Out of context - a case of mistaken identity

Out of context - a case of mistaken identity

The other night, I Googled myself. Actually … just imagine writing that sentence 20 years ago. What would people have thought? I’m sure what would have gone through their minds would have been a hell of a lot more exciting than the reality of just seeing where your name crops up online.

Back to Googling. My artist’s bio turned up on a UK site showing another artist’s work. We share the same name, so that happens. There are a few Fiona Smith artists. There are also a few Fiona Smith journalists. I have spent some time asking media “clipping” sites to unlink my name to other people’s work.

There’s a New Zealand food writer with the same name and I used to get some of her emails when we both worked for Fairfax Media.

These are the kinds of things that can happen when you have a name that is not uncommon. Fiona is a name that became very popular in the early 60s and most of us are about the same age. I rarely meet another Fiona that is more than a couple of years older or younger than I am. And Smith, well, it is a kind of generic name for “average white person”.

So, it is not surprising that things can get mixed up.

However, if my name is a little bland and undistinguished, it appears my face is as well. My appearance obviously projects “middle-aged blonde woman” (although, in iso, I have become middle-aged silvery-blonde, slightly overgrown and unkempt woman).

Many times in my life, people have been convinced I am someone else. Often, strangely enough, I am mistaken for someone a decade younger who appears on TV. I must have that “journalist look”.

Years ago, backpacking in my late 20s, I was often mistaken for a British TV newsreader. I don’t know who she was, but one mother even sent her daughters down a train carriage to ask if I was her. People would look at me strangely as I walked down the street, doing a double-take – like I imagine they must do to famous people all the time. Sometimes I kind of felt semi-famous by default.

Around 10 years ago, I was frequently mistaken for Mel Doyle, one of the most popular presenters on breakfast TV. I didn’t mind at all. She’s talented and gorgeous and at least a decade younger. I met her husband once at an event and told him, but he looked at me like I was some crazy stalker. Completely mad. Then, I met her at a party and, of course, it was nuts. She is twice my height and half my width (and absolutely lovely). I didn’t tell her. I’d already frightened her husband.

But the funniest case of mistaken identity was with the famous and distinguished investigative journalist Adele Ferguson. People would occasionally tell me that we looked similar and, again, I was more flattered than bothered. However, one night, it got ridiculous. I’d dashed off from my desk at the Australian Financial Review to the Citi journalism awards and was milling around the crowd when I was spotted by a banking writer, who had recently left the paper to work on an industry magazine. This man, who had spent two years sitting opposite me, close enough to kick each other under our cubicles, was waving and dragging a young man behind him.

“See, I told you she would be here,” he told the young man, before asking me if I minded being introduced.

“Sure”, I said, rather surprised by his enthusiasm.

“Tony, this is Adele. Adele, meet Tony.”

I looked at him. “Ummm, I’m not Adele,” I said and then tried to cover his embarrassment by explaining that he was seeing me “out of context”, so anyone could have made the mistake.

Wow, I thought. That was awkward for him. I found my table and my seat, with my name in front of it. As I was sitting there, another old colleague came and sat opposite me. This younger man had left to join The Australian about a year earlier and was one of those people who would barely bother to acknowledge me if we passed in the corridor. So, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when he smiled and said: “Adele! I’m so glad you could make it!”

Well, it was at least the first time I could recall him ever looking pleased to see me. But: “Ummm, I’m not Adele”.

After dinner and the awards, I spotted across the room another former colleague, now working at the ABC. I hadn’t seen her for a decade, so I was keen to go over to say hello. We hadn’t got far past the pleasantries when she asked if I was still living in Melbourne … where Adele worked, for The Age.

Seeing people “out of context” can confuse the best of us and maybe my face is as generic as my name. However, it is pretty clear to me that the resemblance does not go beyond “blonde middle-aged woman” and there is a few million of us around. I guess I should at least be pleased that I have been associated with “quality” rather than infamy.

See if you can pick which one I am below.


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