One of the many ‘parlour games’ doing the rounds on Facebook in these lockdown times is the list of ten famous people you’ve met, one of which is a fib. It’s harmless fun, and today I thought, ah, why not, I’ll join in. This was my list:
1. Nick Cave
2. Prince Edward
3. Ian McShane
4. George Harrison
6. Uri Geller
7. Richard O’Brien
8. Hugh Laurie
9. Trevor Eve
10. Dick & Dom
I could have put a lot of other people on the list – when you’ve been in the media long enough, or indeed worked in fashionable bars in London or any of the big cities, or let’s face it even hung around in Soho long enough, you meet your fair share of celebrities. A few notables that maybe I should have put on the list but forgot about were Hugh Grant (as a student he was often at the Emperors’ Wine Bar in Oxford where I worked in the early 80s), Gary Kurtz (Producer of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, with whom I was briefly in business), Angie Bowie (she was often to be found at the bar of Hollands, a wine bar I worked in briefly in Holland Park in the late 80s), and legendary Liverpool and England footballer Emlyn Hughes (a regular at The Whittington pub just outside Stourbridge where I grew up, and where my then girlfriend worked in the late 70’s, after Emlyn had moved to Wolves).
Very briefly, the answers are
1. Nick Cave – after an early Birthday Party gig in 1981;
2. Prince Edward – in a queue at Mipcom just after 9/11;
3. Ian McShane – a regular at the Portobello Gold bar in Notting Hill, where I worked from 1986-87;
4. George Harrison – I’ll get to him in a moment;
5. Lemmy – also an occasional visitor to The Gold;
6. Uri Geller – over a beer at another Mipcom in Cannes;
7. Richard O’Brien – did voiceover for a pilot I wrote, whose hand I found on my knee prior to recording;
8. Hugh Laurie – did narration for ‘The Tale of Jack Frost’, the 2004 CBBC Christmas Special I wrote and co-produced;
9. Trevor Eve – also from The Gold;
10. Dick & Dom – we got drunk together (or rather drunker) after the Childrens’ Baftas in 2004.
So the answer is of course George Harrison. No, I didn’t meet him – but I nearly did.
It was while I was working at the Portobello Gold, and still living in, so probably late ’86. Mike Bell the landlord and I were having Sunday breakfast together when the phone rang, and it was Legs Larry Smith, once of The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, and also a regular at the bar. He asked Mike if it was cool if George came to lunch, by which he meant George Harrison. The Gold did legendary Sunday lunches – when 3pm came (this was in the days before all day opening) the doors were locked, the curtains were closed, and lunch carried on until opening time came around again. Put it this way, there was a reason the restaurant had glass-topped tables. There were often celebs there – the likes of Ian McShane and Lemmy were there fairly regularly, Twiggy, Kenny Lynch, and so on – but George had never been, although Mike and his then wife Anita used to live in one of his lodge houses in Henley, so they knew him pretty well. Mike of course said yes.
I was 25 at the time, and had been a Beatles fan since I was six or seven, so obviously I was stupidly excited, but by that time in life I’d learned enough about how to be cool around celebs not to make a complete idiot of myself. But George Harrison was different. I did my best to be nonchalant about the whole thing, but it was touch and go.
So lunchtime came, and it was obvious the word had got out, because the place was swimming with celebs – Clapton and Beck were there, then there was Twiggy and her then husband Leigh Lawson, Trevor Eve and his then wife Sharon Maughan, she of the then famous Nescafe Gold Blend adverts, comedian Kenny Lynch, Lemmy was at the fruit machine drinking JD & cokes as ever, Chris Sullivan, once of Blue Rondo A La Turk but by then owner of The Wag Club, and a good few more, all waiting to be with George.
And then, of course, the call came, again from Legs Larry. George couldn’t make it. I can’t remember the reason. I was gutted, of course, but work called (I was running the restaurant at that point), and lunch was happening anyway, George or no George. To be fair, it was a legendary lunch anyway with that lot there, and it went on well into the evening. But no George.
But if you go down to the Gold these days, you can probably bump into a good few more modern celebs – it’s recently been bought by serial club owner and friend to the stars Nick House.