This is the beginning of it, the full inside story of how I somehow managed to get myself off the dole queue, into the world’s most famous advertising agency, and then onto national television. Here are the first couple of pages to give you a taster. I’ll be posting other extracts soon.
There was no doubt that I’d made the wrong decision. No doubt at all. Not that this knowledge was going to help me out very much now. It was far too late to be searching for an escape route. I was stuck in the BBC’s Newsnight studio – appearing on live television with probably more than a million viewers on the verge of witnessing my ultimate embarrassment.
Of course my hands were feeling horribly sticky. And my heartbeat was surely banging away at something close to double its normal rate. Most ordinary people would find themselves reacting in a similar way under the circumstances. The eyes of Jeremy Paxman, one of the most feared interrogators in the business and renowned for his impatience with fools, were focusing directly on me. He was waiting for an answer to his question.
And that was the problem. I didn’t have an answer to give him. Well, certainly not one that made very much sense. All I had to offer was a load of old waffle. Just how Mr Paxman might react to such on-air incompetence was a truly scary thought.
While desperately struggling to find something half-sensible to utter, I wondered yet again at the incredible chain of events that had finally landed me in this confidence-destroying situation.
* * *
In 1968, film maker and pop art legend Andy Warhol memorably stated: ‘In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes’.
I can remember him saying these exact words very well indeed. I was only twenty-four at the time, fresh out of the army’s Royal Signals, and steeped in the pop music culture of the era. And whilst not totally buying into the everyone part of Andy’s statement, there was still enough naïve hope burning inside of me to imagine that I might even yet fulfil my long held ambition of playing cricket for England. Especially in an Ashes series against the old enemy, Australia. After all, the only missing ingredient as far as I could see was finding the right coach. Somewhere, there had to be a life-changing guru who was capable of bringing out the deeply hidden, international-standard sporting talent I’d surely been born with.
Sadly, unlike the Beatles, whose association with a certain Maharishi Yogi the year before is alleged to have inspired several of the songs on the group’s White Album, no magical guru was destined to appear at this stage for me. Well, certainly not one capable of realising my boyhood dream of becoming demon fast bowler Frank (Typhoon) Tyson and England captain and master batsman Peter May all rolled into one.
However, I did find a bloke called Ray Elrick, who at least managed to cobble me into a passable, club standard bowler. But that’s another story altogether.
It transpired that my turn for fleeting fame didn’t eventually come around until 1999, so by this time you can’t blame me very much for having cooled somewhat in my belief of the now late Mr Warhol’s theory. I mean, thirty-one years had gone by. Exactly how long was the queue at the ‘Make Me Famous Now’ desk in my little neck of the woods for crying out loud?
As it happened, in the period immediately before this, although no glimmer of fame was yet involved, my life had already undergone a pretty remarkable turnaround. So I certainly wasn’t expecting fate to be bringing me any more handouts.
I’d spent nearly three miserable years amongst the ranks of the unemployed during the recession of the early 1990s. With absolutely no educational or professional qualifications to my name and my fiftieth birthday party now just a memory, any future employment of worth at the time appeared to be about as likely as vinyl records making a sudden comeback and outselling the by now established CDs.
Yet there I was in July 1997 taking up my new role as a copywriter/creative at the world’s most famous advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi. All of the media attention that subsequently surrounded me in 1999, and once again in 2000 following the publication of my first novel, undoubtedly would have been considerably less had the story involved any of the other leading ad agencies. Far more than anything I did myself, the magic of Saatchi’s name was what really created the headlines. I benefited enormously from the association.
Later on in this book I’ll go into detail about my appearances on TV shows such as Richard & Judy’s Good Morning, the Gloria Hunniford Show, London Today, and the already mentioned (scary as hell) Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman. I’ll also talk honestly about the radio and press interviews I did. I’ll tell you who I liked, whose company I didn’t enjoy so much, and whose show I refused to go on even though they approached me to do so three times. Mixed in with all of this I’ll give you an insight into what life is really like at a major advertising agency, and how some of the campaigns I worked on were developed.
But first of all it’s important I tell you a bit about what went on before. My leap from unemployed nobody to someone working on multi-million pound advertising accounts sure as heck didn’t happen overnight, despite what a certain famous TV personality tried to suggest to several million viewers. Nor could I have achieved what I did without help from some brilliant people along the way.
Whoever it was said: ‘It’s better to be born lucky than rich’ certainly had a point. But as you’ll read later, Lady Luck was only one of two very important females that came into my life during my ‘famous’ period.
Everyone from the Daily Mirror to Saga Magazine has already written lengthy articles about this period. But as you can imagine, none of them ever did anything more than merely scratch at the surface.
I now want to rip the surface right off, exposing warts, conflict, humour, kindness in the most unexpected places, and anything else I happen to remember along the way.
I hope you’ll tag along with me for the journey.