CHRIS TARRANT shares surreal celebrity encounters with Paul McCartney

The day Paul McCartney played a wicked prank on me: Veteran presenter CHRIS TARRANT reveals surreal celebrity encounters in the final part of his uproarious memoir

  • Chris Tarrant shares memories from his diverse 50-year-long career in the media
  • Out of the blue Paul McCartney bumped into him asked for his autograph
  • He said David Bowie was one of the ‘nicest, easiest-going blokes’ when they met

Back in the summer of 1971, I wrote a letter which still makes me cringe when I think about it.

I sent it to every TV company in Britain and in it I wrote: ‘I am the face of the 1970s. This is your last chance to snap me up.’

Can you believe it?

I’d been working at the Royal Showground near Kenilworth in Warwickshire, and I saw some bloke arrive in a very nice sports car.

He combed his hair in the mirror, probably blowing himself a kiss as he got out, and started what seemed like a very short, but very pleasant day’s work.

He did a couple of pieces to camera, standing next to a pedigree Hereford bull. He interviewed a couple of farmers and talked to the crowd, who all seemed to know him and like him. He then got back into his sports car and drove off.

I thought: ‘That doesn’t look like a bad life at all, doesn’t look like a proper job,’ and of course it isn’t. I had no idea at the time just how much his lifestyle would become mine for decades to come.

So I wrote that bumptious, arrogant letter. For a week or two I heard nothing, and then the replies started to come in.

Chris Tarrant shares an extract from his upcoming book, It’s Not A Proper Job, in which he shares the story of when Paul McCartney asked for his autograph in public without anyone else noticing (pictured together in 2001)

Chris Tarrant presented the ‘ATV Today’ TV Show, (pictured in 1973), which was a regional television news and current affairs programme where he said he would interview eccentrics

One after another said: ‘Dear Sir/Madam, thank you so much for your application, which we all took the time to read carefully. Unfortunately, we have no vacancies for you at this moment, but we will of course keep your letter on file.’

What any young prospective employee for any company needs to know from the off is that there is no such thing as a file. The file is a dustbin. I never heard from any of them again.

However, ATV in Birmingham and Yorkshire Television in Leeds were the exceptions. They did not put me ‘on file’. They both invited me for interviews, I think mainly just to see what sort of a lunatic would actually write such an absurd, egotistical letter.

Amazingly, both of them offered me work. I picked Birmingham, which I knew well, having lived in that splendid city as a student. The deal was an initial week’s work as a presenter on ATV Today, the local 6pm current affairs show. It would be a short-term, week-to-week contract and I could start straight away.

That short-term contract was to turn into my life, my career, my total absorption and a very lucky, privileged existence for myself and my family for the next 50 years.

On the day I began my new job, I went quite nervously into the morning meeting, looking very smart, to meet my new colleagues and my features editor — a lovely guy called John Swallow, whose job was to show me the ropes.

John’s idea of showing me the ropes was to go immediately to The Crown pub in Broad Street, near the TV studio. It was just after half past ten in the morning, and they were already open, enabling my new boss to pour pints of beer down my neck.

This became the normal pattern for most of the next ten years. We would take what we always referred to as the ‘livener’, and then start our day’s work.

We would almost certainly have a couple more at lunchtime, and then there was the Green Room, open during the transmission of the show, and for an hour or two afterwards, where the trolleys groaned with free drink: beer, wine, whisky, you name it.

Chris Tarrant once filled almost ten minutes of TV chatting to Jimmy Greaves (pictured) about football, though the England legend didn’t realise the cameras were rolling

We gave it a damn good spanking, and then somehow went weaving homewards. Those were the days of a real alcohol culture. It was just what everybody did. There were bars in every TV station in Britain, including a very good one at the BBC and an excellent one in London Weekend Television.

They’ve all gone now, along with a lot of the fun. Many of the very best television ideas were dreamed up in the bars of studios all over the UK. I think all mine were.

I hosted a live Friday show for a while, which I loved. It was a mixture of Midlands news, music and interviews with whoever was in town.

I remember interviewing such varied folk as Victoria Wood, Larry Grayson and Jimmy Tarbuck, and doing the weekend sport with Gary Newbon, Nick Owen and Jimmy Greaves.

One Friday, Jimmy and I had the huge privilege of a live interview with Muhammad Ali, for me the greatest sportsman of all time. It left the whole team on a high, and the next Friday we felt like we’d had a particularly good show as well.

It seemed to have really motored along and we were getting to the end. I was just doing the weather and mentally getting ready for the pub as the floor manager, a very funny lady and a mate of mine, gave me the ‘one minute to go’ sign. I waffled my way through the highlights on ITV for the weekend. There weren’t many — no change there — and then the ‘30 seconds to go’ signal.

