Dr Terri Apter on Celebrity Shoplifting

CHRIS MANN: TV chef Anthony Worrall Thompson says he has let down his family after being cautioned by police for shoplifting, and says he’ll seek treatment. .. So, what makes a celebrity like Anthony Worrell Thompson shoplift? Dr Terri Apter is a fellow of Newnham College in Cambridge, and a social psychologist. I talked to her earlier, and asked her why do people shoplift.
DR TERRI APTER: Well there are a number of motives, and of course there are some professional shoplifters, who are keen to sell the stuff on. But just as common are people who steal for personal reasons, personal use, and that often has a lot more to do with the psychological state of that person at the time, and why that person has very poor impulse control, than it does with needing or thinking you need something, and are unable to afford it.
CHRIS MANN: In the case of Anthony Worrall Thompson, it would appear that he is obviously a wealthy very famous person, and it seems almost inevitable that he was going to get caught. And he’s apologised very quickly ..
CHRIS MANN: .. and come clean as it were, and said he’s going to treat .. seek treatment. Does this, any of this, surprise you?
DR TERRI APTER: It does surprise me. It’s very courageous to do that, because there’s a lot of shame associated with shoplifting, and it’s much more common for people to say, I didn’t mean to do it, I didn’t know I was taking it, I just wasn’t paying attention, I forgot, because it is so shameful to admit taht this is what you’re doing. Because in admitting that that is what you’re doing, you are saying that you feel like a failure, you feel like a misfit, you feel as though you’re not getting what you deserve. And that’s always surprising, when the general public look to a celebrity. But it’s not .. this isn’t an isolated case. In 2008 Winona Ryder, the very glamorous actress, was caught stealing £3000 of clothing at Saks Fifth Avenue. Last year there was a Congresswoman who was convicted of shoplifting, and that surprised everyone. She walked out with something like $2000 worth of goods. So I think that celebrities often feel withdrawal symptoms when there’s any ebb in the amount of attention they’re getting. And when they feel in that dark place where they’re not getting what they need, they want some excitement to make up for it, some sense of being very special, that I deserve this, I’m entitled to this, I don’t have to pay in the same way as …
CHRIS MANN: This is all very sinister. These are very dark motives, aren’t they?
DR TERRI APTER: Dark motives? Well they’re not dark motives in the way of being disruptive and aggressive. They’re dark in the sense of being sad and depressive. And so they are things that could be addressed. And often people say that they’re in a different kind of zone. They’re a different kind of person when they’re doing that, and that can be a kind of release. But it is also a symptom of something being very not right.
CHRIS MANN: Well Anthony Worrall Thompson in his statement, which was very quickly released today, says that he will be seeking treatment. What does that involve?
DR TERRI APTER: I can’t say what it would involve in any individual case. But generally it would involve saying .. asking a number of questions. Why is it that you were unable to curtail your impulses in this way? What was it that triggered this? Was it that you felt slighted because you had to wait in a queue? Did you have trouble getting someone’s attention? Did you feel entitled to it? Did you feel that you’re so special, you don’t have to pay, you feel you have a fantasy that people or the shop, or corporations want to give you everything. So it’s those kind of questions that would be put in trying to understand what kind of treatment is appropriate.
CHRIS MANN: Isn’t he just a criminal at the end of the day?
DR TERRI APTER: Well it looks as though he committed a crime, but you know, hey, I’m a psychologist. I don’t think anyone is just a criminal. It doesn’t mean that they’re not a criminal. But they’re also a person with a complex psychology. And there are ways of looking at this, and ideally there would be a number of ways of addressing it. But that doesn’t mean they’re not a criminal. It’s just that that’s not the whole story, and in some cases it might not be the most interesting story or the most important story.
CHRIS MANN: Dr Terri Apter of Newnham College in Cambridge.

17:50 Monday 9th January 2012
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire