Berry & Green

Creative. Strategic. Communications.

Lost In Translation

B&G are very fortunate to have lovely clients (hello lovely client readers - big kiss!) who understand what we do and how it fits into the world of business/media/social media/people buying stuff etc. It is truly the perfect existence. In the past, however (and possibly in the future, who knows!?) I, like absolutely everyone else working in PR, have been faced with a client or two who fails to grasp that their product/talent/offer sadly isn’t the sort of thing that sets the world on fire. Often it wouldn’t even set Dorking on fire (disclaimer: If the Great Fire of Dorking breaks out this week, I have an alibi……..)

A cautionary tale. In 1997 I was presented with a new music client whose name was Russell. His surname was Nash and this was therefore his stage name. It still is; I checked. Nash still ploughs a desperately shallow furrow in the well-tilled and over-saturated field of popular music. I wish him luck as I bear no ill will to any man - apart from the obvious racist, stupid ones.

Nash’s debut single was a cover version of Eleanor Rigby done in the club style, which is to say soulful with a bit of hip-hop in there somewhere. Bear in mind at this juncture that Nash was neither from the hood nor the ghetto or anywhere else immersed in that great music. Nash was from somewhere like Purley. Hearing his version of Eleanor Rigby for the first time made me want to pour lighter fluid into my ears and ignite it; my boss had to ban me from going down the off licence for three weeks. Luckily I have failed to find a version on YouTube for you to listen for yourselves but hopefully you gather that I wasn’t a fan. The music press agreed with me.

Nash, however, was a huge fan of Nash and couldn’t understand why Smash Hits, Q, the NME etc didn’t want to hail him as a great new talent and his debut single as a piece of aural genius akin to Mozart, Stevie Wonder or Acker Bilk. But with the radio and TV pluggers meeting similar taste-influenced brick walls to the beleaguered press guy, a plan B was urgent required.

Music biz plan B in those days usually involved a student tour. This was a way to “build profile from the grassroots” by getting the performer to schlep around provincial university campuses performing for drunk young clever people and in the process occasionally getting a mention in the local press or, if extremely fortunate, on local radio. A small tour of Britain’s higher education establishments was duly pulled together, posters were stuck up around key towns and cities and surprisingly tickets sold reasonably well (possibly because they were £2 each and included a free beer).

Everywhere but Newcastle University where tickets barely shifted. The student tour people couldn’t understand it. The record company couldn’t understand it. Nash, still reeling from the lack of Top of the Pops or the cover of The Face, couldn’t understand it. Eventually we asked the Ents guy at the university why he thought ticket sales were so poor. He explained that the posters in the city were a cause of some embarrassment to the Union because the word Nash was geordie slang for “blow job”………..

Health Care Drama

Before Berry & Green; before the glory years with Jamie Oliver; before the decade of music industry excess with The Who, Steps, Backstreet Boys, Britney and all the rest of it; before Big Brother and before launching all your favourite Channel 4 sitcoms and dramas, I had a proper PR job where I had to read and care about PR Week magazine and where my clients were big, corporate businesses like Sun Alliance Insurance and the Asda Festival of Food & Farming in Hyde Park. Man, it was dull.

However, there would occasionally be an occurrence worthy of this blog and one such incident involves a client whose business was care of the elderly. In case they’re still in business (they aren’t) or in case any former directors are litigious (they might be) we shall, for the purposes of today, call them Shipton Health Care. Settle into a comfy Underground train seat, oh best beloved, as we travel back to provincial Britain of the late 80s………….

As the incumbent PR agency, our role - for many thousands of pounds each month - was to help them open regional care homes for the elderly with the maximum of local attention - local paper or two, local radio, TV if we could get it. Influencers were but a twinkle in their parents’ eyes at this point. To achieve this, we would first contact the local MP to find out when they might be free to cut a ribbon and then, once that date was set, invite other local dignitaries, the media and one crucial extra component - a celebrity!

Having spent so much on the monthly PR retainer, Shipton HC couldn’t really afford any big names to attend each opening so all celebrities had to be tempted for £300 or less. Sean Connery was slightly out of their league. Instead, we would trawl local theatres for anyone who had once been on telly and who was then appearing in The Cherry Orchard at the Unicorn Theatre, Oswestry. Occasionally we would strike lucky and find that someone from The Archers lived locally and would do the gig just so that their face could for once be seen (note to younger readers: The Archers is like Love Island but without pictures. And there’s a farm.)

Once everything was in place, we would attend the event, ensure the media spoke at length to the “celebrity” and the MP and the care home manager, then sit back and wait for the coverage to be faxed in. Generally, the event would take place a few days before the care home was open so there was no danger of any elderly residents spoiling the photocall. However, on one occasion, the only date available was around a week AFTER the home began to take in guests. Luckily they had a special method of keeping the two parties separate……..

We knew the home was occupied but were surprised that the opening ceremony passed without a squeak from anyone apart from a distant knocking from down one of the house corridors. We soon found out why. After the MP and the celebrity and the media had left, the care home manager breathed a sigh of relief and said, “OK, we can let them out now.” The directors had decided it was safest to lock the elderly residents in one part of the care home for two hours with some tea but no access to a toilet.

My Night of Shame with Michael Gove

I have never voted Conservative. Nor do I ever plan on doing so. I have met MPs of many persuasions over the years - some of whom I rather liked; others I didn’t. Neither have I ever taken cocaine. I was always more of a Yellow Bentines sort of chap and occasionally dabbled in a wrap or two of Clarky Cat on the rare occasions it became available on the mean streets of Battersea where I misspent my early 20s in a haze of narcotic-fuelled depravity.

Ten years in the music industry without ever trying cocaine must be a record but I quickly realised that I was enough of an annoying twat without certain class-A drugs so decided to leave that particular activity to everybody else while I watched their absurdity with a judicious eye. So I have absolutely never taken cocaine with Michael Gove, but I HAVE spent a day and evening with him. It was over 30 years ago, it was a mistake that I deeply regret and I don’t encourage anyone else to try it.

We find ourselves at Oxford University and the stag weekend of a dear friend (then and still) and student of that parish. As regular readers will have noticed, the weekend comprised around 20 young men, many Oxbridge graduates or soon-to-be graduates, involved in high jinks including paintball during which I managed to shoot a young Michael Gove in the testicles. This remains a source of great pride to this day and one which I trust he remembers as fondly as I do.

The evening’s entertainment involved a meal in a hired room above a restaurant in nearby Woodstock. Dress code was black tie. Being from a provincial university, I had to look this up but having ventured into Moss Bros for the first time ever, I considered myself suited, booted and ready.

The meal itself was lavish yet unmemorable. Fine wine was drunk. Port was opened (again, being from a place of higher learning in the North, I had to get used to the complex ‘passing’ rituals but managed to master them without embarrassment), no furniture was smashed up, no farm animals were abused and no waiting staff threatened, at least not within earshot. And these were the days before mobiles phones could record everything and anything so the opportunities for misbehaviour were limitless.

Finally, some speeches to end the evening and Michael Gove got up to speak. Reader, it was the funniest speech I can ever remember hearing, so much so that I very nearly weed myself. Sadly, the sheer amount of alcohol consumed plus the distance of years means that I can recall none of it. But let us hope that if Mr Gove does become our next PM, he hasn’t lost his sense of humour.

Fame. What You Get Is No Tomorrow

Fame, fame, fatal fame. It can play hideous tricks on the brain. But still I’d rather be famous than righteous and holy. Any day, any day, any day……. So wrote Stephen Patrick Morrissey in the mid eighties but his words (and those of David Bowie) possess extra poignance in the wake of the tragedy involving Steven Dymond, a guest on the Jeremy Kyle Show.

As someone who has been involved in “aftercare” and “during care” for various reality TV shows over the years, the tragedy doesn’t come as a shock; the only surprise is that something similar hasn’t happened sooner.

This blog has occasionally related stories of Big Brother housemates who emerge from three weeks of televised incarceration with the words, “thank God I’m out. I’ve been missing my medication!” and has touched on possible anger and mental health issues involved with Wife Swap. But over the years there were many other occasions when those seeking fifteen minutes (or more) of fame rapidly realised that perhaps it wasn’t the gateway to unparalleled joy that they imagined.

To be fair, Big Brother aftercare and psych care was generally very good and for the majority of housemates, their meeting with the psychologist immediately after eviction was brief and entirely sufficient. For a handful, a longer meeting was required - on one occasion, the post-eviction press conference was delayed until about 2am while the doctor assessed whether it was even a good idea.

And on an even smaller number of occasions, “psych meetings” had to be arranged on an almost daily basis to help those unhappy few back into their own already fragile realities. It is fifteen years since those days and one hopes that care has improved but maybe it hasn’t; and maybe the very methods by which reality TV contributors are chosen requires an overhaul.

I have no desire to be famous. I never have. Of those I’ve met (again see other blog posts) who enjoy huge levels of fame, the positives barely outweigh the negatives, often not at all. The pressures increase the higher up the fame ladder one travels and the further from the ground one steps, and there are few who can truly embrace fame and yet withdraw from it sufficiently to truly relish its riches.

SMALL CAT TRAUMA

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, at the turn of the last century, the absolute least fun that it was possible to have anywhere in the world - including warzones, areas of devastation and Dorking - was if you were somehow unfortunate enough to be involved in a photoshoot with the group, Atomic Kitten.

My Kitten PR colleague and I were regularly in the unusual position of receiving a call from a teen pop magazine editor enquiring about doing a cover shoot with the Kittens; unusual because we would then spend the next two hours trying to figure out ways of persuading the editor to do a cover shoot with someone else.

It wasn’t that the Kittens were not nice people. Far from it. Generally they were lovely. The problem was that between the three young ladies there would inevitably be one, sometimes two, occasionally all three of them going through some form of major relationship catastrophe (sorry!) which would spill over into the photo shoot resulting in regular tears and disappearances.

On one occasion, a cover shoot was arranged, make-up and hair people employed, sets built etc. and on the day, at the allotted time, only two Kittens were in position, the other having had a boyf bust-up which had rendered them unable to leave the house. Of the two remaining Kittens, one had to take a phone call within minutes of arriving, burst into tears and was never seen again.

On the rare occasions that we did get everyone together and smiling, the cover shoots were a big success and, in one instance, helped to salvage a difficult situation. Arriving at a small airport in Germany, one Kitten had managed to mislay her passport.

With only minutes before the flight was due to take off, there was no possibility of returning to the hotel for a search. Luckily, we had a copy of Smash Hits with the girls on the cover. Also luckily, the airport was a small one, staffed by German officials who - unusually for Germany - had clearly missed various lessons in Teutonic officialdom. We hopefully waved the copy of Smash Hits in lieu of a passport and they let us through…..

ON R KELLY'S DOORSTEP......

Friends. An admission. I was R Kelly’s UK publicist for five years between 1996 and 2001. However, I can be of literally zero assistance to anyone wishing to gain insight into his current situation as I never met him. I wrote the news releases (in fact, my three-pager on his 1998 collection, “R” is one of the greatest pieces of prose since Nabokov), I sent out the CDs, I arranged the interviews, but that’s as far as it went.

The reason for this was that my boss, who, for legal reasons we shall call Gina Frisbee, was slightly in love with him despite being not his type by about twenty years. As a result, on the rare occasions that he granted the UK press an interview, Gina would travel to Chicago to sort it all out. The fact that she wasn’t a PR and had no understanding of how the media worked was irrelevant.

In the late 90s, a summons came through from America. R would grant one interview for the UK and it would happen by telephone. He would also do some photographs in Chicago. The London office went into overdrive. After a flurry of calls, I arranged a feature with sadly defunkt style bible, Arena.

Gina decided to fly out to Chicago to ensure that the telephone interview took place as arranged and also that the photographer, an ace celebrity and fashion snapper, got his shot. Arena wanted a very specific picture of R throwing a pair of dice at the camera and the lensman spent the entire flight over to the Windy City trying to figure out how to make it work - young people please note that photoshop wasn’t as shit hot as it is today.

It should be pointed out that R tended to work at night and sleep by day so the photoshoot was scheduled for 2am. This allowed the photographer six hours in a hotel room to set up the shot while Gina hunted down R, talked him through the plan and got him on the phone to London before bringing him to the suite to be snapped “throwing” dice. The photographer decided that the ONLY way to make the shot work perfectly would be to use very thin thread, the same colour as the hotel wallpaper, and painstakingly wrap it around each die with the thread suspended from the ceiling fan. Four hours were spent delicately, and with a high element of failure, crafting this illusion until it was absolutely right.

At just after 2am, Gina walked into the suite to announce that R was on his way. Noticing a pair of dice suspended apparently in mid-air, she grabbed at them and tugged………..

Breakfast Unpleasantness

Wife Swap. A Channel 4 series which ran for many years and whose name did exactly what it said on the tin. Like A Question of Sport. Or News at Ten. Or Hospital. You just have to see it in TV Times and you’ll know what happens: Wife A swaps with Wife B and inevitably their vastly different home lives lead to important moments of self-discovery and less important moments of shouting.

My role is to drive around Britain ahead of the series airing, to meet as many wives as possible in their homes (and often their husbands) to explain the pitfalls of wanting tabloid fame and imploring them to leave all media matters to the professionals, i.e. me. Most of the wives are extremely grateful that someone from London has come to help them through this potentially traumatic period of their lives. Some are slightly suspicious that this is an attempt by the production company to shut them up. A handful are clearly psychotic.

(It should be pointed out that this job did have its advantages, notably getting me out of the office for days on end; visiting some interesting parts of the UK like Wolverhampton and Dagenham; and claiming back obscene amounts of money in “mileage”).

One trip takes me to the North-West, to a town which shall remain nameless but which I hope never to visit again as long as I live. The stench of resentment hangs in the air. St George flags ominously decorate every front yard. Angry dogs stalk the streets. And I am here to meet a wife whose appearance on Wife Swap will not make her happy. I’ve seen the programme. She hasn’t. I forget her name. It might be Grendel but we shall call her Dorothy.

