Back in the 80s we were working in London. I was in Chepstow Place and he was working in Park Street (Mayfair) for a rather up himself git. His was a big job. Park Street had a lot of Crown Estate properties at the time.
One day, he went out to get a sandwich at lunchtime. Across the road was a rather exclusive hotel. Looks like it is apartment hotel stuff these days.
Some old guy was doddering out of the impressive doorway. ‘Can I give you a hand mate?’ he said to old man with stick.
‘Oh thanks.’ Once safely on the pavement, the old guy tottered off with his stick.
Partner went off round the corner to get the sandwich. When he came back the doorman said ‘ Do you know who that was?’
Well no, he didn’t. Charlton Heston apparently. Seemed he always refused help down the steps. According to the doorman he was a tight old bastard so clearly he didn’t want to give tips to doormen but didn’t mind a hand from the decorator from over the road. CH must have been in his late sixties at the time.
Partner mentioned it to someone he was working with. ‘Oh yes, he lives over the road some of the time.’
Who knows whether it was him or not. Probably.
I’ve never met any famous actors/actresses but I did manage one sporting celebrity.
The infamous Alex Higgins, snooker champion. World champion in 1972 and 1982. I saw him win the second world championship at the Sheffield Crucible.
But before his restoration to glory in 1982, he came to play at our local club which was on my patch as a junior reporter. Off I trotted down there in the midst of the snowiest of winters. It was my dad’s birthday so I’d asked him to go along as he liked snooker.
We set off as the snow started to fall and kept falling as we drove to the venue. It was one of those soft snowfalls when no-one was around. My dad talked about turning back but I talked him down. Oh no. I wanted to see and interview Alex Higgins.
When we arrived at the venue, he wasn’t there of course. He was notorious for being late. There were a few other players around, some boring ones like Tony Meo (actually he was quite nice) and some ginger called Steve Davis (he was a rude git).
I guess in those days you either liked Higgins or Davis. I didn’t like Davis. I asked him a question and he told me I should do my homework before asking him questions. Hello fucking tosspot, how about getting the information correct from the horses mouth? Why can’t you answer the questions? Nasty Essex boy.
Anyway, there we all were, giving up on the enigmatic Alex, when – he walked in. Covered in snow, brimmed hat, and oozing that Northern Irish charm. Wow. Just wow!
He’s dead now.
In 2009, Higgins lived in a caravan. In April 2010 Higgins’s friends announced that they had set up a campaign to help raise the £20,000 he needed for teeth implants, to enable him to eat properly again and put on weight. Higgins lost his teeth after intensive radiotherapy used to treat his throat cancer.
At the end of his life, Higgins’ weight fell to 6 stone (38 kilograms).He lived in sheltered housing on the Donegall Road, Belfast. Despite having once been worth £4 million, he was bankrupt and survived on a £200-a-week disability allowance. He was found dead in bed in his flat on 24 July 2010. The cause of death was a combination of malnutrition, pneumonia, a bronchial condition and throat cancer.
But 30 years or so ago, when he walked into the room, he lit it up with his electrifying presence. Who cared about Steve Davis or Tony Meo? (both managed by Barry Hearn at the time, about whom I have another story …). Everyone wanted to see Alex. And of course, the club was also in the Irish part of town.
He took a few minutes to shake off the snow, tidy himself up and came out to play snooker. The room fell quiet as he potted the balls. There were sighs and applause as we all watched him come back from his long time out.
At the interval, he signed endless autographs for young kids from council estates. He had no side. For all his faults, he was absolutely charming and wonderful with local people who just wanted to speak to him and watch him play snooker.
As for me, well I could have gone back to his Leeds hotel with him for an exclusive interview (um?) but sadly my dad intervened there. Note to young journalists – never take your dad to a job.
I saw and spoke to him a few more times at a few different tournaments. I never did get my *exclusive interview*. Courtesy of a national snooker reporter friend I watched him win the world championship in 1982.
But my over-riding memory of him will be that evening when he walked into the club, covered in snow, and when he took so much time to sign autographs for local people. It was meant to be a break in the middle of the game and he didn’t even take one while Meo and Davis just chilled out. He got a lot of bad press and probably some was well deserved. Trouble was, I just saw the good side of him.
Celebrities – not always what they are portrayed to be.