Chatting in a BBC green room this morning with the pianist Paul Lewis – before we went onto Breakfast to discuss the perennial Proms question of clapping between movements – I was alarmed to hear that he had torn a muscle in his arm while rehearsing a Beethoven concerto last week. Paul is performing all five concertos at the BBC Proms. Cancellation was not an option. So he played on through the pain, and with barely a grimace.
That’s what artists do.
Last week, I visited Maria Joao Pires after her late-night Nocturnes at the Royal Albert Hall, where she dared to play more softly than anyone I have ever heard anyone do in that vast space. In her dim-lit room in the bowels of the hall, I noticed that one of her fingers was covered by a band-aid and swollen to almost twice its natural size. Pires had played Chopin through a mist of pain. To have cried off and disappointed 4,000 eager listeners never crossed her mind.
So when I see a footballer limping off with a hamstring injury, or a tennis ace complaining of muscle strain, my natural sympathy for suffering humanity is tempered by the knowledge that these athletes are, like as not, protecting themselves from the fear of protracted injury and that their concern for the spectators who have paid vast amounts to see them is minimal.
If Mr Drogba has a pain in his groin, he should grit his teeth and get back to training. If Mr Rooney is feeling under the weather, he should run it off. And as for those Italians and Argentines who fall to the ground howling in agony when someone – perhaps – taps their ankle with a feather-light boot, they ought to be charged with misrepresentation and jailed for their display of deception. Softies, cissies and big girls’ blouses, the lots of them.
A real performer plays through the pain.