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Why I don't (usually) ask celebrities for autographs or photographs

Why I don't (usually) ask celebrities for autographs or photographs

Ever since I started working properly in the media business, well-meaning friends and family will often ponder if I can get them an autograph for someone. This is a little tricky because:

  • I don’t generally meet celebrities any more in my line of work anyway!
  • Even if I did, it’d be very hard to interrupt an interview or a meeting with a “Oh by the way, can you sign this for my grandma?” or “Can we just pose for a photograph?”
  • I’m terrible at asking anything of strangers. Unless I have to.
  • How many journalists do you know who interrupt press conferences to ask for an autograph? It’s just not done.
  • Most importantly, I’m usually the only Chinese person in the room. Which means:
    • They’re far more likely to notice me – I tend to stick out like a sore form even when I don’t say anything – and thus, form an opinion, good or bad.
    • The last thing I want to do is enhance the racist assumption that Japanese/foreign journalists are idiotic and don’t know the ‘rules’

Having said all that, outside of work, it seems to be OK. During one birthday celebration in a Soho pub, June Whitfield came into the pub. Before you know it, my then evil scum of workmates had corralled her into posing for a pic next to me – I’m not too sure where that picture has gone, but it’s around here somewhere, with the odd sock. And somewhere in my archives, I also have Woody Allen’s autograph.

Of course, it seems to be just me who has a problem with asking celebrities for autographs where I work. My friend Shari in New York, who’s a radio engineer, had her pic taken with Hugh Jackman and was very proud of it. Stephen Fry, as ever, is the realist and has the do’s and don’ts of approaching a celebrity.

Do you work in the biz, as pretentious people like to call it? Do you collect autographs or photographs, or just get on with it and work with them as colleagues?

The day I met David Tennant…

The day I met David Tennant…

Geoff Marshall with some dude

Geoff Marshall with some dude

It was all Geoff‘s idea, Yer Honour…

Y’see, he’d recently come back to the BBC after two years in America fraternising with our American cousins – and even worse, American ACTORS. And it had all rubbed off a bit on him. The endless video posts, the sheer confidence in walking up to strangers – and yet still enthusing about Doctor Who, music and the Pet Shop Boys.

He then told me that he knew that David Tennant was going to be on BBC Breakfast on 31 December, and he was determined to get an autograph with him – by essentially lurking down the labyrinthe corridors of BBC Television Centre until he bumped into him. But he needed some help. A wingman, to help pass the time. Did I want to do it?

Strange as it may seem, I didn’t jump at the chance. Ever since I started working professionally within the media industry I’ve never asked for an autograph – mostly because you can’t interrupt an interview with Ben Elton, Alicia Silverstone or Glenn Close to ask for an autograph. That just wouldn’t do. Plus, I’m usually hyperaware that in the highly unlikely event of any problems, my face will be the ones that the security guards remember for reasons I’ll go into in another post … Although when I was younger, I’d hang around stage doors (well, it was double Physical Education on Wednesdays) and I managed to co-opt Stephen Fry into saving my University projects. Twice.

This time, I reasoned, I wouldn’t be there for work, and besides, it’s David Tennant. The night before he hands over the TARDIS keys. So I brushed up on the do’s and don’t of approaching a celebrity and waited…

The next morning, I arrived at the ye early time of 8am, and joined Geoff thereafter as we kept moving from point to point on the hear-out for a Scottish accent, while trying to avoid the cleaners who kept asking if we knew where we were going.

And then we went back into main reception – where usually only taxi drivers and runners are – and there he was. Already patiently signing autographs for a few kids, while a harassed BBC runner hovered behind him, eager to move him into his warm dressing room. But oh no, we were between him and the main doors. Geoff asked him whether he could stop now or on the way back, and David, being the understanding man he is, said he’d be a while in the studio and best to do it now.

Geoff managed to persuade him for a photograph. Unfortunately, it was an iPhone – and have you ever tried taking a pic on an iPhone in a hurry when you’ve never used one before? Your fingers are everywhere except where they need to be! So after three blurred shots of Geoff with David Tennant, he made his apologies and ran into the studio.

Throughout it all, David seemed slightly stressed – well, you would be if you’re dashing into a TV studio to address the nation – but a thoroughly decent chap nice enough to stop for autographs on a cold Thursday morning when he didn’t have to.

Anyway, that’s enough from me. Watch Geoff’s video of this momentous occasion (via Facebook alas!)…

When Ewan McGregor and I worked together

When Ewan McGregor and I worked together

Me and Ewan McGregor in Rogue Trader In the late 1990s, in-between freelance web jobs, I spent a day as an extra, being a Singaporean stock trader in the film Rogue Trader, a film about how stocktrader Nick Leeson managed to bring down the United Kingdom’s oldest investment bank. The film starred Ewan McGregor and Anna Friel.

Alas, any glamorous notions I had about finally being part of the film industry were somewhat thwarted by the sheer tedium of waiting around on film sets waiting for filming to start, with nothing to do except talk to equally disillusioned Chinese extras, who were mostly Filipino actors/actresses who’d come to London with dreams of treading the stage or doing some good acting, as opposed to ending up with a bunch of extras. Although I did manage to walk around the Pinewood Studios shop and buy a jacket.

After one day of work, being on/off set for about 10 hours and wasting three hours being shuttled between central London and Pinewood for £80 (and they were very keen to get people back for more extras shooting, but I’d rather sit in front of a computer pumping out webcode!), the net result is the picture you see. If you watch the film itself, I’m about 40 minutes into the film, just after Nick Leeson is celebrating Christmas with his girlfriend (Friel).

The only other time I saw it was when slightly drunk and waiting in eager anticipation to see The Matrix. One of the trailers that featured before it was for Rogue Trader, and I yelped in surprise when I saw a strangely familiar moon-shaped face staring at me on the screen before I realised it was me.

I kept meaning to track down the DVD but then to my surprise, when I stumbled in after a hard day at a works do summer party (football, softball, Pimms, quizzes and the odd bit of chat) to find the film showing on ITV4. And finally, I manage to capture my moment of fame alongside Ewan McGregor.

To come … how I had dinner with Frank Skinner and was in Stephen Fry‘s bedroom…

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