The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lord Valentine the Misplaced.

Lord Valentine the Misplaced, to give him his full title, was a character of my invention in the early 1990s. For a time, this 18th century dandy roamed the late 20th century world and, through no intention of my own, came to the attention of millions of people.

Lord Valentine the Misplaced was interviewed for a London magazine called Time Out, in November 1993, through a chance encounter with a photographer who submitted pieces to it, while I was going about, minding my own business, as any 18th century dandy would, in 20th century London. Then, as is the way of these things, other media read the interview and contacted me through Time Out. I was subsequently interviewed for the Observer newspaper, then Channel One, the new Associated Newspapers TV news channel. Finally, the big boys came a calling - and I found myself on CNN. When I later went to New York in February of 1994, NBC News covered my presence there, with a broadcast. Ironically, it all felt as surreal as Lord Valentine was.

I found Lord Valentine the Misplaced to be a very interesting experience. He consisted of an extended improvisation in character, with a liking for aphorisms. I wore full 18th century attire, including wig and make up. It took as long for me to get dressed as some women are reputed to do. It was great fun. What was not so fun, was the rush to claim credit for my character's invention.

The first photographer of my character, a somewhat "hyper" man of unknown age, but probably in his forties, by the name of Nick Simpson, tried to give everyone the impression that, somehow, I was his invention. This galled me. You see Nick Simpson was particularly SLOW in understanding my character. I had to explain to him, on several occasions, the type of photographs that would work and what should be done. Even this didn't work. On the day we turned up for the shoot, his intended image was all wrong - it wouldn't have been interesting at all. Finally, after further explanation, we managed to get some shots which expressed some of what I had in mind. Unbelievably, this man would later claim that he had created the images in which he had had to be directed. He laid claim to the idea of my own work. I even am given to understand that he sold similar images and ideas in his work as an advertising photographer, letting people believe that he was the origin of this kind of image.

It took a lot of coaching of Nick Simpson to secure the right sort of image from him. Between first meeting me, and the day of the photoshoot, he had done some practice images, with others and they were quite the most horrifyingly garish over-coloured, emetic images I have ever seen. There is just no way this man would have got a decent image on his own. He seemed to lack the basics of good taste.

To sum up his attitude towards me as the creator of my own work, I asked him what he would say if anyone asked him who was in the photographs. "I might tell them." So, he "might" tell them who had had actually thought of the images. Just great. That was my welcome to the world of advertising - a world in which I have never met an honest person.

Lord Valentine was a very influential character. It seemed that just everyone wanted to copy him or lay claim to him in some way. Interestingly, no-one who did this, not a single one of them, ever referred to the origin of their imitative work. None of them gave credit to their "inspiration". I was so appalled that I resolved never to show any more creative work in public - and I didn't for many, many years. In fact, in some ways, I have yet to do so, again. It was just too distressing to see my work imitated, without any credit being given. It was also galling to see people such as Nick Simpson making a lot of money out of my idea, by letting people believe that it was their idea. In all my time in Nick Simpson's studio, I saw no particular evidence that he was a man of ideas. However, he thought he was...but that isn't quite the same thing.

Friends and relatives pointed out to me the resemblance of the central character Don Juan de Marco in the subsequent New Line Cinema film, of the same name, to Lord Valentine. Indeed, both characters are dandies from the past, living in the present. The film appears to have taken the Lord Valentine character and psychoanalysed him. That is it. That is the film. Rather curiously, Don Juan de Marco's film company, New Line Cinema, is owned by the same company that owns CNN. Thus, it could easily be, that CNN's interview somehow became a film made by a sister company of theirs. I did note that in all interviews the writer of Don Juan de Marco gave, he was particularly unclear about the origin of his film idea. He couldn't have been more vague, elusive or evasive about it.

What was particularly telling about this "coincidence" is that the resemblance between my prior work, of Lord Valentine, and the later Don Juan de Marco project was so close, that many different people pointed it out to me, as something they had, themselves, observed.

Indeed, there are rather too many coincidences in the Don Juan de Marco film. The characters were basically the same kind of person. The film was made by a company that had had access to the character, through CNN, before Don Juan de Marco was written. Furthermore, CNN had delayed the broadcast of the interview for quite a long time, before finally airing it. This was on the order of several weeks of just sitting on it. When you put these facts together, it is awfully hard not to come to the conclusion that Nick Simpson wasn't the only person in a hurry to lay claim to my work. It would seem most unlikely that it was an accident that a film that comes so close to imitating Lord Valentine, should also have been made by a company whose sister had interviewed me.

So, the success of the Lord Valentine character, instead of becoming the beginning of something, became the end of something. I was so disheartened with the rush to plagiarize him by so many different people, all at once, that I resolved to retreat into creative silence - which I did. Lord Valentine the Misplaced was a piece of performance art that could have begun a great career of an unusual nature. However, it did not. It ended one, by being something too many people were interested in imitating - and no-one was interested in crediting.

It taught me something, though: almost none of the people who are in creative professions, are actually creative, most of them are career plagiarists. There are very few people thinking for themselves.

Why, do I write now about Lord Valentine the Misplaced? Well, Valentine's Day is approaching and the last broadcast of Lord Valentine was on February 14th 1994, in New York. Lord Valentine was in an interview on NBC News. I never saw the interview myself, but I rather get the feeling they missed the point.

I wonder if any of my readers remember seeing either the CNN interview or the NBC interview? Did it make enough of an impression to be remembered, today, one and a half decades later? I would be interested in any thoughts or comments from anyone who managed to see it, all those years ago.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. This is not only my birthday, but the birthday of Lord Valentine the Misplaced. We share the same birthday, separated by a couple of centuries. A happy birthday, then, to Lord Valentine the Misplaced, for tomorrow.

Note: Lord Valentine the Misplaced, is frequently just referred to as Lord Valentine, however, this doesn't change the fact that he is misplaced.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 2:21 PM 


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