There’s talk of a reality show and a clothing line, speaking appearances and a book — a lot of attention for a 13-year-old girl who’s never recorded a song or rehearsed a script.
BETHANY HAMILTON was known for her surfing skills on Kauai’s North Shore, but now tragedy has made her one of the most in-demand teenagers in the national media. On Oct. 31, while she was on her surf board just off shore, a shark attacked her, biting off her left arm. Fellow surfers got her to shore with a surf leash as a tourniquet.
Hamilton made her national debut with a series of interviews last week. In one of the first, she told The Associated Press she will surf again despite her loss. “I can’t change it,” she said. “That was God’s plan for my life and I’m going to go with it.”
She’s off to a busy start.
Her TV debut came Friday, when she appeared on “Good Morning America,” “20/20” and “Inside Edition.”
More is to follow: appearances with talk show hosts Jay Leno, David Letterman and Geraldo Rivera, not to mention stories expected in newspapers and magazines.
Her father, Tom, appeared on NBC’s “Today” last week and received a call from his interviewer, Matt Lauer, later that day.
“He said, ’You know, your daughter’s the most sought-after teenager in the world. She’s even surpassed Jessica Lynch.”’
VICTIM THRUST INTO SPOTLIGHT
Hamilton is the latest victim of tragedy to grab the spotlight, a place that’s been occupied by everyone from Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, clubbed on the knee in a plot linked to rival Tonja Harding, to Aron Ralston, the hiker who cut off his own arm after it was pinned beneath a boulder.
Unlike victims whose fame is fleeting, Hamilton’s manager, Roy Hofstetter, believes her ordeal will have a lasting impact.
“What I’m trying to do is make this 15 minutes of fame into Brand Bethany Hamilton,” Hofstetter said.
He said he’s also in talks for movies, books, a reality show, a clothing line and a speaking tour.
“This is a really amazing story that will last many years,” Hofstetter said.
Others aren’t so sure.
After CBS’s “48 Hours Investigates” dropped out of the competition for an interview with Hamilton, the show’s executive producer, Susan Zirinsky, said she wasn’t sweating it.
“These stories are like buses,” she told the New York Post. “You try to catch them, and if one passes you by and you don’t make it, there’s always another.”
But tragedy does sell well, said Simon Moore, communications professor at Bentley College outside Boston.
“In our wired world, tragedy is like cereal or deodorant,” Moore said. “The media is aware that tragedy sells, so naturally we get a lot of them. Who remembers all the tragedies that have come our way this year? This month?”
Hamilton said she doesn’t like interviews, but she added that some good can come out of her story. She talked about how she was told that two young girls “came to know the Lord” because of her demonstration of faith during tragedy.
Although some television shows, like “Inside Edition,” pay their subjects, Hamilton was not compensated for most other interviews. Hofstetter won’t say how much “Inside Edition” paid, though he says “it’s nothing astronomical.”
RAISING HER PROFILE
Paid or not, interviews enhance the young surfer’s image, fueling the possibility of profit from other endeavors.
“The bigger the scale of the tragedy, the larger the amount of money,” said Robert Smith, author of “How To Be Famous in 90 Days.”
But Sally Stewart, a former reporter and author of “Media Training 101,” a guide to dealing with the press, said “many people caught in tragedies don’t make a penny.”
“The biggest beneficiaries,” said Stewart, “are the media themselves.”
Michael Sands, a Los Angeles publicist, said the media is just giving in to consumer desires.
“The reader gets involved in the person’s life,” he said. “It is a quick movie in five minutes — a soap opera with real high drama.”
At the expansive, borrowed Kauai estate where Hamilton gave her first interviews last week, her father explained his family’s decision to go public.
“We’re not into this for the money,” said Tom Hamilton. “But the opportunities are there and people want to know the story.”
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