by someone whose whole life is supposed to centre on helping society (I say supposed to, as if that means it's true) can reasonably be expected to pick up a similar ethos. Nepotism gets you through the door, but it rarely allows you to stay if you don’t prove yourself as possessing the necessary alacrity and ability. Plenty of journalists got their first staff job thanks to a nudge from a godparent or, simply, the surname on the top of their CV, but they’re not kept around if they have no stamina or skill. There are, unfortunately, a few exceptions. Some parents are just that influential.

It’s the same with actors. When Katharine Hepburn essentially insisted that her niece Katharine Houghton be cast as her daughter in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, the nepotism was undeniable. But it was also, essentially, fruitless. Katharine The Younger’s performance was passable, but lacked impact. Her career – only fifteen-or-so screen credits since the film’s release in 1967 – may have been kicked off by her aunt, but could not be sustained by her long-term. On the flip side, consider Carrie Fisher. She was incredibly frank about the fact that her big screen debut – in 1975 film Shampoo – came about due to the fact that her mother was icon of entertainment Debbie Reynolds. But Debbie was not responsible for her wit, for her undeniable talent as a brave actor and sardonic writer. Debbie may have got Carrie on the studio lot, but Carrie took that opportunity and ran with it. Admirably, she never let the world forget that nepotism had had its part – her novel and film Postcards From The Edge is a particularly lasting reminder - and she also cast a light on the pressures that following in the footsteps of a screen great brings.

Maya Hawke will not be able to secure a long-term career on the screen if she does not prove herself as a talented actor in her own right. Romeo Beckham may get onto a football pitch thanks to who his father is, but no one’s going to shell out the big bucks if he can’t actually handle a ball. Still, they’re still getting access and opportunities that others are denied.

If I have children, and they wish to enter the media, you can bet I’ll be asking a former colleague or friend to get them in for work experience. It took me a long time, a lot of hard work and acres of financial and emotional insecurity to find a place in the media industry, and if I could save a loved one a bit of hassle then I absolutely would. But I would also expect them to battle tirelessly to prove themselves as an individual and, vitally, to own up to this help. ‘How did you get your big break’, a fellow young media type or aspiring writer may ask. It would be dishonest and cruel to answer anything other than ‘my dad made a call', even if there's a caveat of 'but it really started to fly when I bagged my first big exclusive.' I would tie this in with property. When a friend shows off their gorgeous new flat on Instagram – ‘just got the keys!’ - or shows you around their spacious new home, I would like a disclaimer: ‘my mum gave me £50K for the deposit’ or ‘my great-uncle died and left me a bundle.’

I digress, I know. But to summarise: we all know nepotism exists and has the ability to truly hurtle an individual to a successful career in an industry – acting, politics, the media – that many, less lucky individuals struggle – often fruitlessly – to enter. It’s not fair. Of course it isn’t. But it’s also not going anywhere. So please, if you are one of those lucky few, please consider being more like Chloe Madeley. More like Carrie Fisher. Hold your hands up when nepotism has served you so well, proclaim it like an MP’s register of interests, then get on with showing the world that you are, nevertheless, deserving of your spot in the room. It’s really the least you can do.

READ MORE: Molly Moorish Gallagher Talks Reconciling With Liam And Losing Touch With Noel

READ MORE: Iris Law: How She Became A Law Unto Herself

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us