(Part one of this story can be found here. Part part two is here).
So, like the last two posts – I’m at the Ritz Carlton in London.
I know I know. It’s bizarre – but nevertheless I’m there, I have a key and security haven’t dragged me out yet. It wouldn’t be hard if they wanted to though – because I’m exhausted and I simply can’t sleep.
Lets face it – this is fairly typical behaviour at the best of times. I probably couldn’t write a blog if my brain ever really switched off. Content creation would be impossible. Even by my standards though this was A1 MILITARY GRADE WEAPONISED INSOMNIA.
After my friend had gone to bed I’d taken a long hot shower in my insanely massive marble shower at the end of my insanely massive marble bathroom where there was a Batphone on the wall in easy reach of the toilet, shower and bidet.
Sadly even after this and slipping on my super soft Ritz slippers I didn’t feel that it had come even close to making me sleepy.
For a moment I toyed with the idea of using the Batphone to call for a butler to read a bedtime story to me – but eventually decided against it.
It was just me vs the ridiculously nice room at 3am.
Things kept going through my mind – and as well as being in an unfamiliar place with a strange bed and a ceiling that looked like it belonged in a museum I couldn’t stop pondering the events in my life that had led up to where I was at that particular moment.
In a matter of hours I would be standing in front of the NATIONAL PRESS and then the world would make whatever it wanted to out of me.
More importantly though I realised that whilst I’d been out at the restaurant a biscuit fairy had entered the room, tidied my stuff up, pulled a little TV remote shelf out of the nightstand, rested a sky remote upon it and left a macaroon on the table by the window.
This began to turn over and over in my head.
Why a macaroon? what was its significance?
There was one in the drawing room as well and both looked as perfect as it’s possible for a macaroon to be. Maybe it was a test. Maybe it wasn’t real.
I resolved not to eat it.
I don’t trust strange macaroons that appear out of no-where on china saucers.
Besides – I’d already managed to demolish an entire fruit bowl and a bunch of grapes and I still needed to get into a perfectly fitted suit in the morning.
I went to sit in the drawing room in my Ritz slippers and my Ritz bathrobe next to my Ritz champagne to work on my blog.
Maybe THAT would make me sleepy.
This had no effect, so after another few hours I decided to take another shower and this time turn the temperature up to max.
Other than giving me third degree burns this too failed in its allotted task – and by the time the morning rolled around and the sun came up (despite sitting at the antique writing desk by a picture of Andy Warhol for inspiration) I was no further forward with my blog and no closer to sleep.
By that point I’d been awake for over 24 hours and I wasn’t sure I would be able to tell someone my name at that point if they asked me to – let alone conduct a press interview.
I decided to eat the pink stealth macaroon.
Flipping heck! It was absolutely wonderful!
With a hint of almond sweetness it practically melted on the tongue and turned into a liquid. It was gone almost as soon as it passed my lips, but left a lingering taste that was divine…
Thankfully to save me from my endless reflection (and eating the other one) my cheerful companion woke up and padded into the drawing room from her apartment next door.
I waited until she was sat down and then passed the second plate with the single biscuit under her nose.
‘It’s sooooo nice…’ I said (rather seductively).
‘Ummm…’ she replied, looking at it and (like myself) wondering about the stealth macaroon’s purpose.
‘Just eat it. Twist it’s lid and pop it in your mouth.’ I said.
She looked at me and then at the incognito pastry. Over my shoulder she spotted the completely empty fruit bowl. She knew that this was her last chance.
She needed to eat it now or I would.
She picked up the macaroon from the saucer and twisted it. It’s delicate pink body started to crumble and she quickly popped the whole macaroon into her mouth and sucked.
‘Ohaassgud…’ she said with a mouth full of stealth macaroon. ‘Assrreeeeeeelygud…’ she mumbled as it melted in her mouth.
I placed the saucer back on the table. That was the last of the mysterious stealth macaroons, but its taste was still there and it had stimulated hunger pangs.
Thankfully it was nearly time for the room service meal we’d ordered the night before – and within moments a butler arrived with a hostess trolley and set it up in front of Andy Warhol.
He didn’t blink.
The butler placed two (ironed) copies of the Telegraph next to the television and stealthily exited almost as invisibly as the macaroons had entered.
I couldn’t tell if Andy approved of breakfast (although from a SW perspective it was spot on) and as I sat down he was intently staring at me over my friend’s shoulder. Maybe he too had eaten a macaroon in this chair during his stay – followed by a full English and a copy of the Telegraph.