I manage to keep Dorothy away from the newspapers but she’s insistent she wants her moment of fame so we agree to an appearance on Breakfast TV the day after the programme transmits - the day after she sees it for the first time. I arrive bright and early at Breakfast TV Centre to find her incandescent with rage. If a programme within sight, there would be homicide. Luckily I am not a programme maker. Unluckily she thinks I’m the closest thing. She rises up to her full height and prepares to strike…………

Reader, I fainted. I like to think it was the lack of breakfast but actually it was pure fear. A couple of researchers had to pick me off the floor. Fortunately, the act of fainting brought out the maternal instinct in Dorothy and she decided against pulling my limbs off in favour of making sure I was OK. It also had the effect of making the subsequent live TV interview much gentler than it might have been.

Operatic Catastrophe

The London Palladium. An historic building and the scene of countless unmissable showbiz moments. It’s capacity is just shy of 2,300. Like a gun mentioned in scene one of a Chekhov play, we must remember this fact as it may become relevant later…..

I am working on a one-off performance at said venue by The Three Sopranos. Following the global success of The Three Tenors - Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti, all of whom are household names in any respectable household outside Catford, a wily concert promoter has created the female equivalent, belting out Delibes and Puccini to anyone who knows their arias from their elbow (sorry!)

The only slight drawback is that whereas any one of The Three Tenors could walk into a Sainsbury’s and cause mass hysteria, the same could not be said to be true of the Sopranos. Kathleen Cassello, Kallen Esperian and Cynthia Lawrence are barely known outside niche operatic circles and therefore any spontaneous appearance in a supermarket would be greeted by the question: “excuse me, dear. Do you know where I can find the tofu?”

It’s not going to be an easy sell. But the promoter is confident, there’s money for marketing and we’ve managed to get a few interviews placed with the Sopranos, albeit in fairly low-key titles. All seems calm until three days before the show when a crisis meeting is suddenly called.

The promoter has spoken to the Box Office and done some maths and realised that the total number of tickets sold is…………47. And to make things worse, he’s invited his friend Luciano Pavarotti who, to make things monumentally bad, has said yes.

In theatre, the term “papering” is used to fill gaps in an audience with friends and family to make a show look more of a sell-out than it actually is. The next 72 hours saw Olympic-grade papering with virtually every music student on London offered a free ticket. In the event, the palladium was around 85% full. Yet only a tiny handful of eager audience members had paid for the privilege.

A Festive Steps Story

A winter’s day. In a deep and dark December. I am in Stanmore.

Those who think that video shoots must be a bundle of awesome fun with unicorns and rainbows and sparkly things in the sky have clearly never been to one. We’re at an old church filming the last-minute video for Steps’ cover of “Tragedy” (pause to do “hairdrying” dance move with hands. Feel good now? Smashing……). It is last-minute because it’s been decided to release “Heartbeat” from the band’s debut album as a double A-side to try to capture the coveted Christmas No.1 spot.

Some poor wretches have been on set since 3am, building bits of set; laying tracks for cameras to seamlessly move up and down, and generally trying not to annoy the verger who has also been up since well before dawn to allow everyone access. As I and the journalist and photographer roll in at the more decent hour of 10am, the wretches greet us with haunted looks. Some band members have been on set since 6am, getting into make up to be transformed into brides for the day. It’s been a long year and it’s far from over.

As usual, the video shoot goes smoothly but slowly. An extremely common occurrence on set is for the director to fall behind with his/her personal schedule and demand that everyone works through lunch, a demand which is almost always greeted with widespread disdain as everyone troops off for a food break anyway and often chews extra fastidiously to annoy the director even further.

Late in the afternoon, following yet another long gap in filming, the director announces he’s ready. Everyone is needed back on set. NEARLY everyone IS back on set, but nobody can find Lisa. A hapless runner is sent to locate the North Wales Suzi Quatro. After ten minutes, both return looking slightly sheepish, accompanied by Lisa’s then boyfriend with whom she had been allegedly playing a game of “tonsil tennis” in the graveyard*…….

*For those of you who have heard this story “live”, you all know that “tonsil tennis” is under-egging the pudding here. However, there are some people who read these blogs to their kids to help them sleep and I don’t want to be responsible for nightmares and years of therapy in about 30 years time. Happy Pagan Midwinter Festival!

Groove Armada Style!

If ever you’ve done an interview/photoshoot with me, you’ll know that I have very strict rules and these tend to be a) let the creative people do their jobs without interfering; b) make nice coffee; c) no other rules. Far too many PR people think it’s their role to get involved in things they really don’t understand (photography; lighting; actually doing the interview instead of the celebrity!) and this almost inevitably ends in fire and fury.

On rare occasions, however, I have had to expand my role to include location hire, set build and props. One such occasion involved dance legends Groove Armada whose 2001 album “Goodbye Country (Hello Nightclub) was accompanied by one of the greatest press releases in the history of modern literature - about which more next year.

