Where Billy Graham led, the Kardashian clan has happily followed

Barbara Ellen
US evangelist Billy Graham takes questions at a press conference in New York in June 2005. Photograph: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Love him or loathe him, few would deny that Billy Graham, the US Christian televangelist, who has just died at 99 years old, was a “character”.

Graham was the original Bible thumper, who filled stadiums, and had enough clout to fraternise with presidents and royalty (including the Queen). Then there was the grotty, depressing stuff – being caught on tape making antisemitic remarks on the Nixon tapes (Graham swiftly backpedalled); his tireless anti-communist babble.

If Graham was a kind of religious “rock star” (global, populist, bombastic), the only things missing were the groupies; famously, he had a rule never to be left in a room alone with any woman apart from his wife. Legacy-wise, it gets yet more interesting. No slouch at harnessing what was then the cutting-edge medium (television) to spread his message, Graham’s instincts were on a par with the foremost social media stars of today. Lipgloss or God: it doesn’t matter what you’re hawking – it’s how you hawk it.

In the week that Kylie Jenner’s complaint about Snapchat helped wipe £1bn off its share value, it doesn’t seem that odd to suggest that, where viral skills were concerned, Graham was the prototype-Kardashian of his era.

•Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist