One boring wet afternoon, I sat with some friends in a pub discussing the chances of dating a Hollywood star. They were negative, but as I tend to have a positive outlook, I said that of course, there was always a chance. They challenged me and offered free drinks if I succeeded.
In the paper that day was a story about Raquel Welch staying at the Savoy hotel because she had a new film opening.
I had nothing to lose, so I phoned the hotel and asked in my best authoritative voice to be put through to her. I hadn’t rehearsed a story, but I’d think of something.
This wouldn’t happen today because of all the security. I was surprised when she answered the phone. I told her I would like to interview her for my local paper.
She was very pleasant and explained that she was leaving for Los Angeles the next day. She then passed me to her secretary, Sheldon, suggesting that I contact her again when I was next in Hollywood. I had no plans, but I spoke to him for a few minutes and made a note of his phone number in Pasadena.
My friends claimed I had lost, but it wasn’t very important.
Several weeks later, I attended a casting session for a TV commercial for Drifter Chocolate bar to be filmed in San Francisco. I was to play an international tycoon juggling with three phones at my desk, buying and selling millions of shares.
George Irving, an actor from Holby City, was to play a laid-back poet typing on an old portable typewriter.
The director explained that they needed the Californian light. There was also the little matter of meeting his Brazilian girlfriend there.
Of course the light is the same in southern Spain, which would have saved a fortune but ad agencies had plenty of money and directors could be bullies.
We were put up in a hotel and George and I were told we wouldn’t be needed for about a week; someone didn’t plan this trip very economically.
One of the crew was excited at the prospect of buying some marijuana. He asked me where to buy it, but I had no idea and suggested he take a walk in a local park and someone would probably offer him some. Later that day, he returned to the hotel in great excitement and produced a lump of hash. I rolled a spliff for him − not that I’d ever done it before, you understand.
It had no cannabis smell and no effect when he smoked it, so that was a waste of $50. I didn’t think the FBI would be interested, so I decided not to report the incident.
I rented a car and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to explore the wine growing area. Not only were we all paid for the gig, but the agency gave us a generous allowance for lunch and dinner − even when we weren’t working.
The next day, I made a trip to Berkeley University because I had a friend there who’d offered me a spare bed if I needed it. When I arrived at the campus I found he’d had to go to New York unexpectedly. In the note he left, he suggested I phone a couple of girls he knew who would show me around Berkeley and San Francisco.
They were very nice and good company, so we went to Fisherman’s Wharf and then to Nob Hill for a drink. One of the hotels, Westin St. Francis* – Union Square has a glass lift on the outside of the building. I’m not very good when it comes to heights, but when they said it would be fun to take the lift to the cocktail bar on the umpteenth floor for a drink, I could hardly say no.
The three of us took the next lift, pressed the button and off we went. This hotel had about a million floors.
Standing in the lift, I couldn’t see any connection with the building we were supposed to be attached to. There was no feeling of movement, it felt like we had stopped or worse still, broken down.
I was not a happy bunny. I felt my toes trying to grip the floor; fat lot of good that would do. All this time, the two girls were looking confidently across the bay.
I tried to maintain a butch stance; I hoped they didn’t hear my knees knocking.
It wasn’t too bad as long as I could see the building opposite. Then, as we climbed higher, it became smaller and smaller. It seemed like hours, but we eventually jolted gently to a halt. I think I exited with some elegance, but I’m not too sure. Next time I want to go that high I’ll rent a helicopter.
As I walked through into the hotel my confidence returned very quickly. I was a brave little soldier; I didn’t scream or cry, just a soft whimper.
Take one of the five exterior elevators—the fastest in the city—from the lobby. Push 32. Brace yourself as you catapult upward at 1,000 feet (305 meters) per minute. A panoramic view of San Francisco unfolds in less than 30 ear-popping seconds. The downward plunge is the closest you can come to being swallowed up by the city. Not for those with weak stomachs!
We were shooting for three days. It showed that eating a Drifter Chocolate Bar was the way to be cool.
The next day, I drove to Los Angeles to meet Valerie who was a friend and ex-model from London. She allowed me to stay in her luxury apartment while she was in England.
I phoned Sheldon, Raquel Welch’s assistant, and arranged to see him at his house in Pasadena. I arrived at 10 a.m. and rang his doorbell. I don’t think I’ve ever been so shocked. I was expecting to meet a sophisticated man, but he stank of stale booze from the night before, and his breath was like an ashtray. His house needed a good clean and so did he.
He couldn’t help his pasty, spotted face but his image suggested that he would only be popular in gay bars if he poured champagne all night.
I sat there for about three hours listening to bitchy and boring stories about Raquel.
He told me that they were staying in Las Vegas when there was a fire in the hotel. Raquel refused to leave without her makeup. I don’t think any star would want to stand in a car park being photographed by the press and crowds of tourists without their makeup.
Then he told me how he knew when she made love with her partner because they had a glass candle holder by the bed and let the candle burn down until it cracked the glass.
Then he would go into Beverly Hills and buy another one.
It was the smelliest and most boring morning I’ve ever spent.
A few days later, I arrived back in London and phoned a friend who was a very good journalist. I needed her advice. She suggested I contact the Daily Mirror because it was their kind of story. The editor’s secretary rang me back and made an appointment to meet him at the Mirror’s head office.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into his office was an almost life-size photo behind his desk. It showed Farrah Fawcett coming out of a block of flats early in the morning looking a wreck. That is the mindset of some tabloid journalists. It was a terrible photograph, but he was proud of it.
He told me that Sheldon had phoned him a couple of weeks before, desperate to get his hands on some money because I had offered him a share of any money I received for the story.
I wasn’t very concerned about money because it had all been a great adventure.
Ending up with nothing wasn’t the worst situation to be in.
It felt like being in the headmaster’s office. I handed him the tape of the conversation I’d had with Sheldon. He looked at me and said: “Of course, you realise you don’t have a leg to stand on.” He obviously expected me to take legal advice but that would be a waste of time. You can't fight city hall.
At that point he opened his desk drawer, produced an envelope and handed it to me.
We shook hands and I left, just a little bit bruised. I hurried to my car, which I’d parked illegally, and removed the penalty notice.
I sat in my car and opened the envelope. Imagine my surprise when I looked at a cheque for £15,000.