The lager was imminent, and then suddenly, with a look of total horror on her face, the floor manager gave me NINE minutes!

Nine? Nine? Nine? God knows what my face looked like to the viewers. They must have thought I was having some kind of seizure.

After what felt like a year, but was probably five seconds, I spotted dear Jimmy Greaves wandering about on the other side of the studio. ‘Jim!’ I called. ‘Come and sit down, mate. What do you think about Aston Villa’s chances tomorrow afternoon?’

Jim, who already had his coat on and was holding a cup of tea, rambled on wonderfully about the Villa, then we turned our attention to Wolves, Birmingham City and West Brom. In fact, by the time we’d filled about eight minutes we’d done Walsall and were on to Stoke.

I thanked Jim for his in-depth analysis, did the weather again and we came out exactly on time.

My heart was pumping fifty to the dozen, and I said: ‘Jim, that was brilliant. You saved the show.’

Jim looked at me blankly and said: ‘Bloody hell, mate! I thought we were just chatting. I didn’t realise we were actually on!’

They were great days. Although, to be honest, it was all a bit of a lads’ culture.

I remember one afternoon the news team came weaving back from HQ (or The Crown, to give it its proper name) and found only one person in the office.

This was about two hours before we went on air and dear Reg Harcourt, our political editor, was in the middle of what was clearly a very important conversation with a cabinet minister about appearing on the show the following week.

For no reason that I can even begin to think of, we put Reg and his phone upside down in a large plastic dustbin.

Reg, totally unfazed by our silly schoolboy antics, carried on his conversation with the minister, upside down in the dustbin, for another full five or six minutes.

He ended the call by saying a rather muffled: ‘Thank you so much, minister. We look forward to seeing you on the show on Monday.’

And, righting himself, he emerged to wild applause from the whole office.

It became apparent quite quickly that I wasn’t very good as a hard news reporter. My biggest problem was that I didn’t like most of the people I interviewed — politicians, shop stewards and so on — and I didn’t seem to be able to hide my feelings.

I soon came to the conclusion that, with local politicians, union spokesmen and lord mayors, if their lips were moving they were almost certainly lying. This was a long time ago, and I have to say I haven’t really changed my mind much since.

ATV would have had every reason to get rid of me, but mercifully they started to give me the lighter items: interviews with naturally funny, ordinary people, and I absolutely thrived on it.

For about five years my job became mainly about interviewing eccentrics. It was amazing just how many there were about: light-bulb eaters, upside-down beer drinkers, flea trainers, men who ate live frogs, men who ate live slugs, men who slept up telegraph poles, women who knitted poloneck sweaters for tortoises, women who’d met Martians in the chemist.

I interviewed one man who had a pigeon on his head at mealtimes, and another who lived with his Shetland pony — nice enough man, lovely little pony, but the smell was appalling.

Chris Tarrant worked at Capital Radio for 17 years, interviewing the biggest stars of the time

I think I had more fun at Capital Radio, which I joined in 1984 after more than a decade in TV, than anywhere else I have ever worked.

When I took over the breakfast show three years later, one critic wrote: ‘This dreadful, loud, unfunny new man on the breakfast show at Capital Radio won’t last the month.’ So, when I left 17 years later, I wondered whatever became of him.

At one point our breakfast show was getting bigger ratings than all the other morning shows in London put together, and of course we were loving it. We were very careful only to get the highest calibre of pop guests on the show: the likes of Phil Collins, Paul McCartney, George Michael and David Bowie.

I didn’t know what to expect from Bowie. I’d never met him, but he strolled in all on his own, no big PR machine with him, and was one of the nicest, easiest-going blokes I had ever met.

He said: ‘All I want to do is plug my album, because I’m obliged to, and get on a plane back to New York and see my new daughter grow up.’

I said: ‘Do you mind taking a few live phone calls?’

‘No, I’ll do whatever you want.’

So, we opened the lines, and a bloke came on and said: ‘Hello, Dave.’

I interjected: ‘“Dave”, for God’s sake! This is Mr Bowie to you.’

Ignoring me, the caller went on: ‘Dave, I remember spotting you a few years ago on the number 27 bus coming out of Streatham Garage.’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Dave. ‘I remember that. I used to use that a lot. I also used to use the one that went from Crystal Palace down to Thornton Heath.’ We then got a lady on, saying she’d seen David Bowie on a bus going out towards Hackney.

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘There’s a studio over there. I used to use that bus route quite often as well.’

