Will the real Tim Noakes please stand up…

In the babbling Babel of the social-media era, sharing a name with someone famous can be a bit of a drag. Consider the harassed Twitter life of a carb-loving journalist called Tim Noakes – or the daily trials of Michael Jackson, a motivational speaker.

Mike Finch was on a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town when the pilot’s voice crackled over the intercom. “Welcome on board flight 214 to Cape Town, this is Captain Mike Finch,” he said.

Passenger Mike Finch was tickled pink. He handed his business card to an air hostess who give it to pilot Mike Finch, who was also tickled pink and invited (the other) Mike Finch into his cockpit. This was in the pre-9/11 days.

A few weeks later the two Mike Finches met up for a drink. “We ordered a beer and I asked the barman to put it on Mike Finch’s tab,” recalls passenger Finch. “The funny thing is we were very alike.”

As more and more people jump onto the internet, name confusion has created a glut of baffling and comic situations.

Every year around the time of the Grahamstown National Arts Festival, for example, David Butler, a teacher in Plettenberg Bay, is tagged in countless Facebook photos meant for the actor David Butler, who has been in Generations, Binnelanders and starred as the detective Gabriel “Darkness” Harkness in the sci-fi series Room 9.

The game of tag prompted schoolteacher Butler to post a message on his Facebook wall this year: “Is it possible that I’m not the David Butler that you think I am? I readily admit that I might not be the David Butler that I think I am, but that’s not the point. I am not that David Butler. I act. We all act. But I make no money out of it and I’m not famous for it, unlike the other David Butler. The other (perhaps as far as you are concerned, “real” David Butler) is younger than me and better looking. I’m taller.”

Teacher Butler says having a famous namesake has only been an issue for him on Facebook. “I regularly put out warnings that I’m not actually the ‘proper’ David Butler, but no one takes any notice. On rare occasions someone looks at my page and squawks that I’m an impostor. It has been interesting to experience the ire of those disappointed people who thought that they’d finally got in touch with the real David Butler, who is famous for his privacy and eschewal of social media!”

The two David Butlers met briefly, in a lift in Grahamstown, about 30 years ago. “It wasn’t much of an event – but I seem to recall there were wry smiles.”

David Butler shares his name with a moderately famous South African actor, but try sharing your name with the most famous person on the planet.

Michael Jackson, a Johannesburg change guru and business-to-business speaker who markets himself as The Other Michael Jackson, says sharing his name with Wacko Jacko can be a blessing but it can also be bad (you know it – bad, bad; really, really bad).

Before the King of Pop’s death in 2009 Jackson had to deal with people’s disappointment when they realised he wasn’t the “real” Michael Jackson.

“I was booked into a 5-star hotel and was driven to the hotel in a fancy car. When we arrived all the staff had lined up, waiting to greet their hero. They saw me and thought I was Michael Jackson’s bodyguard.”

It was only in the early ’80s that Michael Jackson became a dominant figure in popular music so there was no name recognition when the other Michael Jackson was growing up but when he became an adult he had no choice but to officially become “The Other Michael Jackson”.

“It’s funny because when people think of Michael Jackson they don’t think of a middle-aged pale male – although when we met he was lighter than me.”

The two Jacksons met at a dinner party when the pop star came to South Africa on one of his many visits.

“He told me he lives his life 40-feet away from other people and said he was the loneliest man on the planet. It was really sad. He then asked me to tell him a Michael Jackson joke. I asked him: ‘How does Michael Jackson pick his nose? From a catalogue.’ He laughed like a drain.”

Jackson has learnt to live with people’s laughter when he’s introduced to them and has got used to people humming Thriller (he no longer tells them to Beat It).

Jackson doesn’t only share a name with a star, though. At an event a few years ago he shook hands with someone. “Michael Jackson,” the man said. “Yes, and you are?” “I’m Michael Jackson,” the other other Michael Jackson said. “And you are?” After their Michael Jackson merry-go-round, it emerged that the third Michael Jackson was a car dealer from Nelspruit.

“It’s an icebreaker but it can get tedious. For the most part it’s a laugh, but not when people phone at 3am and ask me to sing to them, which has happened.”

While sharing a name with Michael Jackson can be Dangerous, sharing a name with a controversial scientist can be heavy going, especially in the age of Twitter.