Both of us by now were just blown away by the sheer weirdness of it all – and it was all almost we could talk about over the fine crockery and delicious food.
The other topic was that neither of us (it turned out) had slept particularly soundly – and we were preoccupied with the knowledge that this was all a rather unreal experience. None of it made much sense.
At least there was finally some coffee though.
Some things in life remain uncomplicated regardless of the cost of the ostentatious container it arrives in.
The disconnect from reality didn’t stop me from eating a giant plate of strawberries, raspberries and yogurt with a frikkin silver spoon though.
THAT just had to be done.
We managed to tuck the breakfast away just in time for the PR team to arrive at 8.30 sharp (as expected – they’re very punctual ladies) and when they did they began to unpack laptops, start checking any current news stories that might affect questions I’d be asked and dress the room with magazines and press packs.
For my part I needed to iron my shirt, so as soon as a butler delivered an ironing board and a steam iron I retired to my room to get rid of some creases and try to relax.
If the jacket and waistcoat had to come off I wanted my shirt to be super sharp.
Also, ironing is calming. I like getting rid of creases.
It wasn’t long before more butlers arrived next door with refreshments – and after a while the drawing room was a hive of activity.
My friend periodically popped in and out to take cheeky snaps of butlers and get them to make cups of tea for her whilst I got ready.
Soon I was dressed and getting more than a little nervous.
I’d not seen what was going on next door and had been requested to remain separate as the press arrived until I was asked to go downstairs.
There’s only so much you can do standing around aimlessly in a suit though. You don’t want to get it all creased by sitting down unless you have to – so you just have to linger about, looking out of windows and trying to appear photogenic.
If you lurk long enough doing this eventually well dressed ladies will be lured toward you and want to get in on the photographic action on offer.
I can’t complain. It makes for a nice memory!
After a little while the press had all turned up and the PR team migrated them downstairs – so we headed down a rear stairwell to the garden.
This hotel had some pretty ostentatious staircases! This one had a grand piano in it…
I don’t think that there was a single part of the Ritz that I visited during my stay that was any less than completely immaculate and buffed to perfection. I even ran my finger along lots of things everywhere I went to try and find dust.
There wasn’t a single speck.
As we emerged into the daylight I saw a small group of photographers who were all arranged in a bunch facing some neatly manicured bushes.
I was ushered to the front and looked into the array of lenses – and it was then that the endless smiling started.
‘Look here please Dave!’
I smiled and looked. (Flash!)
‘Face me please Dave – give me a big smile!’
I smiled again and looked (Flash!)
‘Down here Dave! THAT’S the pose! Yes, just to the left – and smile!’
I moved to the left, smiled, and looked again. (Flash!)
Before long the waistcoat that I’d chosen became the focus of attention (I blame the world cup – link) and they asked for the jacket to go.
I handed it to the PR team and the smiling and flashing started all over again.
Before long it was prop time too – and I was asked to pose with my old clothes (which I’d been requested to bring along).
I don’t think I’ve ever had to smile so much on cue. I’ve no idea how long this really went on for – but as the PR team periodically rushed in to straighten a pocket, tie or hem the camera kept flashing and the requests for more ‘BIG SMILES’ kept coming.
It seemed like this went on for more than an hour.
I tried my best to accommodate them without appearing like I was smuggling a coat hanger in my mouth – but it’s hard work to look natural in the glare of flash photography for that long!
Once the initial set of photographers had completed their work a video journalist amongst them remained behind and asked me for a few link shots and then an interview.
This was actually the most enjoyable bit so far – as for the first time I’d been engaged and asked how I felt about it all – and he didn’t have a flash.
It was also rather nice to talk to the young man – who seemed genuinely interested in more than just my immense trousers and asked me a lot of questions.
His video actually turned out to be rather good in my opinion (although for expediency it was heavily edited) and can be found here.
While this had been going on a final photographer had arrived a little late and was waiting in the wings with a massive camera holster slung around her tiny waist like she was a character in Westworld.
Since the rest had gone upstairs to hit the drinks trolly, once the video interview was complete she had me all to herself. This turned out to be (I felt) a slightly more personal set of photos as the sudden peace and quiet set the tone.
Also smiling on cue for just one person didn’t feel quite so weird.
It was quite a relaxing end to the proceedings – apart that is from the need to once again clamber in and out of my old trousers – which required a team of ladies to help me get both in and out of one leg without falling over and breaking my neck…
Once that was done we all headed back upstairs – and on the way I started talking to one of the young butlers who’d been keeping us all hydrated.
