This man had achieved iconic status. He was as famous as anybody was. What was he doing here? Surely he normally would have had someone with him.
Should I attempt to speak to him. Should I impose myself on him? Could I talk to him? What to do.
I followed him for a while. Suddenly he diverted to the left and quickened his stride. I summoned up what courage I could. I did want to talk to him so I ran after him. By the time I caught him I was more or less breathless. But I blurted out that I recognised him and would like to talk to him. Could I walk with him for a way?
He looked at me and gave me a once over before replying. He took his time but must have not noted anything untoward because he said – “judging by your accent it would be an honour”. This relaxed me immediately.
We fell into easy conversation. I told him who I was and where I worked. I told him where I lived. He seemed to relax. When I stopped talking he explained his position. There had been a mixup with his plane and he had arrived virtually one day early. He had a day to kill. He was suffering from jet lag. He was going to walk as much as he could and last out the day. He was in London on business.
I have to admit he was easy to talk to but then again he would have had a lot of experience at talking to people like me. We ambled along and talked of many things. Amongst other things he told me was that since his wife had died he did not like traveling. And also he wasn't too well off and could not afford to travel like he did when he was younger. I must have somehow expressed my skepticism because he said that just because he was famous did not mean he was rich. He had a good agent that got him lots of work but it didn't mean he got a lot of money. He had often been involved in money losing propositions. He had once been persuaded in going into renting theatres and it nearly sent him broke. The best he ever did was to wait it out in the South Pacific while Marlon Brando had sorted out his domestic problems. He only had a few lines but his contract said he was paid by the time he was held on call. These days he was often in Hollywood but he only got TV work. I said I had seen him in the Monkees TV show and he seemed pleased that I knew. “Aah Yes. Very determined young people” he said. He did not elaborate more.
I did not want to appear too gushing, so I did not press him on his Hollywood connections. In fact I tried to be as cool as I possibly could. I could tell by the glances we got from people around us that my companion was recognised. I enjoyed my being being in the presence of a celebrity. We ambled on and he suggested we have lunch. During the day I learned a little of what it is like to be well known. We ate in bistro style place where you got in a queue and told the people behind the counter what you wanted. They put it on a plate and you put the plate on your lunch tray. Everybody behind the counter knew him by name and the girl on the cash register handed him a menu without any explanation and he signed it. She said thank you. We then went into the Duke Of Wellington's House and looked at his paintings. I was surprised that the Duke had a Velasquez and my companion asked how I knew.
Later on he invited me to dinner at The Dorchester. I did express some concern at being able to afford this but he reassured me. He wasn't staying there but he knew the Doorman. He would let us in. And the Maitre D owed him a favour. Everything went to plan. The Maitre D winked at him and said “I know I still owe you”. We had a mixed grill. I had never been inside The Dorchester and I was surprised that no one looked especially privileged. No one spoke to us. He said he suddenly felt very tired and said he would go immediately to his hotel which was just up the street. He got up and went out without paying. He strode off. I didnt get a chance to thank him. But I had enjoyed the day. I had got to know a celebrity. Even became a friend.
There is however a sting in the tail of this tale.
On Wednesday a request came into our office for an appointment to sort out a passport problem. It was from my new friend. I was flattered thinking he was coming to me to get help. Why wouldn't he. He knew me. I was his new friend. Of course I would help him. I know him I explained to my fellow workers. I would handle it. You watch when he comes in how pleased he will be to see me. We would catch up on old times.
In due course he presented himself at out front counter. I went to see him and greeted him with great familarity – as if he was my friend. He was taken aback. A look of utter bewilderment came to his face. He was perplexed by my behavior. He looked at me with genuine worry. I could see he was unsure so I asked him if he recognised me. He replied that “he might recognise the dial but he could not place the face”. I could see that he had no idea who I was. I said that we spent last Sunday together. He said ‘Last Sunday” but with a complete blank trying frantically to think. “You remember I walked with you”. ‘Oh yes – of course” he said but I could see that he did not see. He genuinely had no idea of who I was or having ever been with me. He retreated into himself and explained his problem. I also retreated into myself – greatly taken aback.
We sorted out his problem quickly. I consoled myself with the fact that he would have fleetingly met and known hundreds of thousands of people. All of whom considered themselves his friend.
I was well and truly stripped of my celebrity status.