Early copies of the album has inspired great excitement within the dance print media - in those days a force to be reckoned with - and one niche magazine had decided it warranted a cover shoot and interview with Tom and Andy. Staffed by enthusiastic but creatively limited young men (mostly), they wanted to do the shoot “in the country!” but had just enough budget for a Ginster’s pie so hiring a rural cottage was not going to fly.

I mentioned that my father lived in rural Sussex and the young men, high on life and drum’n’bass (!) decided that this was the perfect solution. At least I wouldn’t have to make the coffee. So one summer’s day, we all gathered in my dad’s garden to take pictures of two slightly bemused musicians.

“Have you got any musical instruments?” asked the photographer. They didn’t. “Can we get some instruments?” asked the photographer. I began to think the photographer had forgotten his geographical or indeed pharmaceutical position on the planet but I let the thought pass. My father pondered whether “old Ned” up the road might have something suitable as he used to be in music. We drove 3 minutes up the road to old Ned’s.

It turned out that the fellow was a former session musician and still owned a studio full to the rafters with old synths, guitars, drums AND a trombone. Inexplicably and against all the odds, rural Sussex had provided everything we needed for the perfect shoot. Hello Country (Goodbye Nightclub)!

Solution To All The World's Problems!

“There is no political solution to our troubled evolution”, revealed Sting in the early 80s, and despite all the subsequent evidence, the former teacher and monster truck enthusiast was eerily correct.

We can hopefully all agree that we live in challenging times. From local problems like the bizarre mentality that makes certain people laugh at disgraceful Guy Fawkes “pranks”; assault 98-year olds in their own home; or vandalise playgrounds for disabled children, to global issues like climate change; the rise in nationalist fundamentalism; and none-to-subtle attacks on the media and democratic values: we are in something of a scrape.

Heaven knows, these days you can barely eat in some high street chains without checking that your inoculations are up to date.

But I have a solution. And it requires sensible folk everywhere to join together and create a list of people - to be enshrined in international law - who should NEVER be allowed to be in charge of anything more complex than a child’s tricycle. In this way, we can prevent most, if not all, of the man-made catastrophes of the last few centuries and all live happier, longer, more satisfying lives

I welcome your suggestions for this list but, to guide you, I’ve made a start…….

Anyone who plays golf on a regular basis; anyone who has ever “trolled”; anyone who regards “Mrs Brown’s Boys” as superior in any way to “Father Ted”; Justin Lee Collins; anyone who parks in disabled bays when they clearly aren’t disabled; anyone who hunts and kills animals for “sport”; anyone who cannot appreciate the delicious beauty of a Jaffa Cake or a Tim-Tam; anyone who didn’t take drugs in their 20s; anyone who still takes drugs in their 40s; anyone with a car sticker that says “Naughty Person On Board”; The Goom Bay Dance Band; anyone who puts their feet on the opposite seat on public transport; anyone who thinks Universal Credit is working; anyone who doesn’t salute magpies; anyone whose Instagram feed consists ENTIRELY of selfies; anyone racist, homophobic, misogynist or anti-semitic; and finally, anyone arrogant enough to think that their way is the only way. Let World Peace Commence……

Backstreet's Back........AGAIN!

How lovely to see Backstreet Boys back once again and performing on our tellyboxes and wireless radios. As seven of you may recall, I worked with BSB from 1996, when they were only truly famous in rural parts of Germany, to 2001 when they walked the Earth like colossi with cheeky grins, epic dance moves and singles that could be hummed by postmen, milkmen and people who repaired fax machines.

Backstreet were extremely hard-working young men, especially in the early days when their careers depended on long hours on tour buses followed by energetic performances and media obligations followed by long hours on tour buses (repeat to fade)…….

They were also very distinct personalities - Kevin, the eldest and most serious of the group; Nick and Brian, the younger, jokey, playful faction; A.J., who always seemed more mature and the one “most-likely-to-end-up-in-trouble” as his high school yearbook might say; and Howie D who was always disarmingly sweet and kind to everyone he met, almost as if he was so surprised to be in a pop group that he worried that if he said one bad word to anyone, the dream would disappear like a bubble in a ceiling fan.

I did three UK tours with the Boys and over the course of each one, their differences began to become more apparent. Tour One - theatre shows at venues such as the Newcastle City Hall, Bradford St George’s and the Wolverhampton Civic Hall. Everyone shared one dressing room, spirits were high and pre-show bonding prayers were loud and celebratory.

Tour Two - first arena shows, which, as everyone in music knows, means working in giant metal sheds like the NEC in Birmingham and Glasgow’s SECC. These places were large enough for each band member to have a separate dressing room and yet for most of the dates they would all pile into just one or two - occasionally someone like AJ would go to their own space but return soon after to join the party.

