THE A-Lister above all others, a Maitre d from heaven and the hotel that flattered to deceive – it could only happen in London.
Business trips to the capital are mixed with pleasure as often as possible and this week’s was no exception. Meetings, meetings, theatre, meetings, shopping, meetings, cinema and food.
But relax, my contributions will always be a business-free affair and we’ll begin with lunch on day one. PJ’s in Covent Garden, one of the most atmospheric, quirky and delightfully relaxing restaurants I have visited in years, fed two of us rather well for under £35. The food was delivered without the usual ‘London 30 minute lull’ designed to make you add another expensive soft drink to your bill, was hot on arrival, generous in proportion and cooked to perfection.
But PJ’s dazzling jewel in the crown is without doubt its maitre d and to observe this rarest of breeds – a true professional at work – was an added bonus.
Attentive without an invasion of personal space, polite without the usual front of staff pretence and professional beyond belief: I doff my metaphorical Northern cap to you sir and will return soon.
Star-spotting in the West End
London’s A-Z List
Later that evening, and at my girlfriend’s request I must add, we walked to the Noel Coward Theatre via Leicester Square in the hope of catching a glimpse of, well I didn’t really catch that bit to be honest. Being a sports fan I’m as far removed from the cult of celebrity as humanly possible, but I’m a modern man and my breed are happy to indulge their girlfriend’s star-spotting fascination.
We weren’t alone. All forms of human life from all corners of the globe were present, incorrect and noisy. Hysterical even. And present in huge numbers. I gathered they were there in the biting rain and wind to see, meet, touch, who knows, perhaps an A-Lister along with any number of Z-listers associated with whatever film second rate film was being premiered. However we duly found a position at the very front of the barriers no less but some distance from the hallowed carpet on which whatever ‘celebs’ were expected to tread.
I was underwhelmed, never having understood the fascination with actors, actresses’ and autograph hunting.
Anxious to get take my seat at the Noel Coward for what would be a mesmerising performance of Ira Levin’s Deathtrap, my misery lifted when the first expensive car with ridiculous blacked-out windows (I thought they were illegal?) swept in to view 50 yards or more away. My mood brightened further still when I realised whoever exited would not be visiting the untidy, writhing mass of bodies that threatened to engulf me as we were well beyond their line of vision and I began to visualise the rather more sedate, and classier surroundings of one of the West End’s more beautiful theatres.
Sadly my joy was short-lived as to his eternal credit a figure resembling Rod Stewart’s father began working the crowd like the seasoned pro I was constantly being told he was.
It was an odd affair, as each member of the by now rabid crowd only became placated when Mr Big Time scribbled his name on whatever was being thrust rather ungraciously in front of him. In a clinical display of efficiency, he was always on the move, avoiding eye contact with the baying mob preferring to scribble his name in one direction while looking ahead at the next autograph stalker’s paltry offering.
He never posed for a picture, he was on the move. He appeared in front of you for a second you clicked your camera or phone he kept on moving. You missed? Tough. You struck gold? Well you’ll certainly have something to chatter about for a few weeks won’t you.
As he inched closer my excited girlfriend entered a Zen-like calm adding the name of Harrison Ford to her ever-growing list of celebrity encounters. OK fair play, a man approaching 70 shouldn’t have to be a paid up member of ‘meet-a-mob’ but he was and by now had been scribbling his name for almost 45 minutes and that, in this day and age of celebrity greed, is impressive by anybody’s standards.
Shaking Indiana’s Hand
Meanwhile my mind was tried in vain to fathom why nobody offered Indiana their hand or, heaven forbid, engaged him in conversation? Was this against star watching protocol? Who cares. He was almost upon us, marker pen in right hand and appeared surprised, almost bemused, to be caught in my sniper-like stare. I held no photograph, a camera was absent too. I witnessed his eyes narrow in suspicion as my hand went out to meet his. We were so close we could have performed the air-kiss. My hand remained outstretched, our eyes locked together.
The view from the Umi
He stood still for the first time since he emerged from the tranquillity of his car. His pen effortlessly switched sides, we shook hands, I asked how he was – our hands tightly gripped. He stopped. Nodded. All around the crowd hushed, he looked surprised, almost bewildered. A strange encounter for us both. Our grips released,
he walked on, unsure what had just happened. My girlfriend laughed the laugh of one who had witnessed what would have been unimaginable an hour beforehand – her boyfriend caught squarely in the world of celebrity. I was left to come to terms with my new found admiration for quite probably the greatest A-Lister in the world.
The hotel that flattered to deceive? Well, a visit there left me angry that I hadn’t seen the warning signs, especially the one that hits you straight between the eyes with the force of a thousand guidebooks and begins, ‘if something sounds too good to be true…’
It was billed as a new concept and the Umi labels itself as one of the top London 3 star hotels. In my opinion it isn’t. It reminded me of a freshly painted, yet still musty and tired around the edges backpackers’ hostel, there wasn’t even a view which may have earned itself some fine words from this particular visitor.
The ominous looking stain...
Still at least my washbasin, for some reason positioned in the bedroom as opposed to the bathroom, came with a stain rather reminiscent of Munch’s ‘The Scream.’
And finally my review of Angelina Jolie’s ‘The Tourist’ will be brief. Only pay to watch this if you are soon to become a first-time visitor to Venice which looks stunning when featured. Jolie, did not.