As human beings we’re hard-wired for gossip.

Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, who studies the way primate behaviour evolved into human behaviour, believes that gossip is one of the reasons we developed language.

He believes that once groups of early humans grew too big for every individual to know every other individual intimately, we needed a way of making sure group members could be trusted to support the group and not just attack people and steal stuff.

So we started reporting back on each other’s behaviour. And it’s proved over millennia to be a pretty effective way of enforcing social codes.

Whizz forward to today and the media has turned the process of gossip-spreading into big business.

We love hearing stuff about people we know. And if we hear often enough about someone we don’t know, we begin to believe we do know them.

We will pay money, and enrich people like Rupert Murdoch, to hear about these people.

If it’s a bad thing, we’re more interested than if it’s a good thing. That’s because if someone’s done something bad, the group may be in danger.

But if the person is our leader, we want them to be good.

Celebrities are substitute leaders.

We have been persuaded that we know them, and we look up to them for their prowess in (substitute) battle. We then start believing that they are ethically admirable as well as being good at running, kicking a ball or whatever.

That’s why we get such a shock when they fall from grace.

If they are caught cheating in their sport or on their partner, or getting into a fight at a night club or stealing money or whatever – or simply have a bad season – it seems like a breach of trust between them and us.

It’s called the ‘halo and horns syndrome’.

You suddenly and shockingly discover that your leader, a character who you thought could do no wrong, is really the Devil incarnate. Or, less frequently, that a perceived devil is really an angel.

Both perceptions are ridiculous, of course. As is the human propensity to switch allegiances just like that.

But that’s humans for you. We’re just primates in suits. Ask Professor Dunbar.