He seemed very interested in my weight loss – and had confided in my friend during the photoshoots that he too had dropped a few pounds. It turned out that he was a very modest young man – and that he had lost a very impressive five stone – which I congratulated him on.
‘It’s only five stone though’ he said, shrugging a little. ‘It’s not 20.’
‘It’s not ONLY anything.’ I said.
‘Everyone has their own mountain to climb. Mine may have been a little higher – but I bet it was just as hard for you to get started. Be proud that you got to the top! I bet things are better now that you’ve done it.’
He nodded and smiled at me – and we headed back upstairs.
On the way he whispered that we needed to avoid passing too close to the kitchens, where apparently ITV had a camera crew and were filming something else. We had to be quiet.
After tiptoeing past we were soon back up in the suite again – where it was anything BUT silent. The news was on the giant TV for the photographers, and somewhere else in London the Prime Minister was addressing a group of people about something.
She looked tired, and for once I sympathised with her.
I grabbed a coffee and then started chatting to the photographers, who were all keen to ask me questions about my weight loss.
They were all being surprisingly complimentary and saying that the photos had turned out really well. The young lady who took the last few seemed really keen to show me how well – and lifted her laptop to highlight a particularly cheesy grin that I’d made.
As I talked to them it transpired that some of those present had their own battles with fitness. One of them was worried about a family member, and didn’t seem to be able to help them start the process of getting fitter.
No-one amongst them seemed to think that the life of a press photographer was a particularly healthy one. It apparently involved a lot of sitting and waiting – meaning food usually came in the shape of pastries or chocolate, and the chances to move were limited and sporadic.
Drinking was also part of the culture and the social scene invariably involved more than a few pints after work.
It was hard to stay on the straight and narrow, they confided.
I grabbed another coffee.
I hadn’t realised it – but as we were talking (and they were typing) stories were going live in the press – and the PR team were not only updating their own Slimming World pages (link), but tracking what was happening on the wider internet.
One by one all the nationals started putting stories up.
(Daily Mail, another Daily Mail, The Mirror, The Daily Star )
Then some smaller outlets started joining in too ( link / link / link )
I was just exhausted though. It was now midday – and I’d been up for a long time.
To make it even more daunting I now had to return to Warwick as well.
One by one the press made their excuses, and I shook their hands as they left – until there was only one photographer remaining.
I excused myself, went next door to pack my suitcase and get changed – then came back in to sit down for a little while as the last one got up to leave and the butlers quietly followed.
The room fell silent and I looked over at Andy.
He stared back impassively.
That was it then. My fifteen minutes of fame was at an end.
I couldn’t help thinking how apt it was that he’d been in that room, watching me from within his black and white picture frame – impassively observing the day’s proceedings as his prediction for me came true.
I thanked the PR team and gave them all hugs. They’d been absolutely wonderful – and at no point had I felt that they had anything but my best interests at heart.
Sure – this was PR and it was business – but they’d made it clear that at the heart of the day there was a person – and that he was important to them.
I couldn’t thank them enough. It had been an amazing experience and as tired as I was I had absolutely no regrets.
It had been awesome.
After checking out, myself Angie and my friend hopped into a Taxi and headed for Marleybone station.
We arrived just in time to jump on a train home – where the final surprise was the random guy that I sat next to wanted a selfie with me…
After that the surrealness was almost at an end.
When I got home Facebook was practically on fire – and the official SW page seemed to have a counter on it that was ticking around in real time. Their views were clocking up into the tens of thousands already!
After attempting (unsuccessfully) to deal with a well wishing avalanche on social media I eventually gave up tilting at windmills and decided I was ready for bed.
By 10pm I’d been awake for 42 hours and I was practically in a coma.
The day finally ended when my friend sent me a message titled simply ‘you’re clickbait mate‘ with a picture.
Mine was the last face I saw captured on his laptop as I fell asleep.
The following day life returned to normal– and I couldn’t help but smile at the contents of my boot when I did my usual Saturday morning shop at Aldi before Slimming World.
The contents of my bags – and my sustenance for the week cost about the same as my fillet steak at Gauchos, and less than my breakfast at the Ritz.
I was comfortingly back to normal.
And you know what normal is?
Going to group, seeing all my friends, telling them about my week, asking about theirs and standing on the scales.
Yay – still in target, even after stealth macaroons!
Laters internet. Stay frosty…