Rubbish, piffle, tommyrot, drivel and utter bilge

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Close Encounters of the Celeb Kind

Today at work I met a celebrity. For those of you that don't already know, I work at Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, in the Granary Restaurant. Sissinghurst was the subject of a BBC documentary/reality show a couple of years back, following the trials and tribulations of the place after Adam Nicolson, grandson of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West (pair of old literary fruitbats famous for, well, being literary fruitbats, and of course, Sissinghurst Castle gardens), moved back into the place with his famous celeb-gardener-and-chef missus, Sarah Raven. I won't go into the details of the show because (a) I haven't watched it; and (b) it generally painted a not-too-pretty picture of Sarah, among others.

I've worked at Sissinghurst since the end of March, and today I was outside clearing tables and making small talk with a pair of lovely punters, when the fella asked if I'd met Sarah Raven. I replied that I hadn't, that I'd only ever seen a couple of pictures of her and probably wouldn't recognize her if she slapped me in the chops. No sooner had I said this when the guy says, "Isn't that her over there?".  Sure enough, striding towards the restaurant was none other than the delightful Sarah herself. I went inside and she approached and asked if she could go upstairs to look for something, and I said, go right ahead. I went back outside to retrieve another tray of dirty plates and cups (why oh why do smokers like to stub their fags out in saucers? It's horrible) and Sarah came back out a moment later. The fella then turned and bellowed, "Hey, Sarah!!" She spun on her heel and he let rip with "WE LOVE YOUR SHOW! WHEN YOU GONNA BE BACK ON TV!! YOU'RE MAGIC!!" and other unfortunate words to that effect. Poor Sarah, I think she didn't quite know where to put herself.

I have met quite a few celebs in my time. Some you may know, some you may not. Here's a rundown:

Jess Conrad
Jess Conrad was a teen idol, popular in the late 1950s and early 1960s with a number of hits to his credit, "Cherry Pie", "This Pullover", "Mystery Girl" and "Pretty Jenny". Since then his live performances have continued to be popular, with an ovation in 2005 at the London Palladium when sharing a bill with Eden Kane, John Leyton, Marty Wilde and others.
I met Jess twice - once when I was working as a waiter in a local hotel and restaurant, and once when I went on holiday to Butlin's at Bognor Regis, when Jess was part of a '60s revival show along with Ricky Valance ("Tell Laura I Love Her") and The Fourmost ("Hello Little Girl"). In the show, Jess came out wearing leather drainpipes and a pink jacket with padded shoulders, and said, "I'm a poser, not a singer." After the show I and my buddy Nigel, who was on holiday with me, went to the Regency bar for a couple of drinkies. While sitting there reclining, sipping on our adult beverages, we spied Jess, still attired in pink, walking into the bar. We nodded a greeting to him and he said something like, "How ya doin', fellas?". And that was it.

Julian Clary
Hugh Jelly aka Philip Herbert.
Julian Clary (for the non-Brits among you) is a well-known British comedian, entertainer and novelist, whose stage career began under the pseudonym The Joan Collins Fan Club. He later had his own "game show", Sticky Moments with Julian Clary where he would award points based on whether he liked people more than for any actual skill or aptitude. He was accompanied by actor Philip Herbert in the guise of 'Hugh Jelly', a large man with a booming voice and clothing almost as flamboyant as Julian's.
It was during this period that I met him. The series was produced by Toni Yardley, daughter of Joss Ackland (who stole the show during one of my favourite films, The Pet Shop Boys' flick It Couldn't Happen Here), and wife of video editing whiz David Yardley. My first wife Kristin had briefly done a spot of nannying for the Yardleys and they invited her (and me) to a Halloween bash at their house. We of course wangled invites for a few friends too, once they got wind of where we were going, because I think secretly everyone wondered if Julian would make an appearance. Well our son Charlie was only about 3 weeks old at the time, but we took him anyway. The house was huge, and the party was in full swing when we got there, complete with fire breathers and jugglers in the front yard. Joss was there, as well as Luke Cresswell from STOMP (of course in those days he was better known for his work in the bands Pookiesnackenburger and Yes/No People). It amused me somewhat to see the MTV MoonMan that David had received for his editing on Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing" video being used as a door-stop.

Next thing I knew, there was Julian (with Hugh), rather sedately attired in jeans and a T-shirt, and there was my sister, making conversation with him. We joined in the conversation and they noticed baby Charlie, and somehow or another Julian ended up holding Charlie for a minute, saying as he did so, "Hope the papers aren't here, you can just see that on the front page of News Of The World, can't you - Julian's Secret Child!"

I used to work for Thresher's Wine Merchants, and during my tenure, I encountered several famous peeps.
Donald Sinden  and Joanna Lumley were regular visitors. Kevin Godley of Godley and Creme and 10CC  moved to the area and came in for some Christmas booze. Chris Difford of Squeeze came in a time or two, and we once had a conversation about a tweed jacket he was wearing that had unusual pockets, one above the other. I asked him where he got it, and his reply? "Oh, I saw one just like it in the Victoria & Albert Museum and had my tailor make me one!"
Hint: Lol is the one without the beard.

Chris Difford

When my sister and I were quite young, probably 9 or 10, we were taken to a fête (where, I cannot recall) and the children's author Malcolm Saville was there, signing books. We both got a signed book, but I only vaguely recall what he looked like - old and crinkly.

Sis, and Tex.

On our first ever holiday to Butlin's in Bognor Regis, my sister had her picture taken while obtaining the autograph of Tex Ritter, the famous cowboy crooner ("High Noon"). He died the following year.

Best. Doctor. Ever.

In the town, I've bumped into newsreader Andrew Gardner, Dr. Who number four Tom Baker, and even seen Fab Macca Wacky Thumbs Aloft out shopping with his family. Several celebs such as Marti Pellow of Wet Wet Wet and Bob Mortimer live (or have lived) nearby. Jan Francis, Mike Debens (OK, scraping the bottom of the barrel now) and even Paul Merton have apparently been seen shopping in Tenterden (although not witnessed by myself), so it is quite likely that another celebrity encounter is on the horizon. Oh, and lest I forget... David Frost was born here.

Newsflash! I have just learned that Alan Titchmarsh is coming to do some filming at Sissinghurst!... on my day off.


  1. Chris Difford.

    Oooooooooooooh, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

    Quite the little line up there, Mr. Hickmott.

    Rupe is impressed.

  2. NO idea you worked at Sissinghurst Jeff! I have been there many times, although have not brushed elbows with any celebrities on my visits. My one claim to fame is having cooked for Princess Sophie's father, Christopher Rhys-Jones. It was after her mother passed away and it was a chicken casserole, some biscuits and a cake. (Americans like to send food when someone dies. What can I say.) The containers came back empty, so am assuming he enjoyed the goodies.

  3. Oh, I know about the American food/death combo. It's especially prevalent in the South, where i lived for 10 years. All you have to do is mention someone in your family, no matter how distant, has passed on, and suddenly all these people come out of the woodwork bearing casseroles and cakes. It's strange, but awesome.


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