Monday, 27 July 2009

Interviewing Mr T

Mr T explaining his hairAmongst people with Macbooks and laptops in the NFT's cafe I sat scribbling onto a sheet of A4 in an embarrassingly low-tech fashion. The sheet happened to be a map with the location of the venue for a Snickers ad campaign launch in London Bridge. The scribbles were to be the questions I would be asking Mr T, formerly of Rocky III and The A-Team.

That was assuming I could pull him aside for 5 minutes amongst the revelry which accompanied his duties as the spokesman for an advertising campaign.

The more the minutes standing between me and the event dispersed, the more nervous I became. This was my first interview and PR party after all. On arrival I tried to appear as nonchalant and composed as possible, kidding myself into thinking I was being charming to the door staff. After a quick look around I went to the bar to take advantage of the free beer in order to calm my nerves, there is of course a fine line between drinking enough to pluck up courage, and losing the ability to conjure any wit that one might have once had. Something I’ve encountered repeatedly at these events is that everyone else seems to know at least two other people, so the feeling of being an outsider is common, and in truth, quite a lonely one.

This was also my first introduction to the shadowy figures who work for PR companies. Their faces rarely betray what emotions they are experiencing; whether they are feelings of desperation and soullessness or merely contempt I'll never know for sure, because of the face thing I just mentioned. One thing you can be sure of is that despite any words which are actually spoken during an introductory chat; the short reasoning process that runs through their mind is quite different. It goes something like this:
10 Is person important?
20 If important=yes GOTO 50
30 If important=no GOTO 40
40 Terminate conversation.
50 Find out how this can benefit me

Perhaps I'll feel less bitter about this if I ever become important.

I am giving a slightly unfair impression of these professionals; I met a couple of PR guys there who bucked the trend, Jason (a comic book geek) and Tom (a younger man who looked unfeasibly similar to Tom Cruise, given his name). They were thoroughly nice people and made the evening much more pleasant for me.

Despite the fact that all of the attendees were either press or PR professionals, they all swarmed round Mr T like Take That fans. In fact, the crowd that assembled was so large his bodyguards had to step in to marshal the throng. The result of this was a queue to have a polaroid taken with his T-ship and then be moved away, far away. The chance of grabbing a 'cheeky 5 minute chat' had just been marshalled out of the building.

I joined the line anyway and once I was at the front bodyguard no.1 ushered three girls in front of me. I'm sure that's fair, just in a way I don't yet understand. However, moments later I was standing next to the man who has probably coined more catchphrases than Bruce Forsyth. To recognise this fact I blurted out the words, "I'm a big fan."
He replied, "yeeh, thanks man."
Then, just as quickly, I was removed by a man with arms as wide as Victoria Beckham's torso.

Amidst my disappointment I was offered an interview slot at a hotel the following Sunday. I accepted immediately, but pretended to do so grudgingly. Saturday came and I received a call to say my slot had been bought forward, to be held 4 hours after I put the phone down. The familiar nerves returned very promptly. I had planned to prepare questions that evening ready for the Sunday, that plan went out of the window. The train into London had become the NFT cafe from a few days before; any semblance of wit was unlikely at best. I was all too aware of how this jewellery-clad man was a legend and loved by more or less everyone, therefore any thoughts of sarcastic or sardonic questions were out of the...well, question.

The hotel was in Covent Garden, a hotbed of celebrity interview locations it would seem. I walked straight past it and went into another hotel. After a short correction I turned up with about 40 minutes to spare feeling very under dressed due to being walked to the lifts by a very well-groomed doorman. PR are waiting to greet me, "we're running about 30 minutes behind" they tell me. Back up a few floors to the hotel lobby. I make my way to the bar with a rucksack on one shoulder and a tripod on the other, trying not to bang the heads of wealthy diners on the way. If memory serves, a single measure of Laphroaig set me back £9, a malt whisky which costs £21 per bottle. Considering how much I was paying them, explaining that I wanted the scotch with a wee dram of water was beyond my powers of conveyance. A few expensive drinks later and I was feeling a little more calm, and the time had come to return to the hotel basement.

While I was waiting with the PR girl, a sing-a-long version of Mamma Mia was showing in the screening room to what can only be described as a herd of over confident and exuberant tone deaf cats; such was the noise they were making. The previous interviewers came out and I was invited in, my audience with the T was about to begin. I unintentionally barged through the group which just finished; it was taking all of my concentration to not be inebriated and to not appear nervous. I later found out one of their number was Holy Moly's Matt Edmondson, I attempted to apologise on Twitter a day later but he didn't reply. Silence probably isn't a good sign.

I fumble with the tape wrapping as I try to set up my camera and tripod; Mr T is sitting in the corner drinking water. In an attempt to endear myself to him I ask how the interviews have gone and suggest they must be quite arduous. To my surprise he told me that he was lucky to be someone who enjoyed their job, even with the tight press schedule ahead of him. I wasn't expecting him to be quite so easy going. He seemed genuinely happy to help and obliged all my requests for idents with enthusiasm.

My questions were all very flat and not particularly inspired, but he provided plenty of material in his answers which I was very grateful for. I later discovered that some of his responses were used on the Snickers promo video itself; I took that as a compliment. The irony of the fact that it was a 'get some nuts' campaign and how British men should be more like rugby players and less like Pee-wee Herman wasn't lost on me what with my physique being closer to that of Johnny Borrell than that of Wolf from Gladiators.

Relief washed over me once it was all over, though I'm sure any male born in the mid-70s would have relished the opportunity to be in the same room as him. It was only uncomfortable due to my own ridiculous nerves, and the steep learning curve involved. The second feeling was that of gaining rather a lot of experience, somehow, from just a single interview. No doubt that's just the experience most people are born with.

I ended up editing myself out of the video, and put the questions up as text rather than suffer my voice mumbling through them. The finished video is available to watch on Hecklerspray, go on.

The uncropped frame with both Mr T and I

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