By Tour Three, each Boy’s dressing room had very much become their own mini-fiefdoms, decorated according to needs. Nick’s and Brian’s were designed around basketball with hoops fitted. Kevin’s was a place of prayer and solitude. AJ’s was very dark and smelt of funny cigarettes and disappointment. And Howie D? His room was sparsely furnished and just had lots of flowers. Sweet Boy.

Bye Bye Big Brother pt 2

When Sandy Cumming escaped the Big Brother house in 2003 by climbing over the wall - a stunt later made impossible by production staff who booby-trapped the wall with caesium bombs and bubble-wrap filled with hydrochloric acid - he told reporters that he’d done it purely so that people would know his surname. Tragically, he became known as “Sandy, the one who escaped by climbing over the wall” but it was worth a try.

A couple of years later, I was due to provide aftercare for Derek Laud, an eloquent, Conservative, well-dressed gentleman with whom I had got on well during our brief pre-house chat. He was odds-on favourite to be evicted and I was rather looking forward to reacquainting with him.

In the days before his eviction, however, the office had numerous calls from a right-wing MP and his wife who, for legal reasons, we shall call Noel and Caroline Himmelton. They explained that Derek had assigned them to look after him the minute he left the House and could we facilitate such a thing. We could - up to a point.

On eviction night, I met Derek straight from his compulsory psych meeting (it was very short - he was clearly of sound mind) and asked whether he had designated his power of attorney to the Himmeltons. He had. However, it was 1am on a Saturday morning so the sensible thing for everyone to do was to retire to the very posh Hertfordshire hotel and relax - we would finalise everything in the morning.

On arrival at the very posh hotel, the Himmeltons were very upset about the lack of……poshness and asked for a better hotel. I explained that at this late hour, we would be unlikely to find out and that this would have to suffice. As a bonus, I cheerfully revealed that, if necessary, Big Brother had set aside about £200 expenses at the hotel so they could have a quick drink before bed. This news was met with as much delight as if I’d suggested they all crawl down a sewage pipe in their pyjamas. I decided to leave them to it.

By morning, they’d managed to somehow accrue a bill of over £500, mostly on champagne and cigars. It’s unlikely any of them had slept and yet the three politicos declared that they were off to Wiltshire and were leaving immediately in Noel’s Rolls Royce. I had already ordered my car home and so, for the first and last time ever, I asked the driver to “follow that car”, just in case. We tailed it for five junctions around the M25 as it weaved unsteadily between lanes. We pondered tipping off the police in Berkshire that a reasonably high-profile politician, most likely unfit to drive, would be passing through their patch any minute, but ultimately decided that fate could decide…….

Bye Bye Big Brother

Big Brother has been in the news over the summer because, apparently, the viewers are now tired of the format and thus we may be seeing the last of it, certainly for a while.  I shall shed an almost imperceptibly small tear - as many of you know, between 2003 and 2007, I was "aftercare" for 34 Big Brother contestants of all shapes, sizes and levels of insanity.

Aftercare is a vague term for such a crazy role but essentially it involved three main tasks.  The first was to meet the housemates before they entered the House - often on the day they entered the house - to reassure them that we would be there for them when they sooner or later emerged.  The second was to liaise with friends and family of the housemates and help them through the inevitable media attention.  And the last was to greet the housemate when they were evicted (or won!) and calmly guide them through the transition back to the human world.

Over the course of five years, the aftercare team experienced most eventualities.  In the next blog, I shall relate the craziest escapade but for now we shall focus on some random happenings.

Case one.  A lovely chap named Spencer who was inexplicably evicted early but who had become something of a media darling during his time in the House.  He was delightful, modest and couldn't quite understand why the newspapers wanted to pay him for his "story".  Having secured him £37,000 for a day's work, he insisted on buying me a pair of shoes as a reward.

Case two.  An equally lovely chap called Gos who was the most unfortunate housemate of all time.  A bomb scare on Friday night meant that his eviction in front of cheering crowds had to be postponed until Saturday lunchtime and so he left the house to no ovation whatsoever.  It was also too late to arrange any lucrative Sunday newspaper deal.  In the end, he and I went and had a cup of tea in a hotel lounge and muse upon his rum luck.

Finally (for today), a housemate who shall remain nameless in case she's still homicidal.  Her brief tenure in the House had been peppered with aggressive outbursts so I wasn't looking forward to the aftercare.  After the usual midnight press conference and malarkey, we were alone in a car driving towards her post-BB hotel.  "I'm glad I'm out, to be honest," she said, "because I need my medication."  Medication? I asked.  "Yes, the pills that stop me getting angry.  I've had to go without for three weeks so I'm fucking furious.........."

Portakabin Blues

Apart from the miserable 6 months spent working on the Michael Flatley account, my most depressing experience in showbiz PR was spent largely in a Portakabin outside Witanhurst House in Highgate as part of the two-man team responsible for the BBC's flagship Saturday night entertainment extravaganza, Fame Academy, a programme so lacking in personality, sparkle or newsworthiness that at one stage it was seriously suggested that we set fire to something purely to inspire the headline, Flame Academy.

