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Plus, conversations on mortality, and the world's second best bar
I’ve embarrassed myself many times professionally over the years, but there is something rather stinging about these mortifications after 30 – no longer to be passed off as the foolish naivety of total youth.
I became aware of this gear-change last week, having just been mugged on the way to interview one of Britain's fast-rising bands, Jockstrap. A man on a moped sped off with my phone just as I was figuring out how to get to a tiny cafe deep in Haringey, 22 minutes from Seven Sisters station. After trailing up and down the main road, fretting over how long the band and their publicist would sit and wait for me before confirming they had been ghosted, cursing how incompetent I instantly became without Google Maps, I found a kind looking man carrying a garden trowel who looked like he might be local.
Thankfully, he lived next door to the cafe, and chaperoned me all the way, making small-talk about his sculpting business as I snivelled behind him. When I arrived – over 20 minutes late, my face streaked with tears, no longer in possession of a recording device or my notes – the band and their publicist were sitting patiently at a table. One half of Jockstrap,, Taylor, offered his phone so that I could call EE; while I had to ask to borrow the publicist’s phone to record the interview – a cardinal sin for most self-respecting journalists, considering how many horror stories I’ve heard of publicists refusing to hand over the audio, or tampering with it.
(This became a particular problem once Zoom replaced the face-to-face interview over lockdown, with whoever had started the Zoom meeting (usually the publicist) offering to record it. I had one podcast guest edit out the most interesting sections of her audio before sending it over to me, while another journalist I know had a PR do the same, rendering their interview with an A-List actor unusable. Newbies: always record your own audio, and, in case of a mugging, always bring a back-up dictaphone.)
“Are you going to be OK remembering your questions?” Jockstrap’s singer, Georgia, said softly, as I tried not to think about the fact that she was just 25. It proved to be a very short interview.
Writing with such melodrama about turning up 20 minutes late to an interview has made me hideously aware of how boring music journalism has become. I’ve heard a rumour or two about Nineties music hacks who arrived many hours, if not a day, late to an interview, having missed a flight thanks to the excesses of the night before. Whenever I read memoirs by music journalists revelling in the antics of badly behaved rockstars while glossing over their own, I always wonder what a publicist’s memoir might look like: they’d have the double the dirt.
Too loyal to their profession, they’d probably never write it down, but some of them are rather generous after a glass or two of wine. I’ve heard near-unprintable things over a boozy lunch, and I always think their (anonymised) stories would make an excellent feature, as would a collection of entitled journalists’ most demanding requests. In fact, I know of one publicist who used to print off journalist’s rudest, most pompous emails, and keep them in a little black book, ready for dramatic readings during after-work drinks.
If any publicist reading this would like to send me an anecdote or two, you know where to find me…
This month I’ve also read some corking anecdotes from both journalists and publicists about their own professional fails in this often bonkers profession. In a new Billboard piece speaking to some of the music business’s most powerful PR reps, Kathryn Frazier (Jorja Smith, Robert Glasper, The Weeknd) revealed that her ‘worst PR nightmare’ was getting a call from the cover shoot for her then-client MF Doom. At the end of the day, the picture editor had zoomed into one of the shots and realised that, actually, the man behind MF Doom’s signature mask was his cousin, who, says Frazier, “had done all his press that day.”
More ludicrous still, former Glamour editor Jo Elvin recently wrote on her excellent Substack about the time she ended up with a Glamour cover shoot but no accompanying cover interview. The celebrity had done the photos first, which is often the way, but had then become so busy her team were unable to find time for the interview. Instead, the A-lister’s publicist volunteered to do the interview in her place, because “I know how she’d answer all of the questions anyway.”
As Jo writes,
“Cue our entertainment director suffering the indignity of conducting an interview with the publicist, hearing what the publicist thinks the celebrity might have said, all the while telling the entertainment director how stupid every single one of her questions was.” The issue went to print and the readers were none the wiser, which is, I suppose, rather telling of how inane much of celebrity journalism can be.
The longest I’ve ever had to wait for a celebrity to turn up to an interview was four hours, for Naomi Campbell. I’d gone to Paris to interview her and Skepta – then rumoured to be dating – for the cover of GQ, to promote Skepta’s new underwear brand, Mains. I got to the hotel, and bumped into a furious looking Skepta storming around the corridors in an enormous Moncler puffer.
When Naomi finally turned up, the pair argued over whether it was appropriate for the shoot to have Skepta in his dressing gown. Skepta was concerned the look hovered inappropriately close to the stories about Weinstein’s disgusting hotel ‘casting couch’ – then making headlines across the world. Naomi won, obviously, but not before one of several various meltdowns prompted her to flounce out of the room, only to return and re-introduce herself. “Hiiiiii, I’m Naomi,” she said, smiling benevolently around the stunned bedroom. It was at this point I remember desperately wishing I could reply, ‘adieu’.
This week in links
I’ve been watching Top Boy’s breakout star Micheal Ward in his stage debut, A Mirror at the Almeida, starring opposite Tanya Reynolds (Sex Education) and Johnny Lee Miller. It’s an entertaining play about authoritarianism and the meaning of true art, told through a complicated illusory set-up that gets in the way of the story. But I had great fun sitting next to Ward’s mum, who chuckled hysterically through one rather long intimate scene, and proudly told me, ‘that’s my son!’.
I’ve been listening to a fascinating interview about ageing, the fear of death and artificial intelligence with Bryan Johnson, “the man ageing backwards”, on Diary of a CEO. The billionaire has been mocked relentlessly in the press for the insane lengths and preposterous amounts of money he’s spent on trying to reverse the ageing process on his 46-year-old body, from plasma transfusions with his teenage son and 100 daily supplements to going to bed at 8pm and using a machine to measure his night-time erections. But over the course of the long conversation, it’s clear that Johnson’s purpose is not narcissism but a deep-rooted fear of death, centred around losing his father, who he is trying to keep alive at all costs.
On the theme of mortality, I was also moved by Nick Cave’s reflections on religion, grief (he has lost both his sons) and joy on the Louis Theroux podcast. If you can get past Theroux interrupting him at every turn (a bad habit that has made most of his podcast interviews increasingly irritating to listen to), then it’s also worth it for his thoughtful interrogations on cancel culture, from scoring the controversial Netflix drama Dahmer to writing ballads from the perspective of a murderous abuser.
I can’t stop thinking about ‘the second best bar in the world’, Tayer and Elementary, which I finally went to years after putting it at the top of my London ‘to do’ list. It’s up the road from Old Street station and is spit in two halves, or perhaps more accurately, moods. The front of the bar, ‘Elementary’, serves (relatively) affordable twists on the classics in a casual setting, but the secret, intimately low-lit back bar, ‘Tayer’, is where you want to end up. The prices are double, but the drinks (the Bergamot margarita! the glassware!) are exquisite, and the T&E’s Norwegian co-founder Monica mixes drinks herself behind the bar, at which everyone sits in a rectangular formation. The catch is the only way to access it is to put yourself on a waiting list, and bide your time in Elementary until your name is called.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it let me know by replying to this email, or you can find me on Twitter @eleanorhalls1, and Instagram @elliehalls1. You can also buy me a coffee via Ko-Fi.