The lines were quickly jammed with people ringing in with their memories of David Bowie on their local bus. It was a brilliant morning. Even a conductor called, who’d sold him a ticket.

Bowie loved it and went happily back to New York, presumably on a plane, as bus routes across the Atlantic aren’t too reliable.

Although I never mind signing autographs, or doing selfies, sometimes I am in a hurry and it can be a bit of a nuisance.

 

Once after an interview with Paul McCartney, his producer convinced Chris that he forgot to hit the record button as a joke

I was on my way to Lord’s a few years ago to a big cricket match between England and the West Indies. As I arrived in a taxi a bloke spotted me and went: ‘Hello, Chris Tarrant,’ and I went: ‘Oh, hello. I’m racing in to watch the cricket, mate.’

He said: ‘Yes, OK, just sign me this bit of paper before you go, please, for my kids Daniel and Karen.’

‘OK,’ I said, but even as I signed it, I was aware of a little crowd starting to form. A couple of women arrived, then a schoolgirl, then a couple of others, and clearly my cricket watching time was getting reduced by the second.

I kept hearing wild roars and loud applause from inside the ground, but I dutifully signed all the various bits of paper, chatting and smiling, but inwardly getting very frustrated. ‘Oh yes, and this is for my mum,’ said the schoolgirl. ‘OK. No problem.’

And then another hand appeared, and with another piece of paper. Without looking up, I said: ‘What’s your name, mate?’

And he said: ‘Paul.’

So I wrote: ‘To Paul, Best Wishes Chris Tarrant,’ and as I looked up, there was someone very familiar standing in this little queue with his finger on his lips with a ‘Shush, don’t say a word’ sign.

‘Thank you very much, Mr Tarrant,’ he said politely, before getting into the back of a car.

He has a house just around the corner in St John’s Wood, very near the Abbey Road Studios, which was handy for him because he was Paul McCartney.

He thought it was very, very funny. Which it was.

I’ve met Paul on and off quite a few times over the years and always found him very easy going.

We were offered an interview with him exclusive to Capital Radio a few years back, when he had a new album coming out, and I said I’d love to go to his studio just outside Hastings and chat to him about it.

Now usually on these occasions there’s a sound engineer available, but this time the guys were all out and McCartney was only available for an hour or two.

So I said: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll drive down and do it. As long as somebody shows me how to work the machine before I leave, it’ll be fine.’ I was given some ancient-looking tape recorder and off I went.

We had a lovely afternoon, Paul and I, and he was in great form, talking about The Beatles, about John, and about day-to-day life if you happen to be one of the two surviving Beatles.

Linda, bless her, kept coming out with more and more sandwiches and cups of tea, and we had a tremendous time.

I thanked Paul and started back towards London delighted with what had been a very good interview. As soon as I got around the corner, I stopped in a lay-by and tried to play back the tape, only to realise it was one of those ancient machines where there is no playback.

They always seem to work fine, but you never actually know until you put it on in the studio whether you have recorded anything at all. As I drove fast back to London, I was becoming increasingly convinced that there was nothing on the tape, that I hadn’t pressed the right record button, or whatever.

I couldn’t possibly ring McCartney and say: ‘You know that very good interview we did? Well, could we do it again, please?’ The shame would be too much to bear.

When I got to the studio, I raced in with my machine and handed it in a panic to Mike Osbourne, my long-suffering engineer. I said to him: ‘Mike, please, for God’s sake, tell me I’ve got the interview.’

He put on his headphones, put the tape in and listened. Then, with a mournful face, said: ‘I’m really sorry mate, there’s nothing on there.’

‘Oh, no,’ I said, ‘I don’t believe it.’ The air was black with expletives.

‘Oh, sorry,’ said Mike, grinning. ‘There is just a bit of you talking to Paul McCartney.’

There was about 45 minutes of me talking to Paul McCartney actually. I love Osbourne, but I could easily have shot him with a 12-bore at that moment.

I have had an amazing life, a brilliant life, a rich life.

I have been privileged, I have been very lucky, I have worked hard, but I’ve been blessed and I can honestly say I’ve never ever woken up and just not wanted to go to work. I know so many mates who hate their work, hate their journey to work, hate their journey home from work, hate their boss, hate everybody around them all day, but they just have to get there to pay the bills.

I genuinely have never ever not looked forward to a day’s work in my life.

I probably wasn’t the face of the 1970s — or indeed of any other decade. But I’ve had a damn good time along the way.

Adapted from It’s Not A Proper Job, by Chris Tarrant, to be published by Great Northern Books on April 25 at £17.99. © 2022 Chris Tarrant. To order a copy for £16.19 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. Offer valid until April 30, 2022. UK delivery is free on orders over £20.

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