Sadly, the insurance policy on Grade-II listed Witanhurst House didn't stretch to covering deliberate arson and so I was back to the publicity drawing board for me and my co-conspirator, a brilliant, super-smart Scotsman by the name of Michael Park whose resting face resembled that of the World's Angriest Pixie.

The series publicity had begun well with a launch event attended by all of the usual suspects and wall-to-wall coverage.  Young musicians, the brightest hopes for future rock and pop legend status, were to be locked away in the mansion, taught the finer details of the music business by deities such as David and Carrie Grant, and gradually whittled down to one winner, the cream of British young musical talent, before whom the Charts would quake and bow down.

Unfortunately, the opening programme was a catastrophe and viewers shunned it as one might shun an egg and spoon race devoid of either eggs or spoons.  Both the Production team and the PR team knew that it was going to be a long, desperate autumn.

Hope briefly reared its head with the arrival in the Academy of one Mariah Carey, in the UK for a series of promo duties.  Clearly some strings had been pulled at a very high level and as a result, La Carey and her considerable entourage found themselves in a draughty room in a huge, rambling building in north London, waiting to meet half a dozen wide-eyed wannabes.  Mariah was standing for about two minutes when one Carey-flunky shouted, "Mariah needs a chair!"  Immediately, a second Carey-flunky (the one responsible for seating procurement) ran the 5 yards to the nearest chair and placed it under the Carey derriere.

Michael Park and I looked at each other, the same thought occurring simultaneously in our tabloid-tuned heads - Mariah Chairy!  Surely the Daily Star would go for that one?  We were saved.  At least for another week.............

Big Dog Tales

Spring 2001 and I'm waiting at Euston station for a man named Kermit to arrive off a train from Manchester.  Formerly of popular Manc band Black Grape, Kermit now fronts a group named Big Dog whose mix of funk and rock is hardly setting the world alight, and yet I have somehow managed to get him a day's-worth of interviews.

I have two concerns: firstly that I have no proof that he actually boarded the correct train, and secondly that Euston station seems to be over-populated by policemen on this particular day and Kermit is known for enjoying some of the less legal of smokes, particularly after a long journey.

Some weeks previously, I had been to see Big Dog perform live in Sheffield at a university gig which was memorable for one reason only - on the way back to my £40 hotel, I had - for the first and last time ever - been propositioned by a "lady of the night".

Trudging down one of Sheffield's seven hills in light drizzle, a woman around 20 years older than me and conspicuously under-dressed for the northern weather in a fake fur coat and underwear, stepped out from a bus stop and said the most sensual words a man could wish to hear: "Fancy a jump, love?"

It took a while to register what "a jump" was, but I politely declined and went on my way.  Fast-forward to Euston station and, through a crowd of businessmen and day-trippers, I notice my subject for the day, largely because he is also wearing a fur coat and he's smoking a gigantic spliff.

Frantically, I look around to check the whereabouts of Her Majesty's constabulary and by chance they're all occupied in various corners of the station - lots of elderly people requiring directions to the British Library.  Despite Kermit being about a foot taller than I am, I somehow manage to hide him under my jacket, spliff and all, and we skip off to face the first interview of the day......

Strip Club Blues

A warm day in late 2000 and I am in a strip club for the first and last time in my life.  It is named after a flavour of chewing gum and a large mammal.  Why this is so is unclear.  Why I am here is less unclear.  i am here for work.

The American rapper, Mystikal (sic.  Real name Michael Tyler, fact fans) has had a surprise UK hit with a gentle and wistful ditty called "Shake Ya Ass".  As a result, the UK record label has reached down the back of the sofa and clawed together enough money to fly Mystikal (sic) to London to hastily promote his album from which the ass-shaking hit is spawned.

This has resulted in a number of bizarre occurrences, not least a request that on arrival the entourage should be provided with industrial amounts of a certain strain of smokable vegetation. The dutiful A&R chap had acquired what he believed was enough to last the whole trip, only for it to be depleted within a matter of hours, the demands for more resulting in an extremely challenging expenses sheet.

In addition, a "lad mag" has asked to photograph and interview Mystikal and decided that the strip club is the best place to do this.  I suspected at the time that it was less conducive to good photography and more conducive to the picture editor and the photographer having the perfect excuse for an "entertaining" evening but I let it pass.

Suffice it to say that the experience was a genuinely depressing one.  Scantily-clad young women would cheerfully bound over asking if we could buy them drinks and when we explained that we were working, they less cheerfully bounded off to someone with greater potential.  At one point, an elderly man arrived and was immediately surrounded by admirers.  He bought them all champagne.  It must have cost over £1,000.  

