A celebrity autograph scribbled on a scrap of paper with a sharpie used to be a treasured possession — but, as K.J Yossman notes in his piece for Wired UK, it’s now a selfie or a video to post on social media that makes a brush with fame worthwhile. With few fans getting to actually encounter their idols in real life, a group of entrepreneurs is using an app called Cameo as a way to cash in on this trend.

The site boasts more than 30,000 “celebrities” across a plethora of industries from entertainment to sports to social media to business, all available to deliver individually-tailored missives at the touch of a button. All you need to do is select a name, type in what you want her or him to say and fill in your payment details. The person you’ve booked then has seven days to record your message and upload it to Cameo.com, where anyone can view it (unless you’ve opted to make the video private).

At the time of writing, fees range anywhere from £8.30, for New Zealand cricketer Peter Younghusband, to £41,500, for American comedian Chris D’Elia, who, unsurprisingly, has never been booked at that price. Talent set their own price tags, although Cameo, which takes a 25 per cent cut of each transaction, does offer guidance. “It’s about how much your fans can afford, not how much you’re worth,” says Abbie Sheppard, who heads Cameo’s UK and European office. (Galanis puts D’Elia’s eye-watering fee down to his wacky sense of humour.) For those with a more restricted budget, there are still plenty of household names available for under £1,000, including Snoop Dogg (£622.50), Lindsay Lohan (£249), John Cleese (£352.75) and even 94-year-old Dick van Dyke (£830), whose video greetings are recorded at a piano and almost always include a few lines from some of his best-known hits.

For many celebrities, the idea of charging fans to wish them congratulations or say hello does not sit well, but from February to March of this year there was still a 77 percent increase in talent joining the site — suggesting that the pandemic shutting down other avenues for exposure enhanced Cameo’s appeal. For the fans, this has been a delight, with the site offering new ways to deliver messages that could not always be given in person during COVID-19.

a woman booking NFL player Tyler Lockett to tell her husband that she’s pregnant, a fan requesting that actor Dolph Lundgren wish his doctor friend luck fighting Covid-19, and one customer asking influencer and voice actor IRLRosie to tell someone to stop talking during films – in the manner of Amazon’s Alexa device. From mid-March to mid-April Cameo reported a 176 per cent increase in bookings; Galanis says many were requests for reassurance or advice.

However, there is a darker side to Cameo, with some people finding their fame being inadvertently used to support causes they do not believe in.

…in 2018 a handful of celebrities including NFL player Brett Favre, comedian Andy Dick and rapper Soulja Boy were tricked into recording shout-outs for a white supremacist group, some of which included coded antisemitic messages. “You guys are patriots in my eyes,” Favre, who charges £249 per video, said in the video, mistakenly believing he was talking to a veterans’ organisation. In the same year, Flava Flav was duped into sending a “happy retirement” message to an Australian cardinal who had recently been convicted of sexually abusing children (the conviction was later overturned).