A certain Tim Noakes was minding his own business when a whole lot of South African tweeters started asking him for diet advice. This Noakes, a writer and radio host, is besotted with brutalism – an architecture movement – and doesn’t know an egg roll from his elbow.

Tim “But not The Tim” Noakes says he’s worried about the South African fitness fraternity, who still haven’t got the hang of Twitter. “Don’t randomly tweet. It can get you into trouble,” he says. “I generally ignore everyone who tweets at me about that Banting stuff. But I do occasionally offer up some free workout tips and diet plans, usually involving Vaseline, deep heat and a banana.” Just shows how much he knows – bananas are on Banting’s “Orange” list.

He doesn’t think he’s been name-jacked. “There are many more Tim Noakeses than just me and the prof. We’re everywhere. Watch out. I do hope that all of the prof’s disciples, who are following me on Twitter, are now buying grime music and books on brutalism.”

As the editorial director of Dazed, a massively cool music, fashion, arts and culture publication, Noakes has a significant public profile, but his fans haven’t asked The Banting Noakes for culture tips and music recommendations yet. Dazed Noakes hasn’t met Banting Noakes – although they have exchanged tweets – but he did hang out with Die Antwoord on the Cape Flats in 2010.

What happens when your namesake gives you a bad name. Poor (the other) Clive Naidoo.

Remember, Clive Naidoo from Bloubosrand? A video he recorded of Johannesburg Metro officer Laurencia Shitlhelana giving him a ticket (“for shooting a red robot”) went viral. He told the officer she worked for him because he paid her salary with his taxes and things went from bad to horrific from there. Instead of exposing her for being rude as he’d intended, he became a national joke.

Three months later, “Ask Clive” is still an internet “thing” with people still asking, “On a scale of 1 to #CliveNaidoo how bad was your day?”

The first that (the other) Clive Naidoo knew of the saga was when his phone started pinging with notifications. He says people were threatening to beat him up and there were even death threats. He tried to clarify the mess by tweeting: “Apparently my name has been mixed up with the ass that was chatting with the cop. I don’t live in Bloubosrand. Stop tweeting me.”

Although he doesn’t think he was name-jacked (“it’s his name as well”), he thinks Bloubosrand Naidoo should have taken responsibility for his actions. “He started the problem then closed all his social media accounts.”

He has never met Bloubosrand Naidoo but if he did encounter him, though, he would tell him that he is an ass.

When David van Rooyen was appointed Finance Minister, @DavidvanRooyen, started trending. “I would just like to reiterate that I am NOT the new SA Finance Minister,” he pleaded. He was then accused of not being real. “I just happen to have the same name,” he responded. “I’m not a parody.”

Most South Africans breathed a sigh of relief when President Jacob Zuma unappointed Van Rooyen. (The other) David van Rooyen, a British PhD student, was probably just as relieved. Never mind the rand; he had his name back.


About Jonathan Ancer

I'm a journalist, cryptic crossword junkie, keen cyclist, Billy Bunter book collector and a Billy Bragg stalker. I love words and will post some of the columns I have written over the years on this blog. They include: View from the G-spot (my time as editor of a community newspaper in Grahamstown), Virgin Cyclist (the build up to my first Argus Cycle Tour), Pop psychology (my take on fatherhood) and Angry Utterances (10) (how crossword puzzles unlock the world's secrets and the meaning of life). Since leaving Independent Newspapers in September 2014 I have started freelancing and write a column for the Witness - The Diary of a Bumbling Hack. I've also become a podcast junkie and have produced a podcast biography series called Extraordinary Lives. Let me know what you think.
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4 Responses to Will the real Tim Noakes please stand up…

  1. Anonymous says:

    How did you find the “doubles”? Enjoyed this. Please write some more.

    • Thanks very much. I found Tim Noakes and Clive Naidoo on Twitter – I asked for their email addresses and interviewed them and found The Other Michael Jackson’s contact number on his website. David Butler is a Facebook friend of mine – so was easy to interview.

  2. Robyn Sassen says:

    I enjoyed this so much, Jonathan. Reminded me of when my namesake died. He was, admittedly, a Robin and not a Robyn, but the impact on my teenaged self at the time of the loving death notices in The Star was nothing short of existential.

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