Meanwhile, the entourage, which also consisted of various family male members along for the ride, loved every minute of the club and its offerings.  Conversely, I had seen enough to know that I never again wanted to be anywhere so exploitative and depressing.  Some years later, Mystikal was sentenced to a prison term for sexual battery of his former hair stylist.  The album largely flopped.

More Evils of Advertising

The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-08 is one of the defining events of our century so far and one whose consequences continue to this day.  The immediate effects - banks being nationalised; City folk being made unemployed; City pubs being slightly quieter on a Thursday - were replaced by austerity; social and fiscal breakdown; food banks and, arguably, a rise in socio-political disaffection.

Most experts agree that the crisis was sparked by the overselling of sub-prime mortgages in the USA.  Unscrupulous financial organisations would agree mortgages with clients who had little or no hope of ever repaying them.  This led to collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), credit default swaps (CDSs) and other complicated financial acronyms.

It also led to new and tough regulations on banks and building societies across the world so that the naughtiness which caused all the problems in the first place could be avoided going forward.  With their knuckles stinging from the wooden rulers of various financial standards authorities, the banks and building societies agreed to behave.

So you can imagine my surprise when a TV advert appears on British television in which a building society agrees to an apparently considerable mortgage for the cartoon character, Top Cat.

Top Cat, as everyone with even a passing interest in the early 60s output of the Hanna-Barbera studios knows, is the very last person/cat you would lend a huge chunk of money.  He has no discernible means of regular income, is consistently in trouble with the local police for a series of dodgy scams and, more worryingly, is a stranger to trousers.  And yet, this shady character manages to secure a loan for a sizeable dustbin, albeit in a downmarket part of town.

If another financial crash comes at any point during the next, say, 12 years, I believe that future historians will be able to trace its causes back to the advertising industry's wanton disregard for accuracy and a lack of credit checks on animated cats.

Treason to be Cheerful

Paul Burrell, royal butler, "rock" and etiquette pedant, is back in the newspapers as a new book rifles once more through the unfortunate case of why he happened to be "looking after" 48,000 or so items belonging to the late Princess of our hearts; a case which, let us not forget, was dismissed.  

Burrell's first book, best-seller, A Royal Duty, was kept tippety top secret almost until publication, with its dramatic contents known only to a handful of select individuals. One of those wax Piers Morgan who had cleverly bought the serial rights for the Daily Mirror. Another one was me. 

I was entrusted with running Paul's publicity thrust on publication and it was, as the late Ken Dodd used to say, educational (at the end of the campaign, I walked away saying to myself, "that's taught me a lesson!"  Boom boom. By Jove!  How tickled I am, missus!) 

There was a furious battle for the TV exclusive. On one side, Sir Trevor MacDonald who somehow managed to get my mobile number and thence delightful surprised me by calling me when I was on the Jubilee Line. In the other corner, Fiona Bruce.  I forget how we made our decision but Fiona got the gig and we all toddled off to a posh hotel to do the (thankfully recorded) interview.  

All was going swimmingly and Paul was relaxing into the interview when suddenly, inexplicably, he said something which, even if I repeat it now, would mean an instant trip to the Tower of London faster than you can say, "The Queen came through for me!"  The room went silent. No-one dared breathe.  

Finally, Fiona arched a perfect eyebrow and said, "I think we'll leave that out, Paul. We don't want you dragged back the the Old Bailey, do we?"  Several miles away, the British Geological Survey detected minor seismic activity as everyone in the room simultaneously exhaled......... 

New Business (Perils of)

We are humbled and grateful to have been heaven-sent some gorgeous new business early in 2018 and we've also been writing a lot of new biz proposals, which is delightful and coincidentally reminds me of a story..... 

It is 2003--ish and I am sent to a potential new business meeting with a global superstar who, for legal reasons, we shall call Michael Batley, an American of Yorkshire descent who has made his considerable fortune through the medium of Morris dancing. 

After barely a few minutes of our meeting - not, I stress, with Batley himself, who is doubtless busy wielding a stick and a handkerchief at some soulless arena somewhere in the world, but with his London representatives - it is clear that the gulf between expectation (theirs) and reality (everyone else's) is not inconsiderable, a situation commonplace in the world of PR and something I doubt they teach on those higher education courses in "Publicity Management"  

I return to the office convinced that this potential new business should be avoided new business and miraculously my boss agrees.  He suggests I construct an unusually poor proposal document with a high fee, fax it over to Batley's mob and wait for rejection with the champagne to hand.  I obey. 

Everything goes to plan until Team Batley responds saying that they love the proposal, are happy to pay the fee and can we start tomorrow.  The champagne remains on ice.  

What follows is six months of high comedy mixed with extreme torment as the gap between expectation and reality widens until it can be seen from space. But as my boss pointed out, they still paid the fee......