Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tom Jones - Truly Unusual 4/29/12

The room fell silent.

And I mean silent, as if we had been thrown into a state of suspended animation.

We were all pretending not to notice.

We were trying not to whisper.

But it was all to no avail.

Call me sentimental, call me a groupie, call me Welsh . . . I don’t care. Because when Tom enters the building, the building knows it.

Awesome does not even begin to cover it; you feel that if you were just to touch the hem of his perfect suit, all would become well in your life.
I was in a London hostelry on Thursday lunchtime when Tom arrived for a long day of interviews. An orchestra of jaws hitting the floor echoed in the room; waitresses sprang into action, as if they had been electrocuted; food hovered in mid- air, forks taking a reverential pause, every prong star-struck in the great man’s presence.
I nearly self-combusted, pretty much as I had done a few years back, when I interviewed him for the ITV show This Morning. I could barely get my words out. He was adorable: polite, articulate, professional, sweet, incredibly humble and not at all starry.

And, I kid you not: on Thursday, when he took his seat in the restaurant, the previously clouded heavens above the glass roof separated, casting a single, pure light on our man and his table. I swear to you: it happened.
The man is a superstar. Listen again. SUPERSTAR. His voice is phenomenal; his genius unquestionable; and, huge credit to his manager son Mark – Tom is the best run act in show business. Without question.
Jones’ ability to re-invent himself, appealing to different generations, while still holding on to his core audience, is a tribute both to his and his son’s talent.

The entertainment business is incredibly tough and longevity rare; possessing talent is not enough – we only have to look at the list of failed reality show winners to know that; you have to know the audience, too.

And you specially have to know when to take a punt on giving that audience something different and changing their perception. It is no mean feat to be performing for nearly 50 years and, incredibly, still maintaining a formidable presence in the charts – and on both sides of the Atlantic.
Along with, Jessie J and Danny O’Donoghue, Jones is currently appearing on The Voice UK, the BBC1 Saturday night talent show for wannabe singers. His track record brings immense credibility to the panel, and his charisma and charm bring a sprinkle of stardust that you just cannot manufacture.

You either have it or you don’t. And Jones does. By the bucketload.
On Saturday night, in a rather embarrassing off-key opening singalong among the judges (well, two were off key), Jones was, simply outstanding: at 72, he still has it, and his voice still takes your breath away.
I was seven when It’s not Unusual was released as a single and, when I had my first record player three years later, it was one of the singles my parents gave me from their enormous collection. Even at that age, I knew that there was something special about the voice.

Tom’s being Welsh like me was an added bonus, of course, and I remember playing the record over and over again, hurling the microphone from my parents’ tape-recorder and acting, for all the world, as if I was on the Vegas stage.
Las Vegas is the place that made Jones a truly international star and he performed there for a week a year until 2011. It is the place where women threw their hotel keys and underwear onto the stage – the latter becoming a trademark of his concerts.
I have seen Jones perform just once, in Cardiff Castle’s grounds some years ago. It was, without doubt, an extraordinary performance and, when I got to interview him, I felt honoured. I still do.
This week, we had a brief chat when he left the restaurant. He was, as ever, delightful; after a long day of interviews that must have been exhausting, I thought it incredibly gracious of him to take the time to say hello again.

In a world where so many “stars” with minimal talent act like divas, we are blessed not only with someone who is truly a great star with a great talent, but a really nice man, too.

I salute you, Sir Tom.

Always have, always will.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Simon Says . . . Too Much? 4/22/12

This has not been a good week for Simon Cowell.

On Friday, the journalist Tom Bower published the music mogul’s “unofficial” biography (Sweet Revenge: the Intimate Life of Simon Cowell), which exposed, amongst other things, an affair with ex-X Factor judge Dannii Minogue.

In the days leading up to publication, the papers were packed with stories about Cowell’s apparent inability to commit to one woman, along with headlines about Dannii’s alleged feelings of betrayal.

Cowell allowed Bower access to his lifestyle and he was also happy for friends to talk to Bower. I know this because Bower phoned me and I declined to be interviewed, even though Simon had no objection.

So, has Cowell just been uncharacteristically naïve in, effectively, giving the thumbs-up to the project, even though he has not “collaborated” per se?

It can’t be comfortable to be painted as a cad with several women on the go (Sharon Osbourne has now stuck her two penneth in by announcing this), nor as someone who talks about women in what have been described as derogatory terms (it is claimed that he said the affair with Dannii was “just a few bonks”).

But has he really done anything so terrible? To me, it is a complete non-story: “Single man has sex.” So flamin’ what! And is talking about a couple of bonks really so bad? That’s not kissing and telling; in my book, that’s nothing more than recalling fondly.

Also, let’s not forget how kind Simon has been to all his exes, who remain his friends. He gave ex-fiancee Mizhgan Hussainy a house reported to be worth $8 million; his previous girlfriend, Terri Seymour received one of lesser value (if I were Terri, I’d ask him for a big extension to make up the shortfall!).

Is it "paying" someone off (as has been reported) if you give them a house when you want to move on? No, it’s showing incredible respect and acknowledging that when a relationship ends (and they do, for goodness sake), it does not have to be the end of friendship; it is just the start of a new kind of relationship.

To me, recognising a new beginning in the end is a sign of incredible maturity. All I end up with at the end of relationships is an overdraft the size of a house, having bailed out another loser.

I have known Simon for many years. He is mega smart, very focused, very funny and very kind. He has been adorable to my family and friends when he has given us tickets to his shows on both sides of the Atlantic; and he has been a supportive friend who has offered good advice when I have gone through bad times.

I admire him both personally and professionally, and to have achieved huge success in the US as well as the UK is an achievement of breathtaking proportion. If he is harsh in his judgments over the panel choices in his shows, it is because he has to be; vast sums of money are at stake, and if the product is not right, even more heads will roll.

This isn’t just entertainment, it is big business, even more so in US television, which eats people for breakfast and spews them out mercilessly.

Simon sacked Cheryl Cole from US X Factor because she simply didn’t cut the mustard; she had a great opportunity and blew it by not playing hardball and putting herself out there the American way.

Simon may be an emotional person and, at heart, a romantic, but is also the consummate professional, and he hasn’t worked this hard for this long, building a formidable reputation, to see some girlie tantrums blow it all away.

He will ride the storm of this book, as he has ridden so many others. The man is a genius. A very nice genius, too. Complex, but nice.

So, Simon: do I get my house now?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Eggless At Easter 4/8/12

Eggless at Easter.

I admit to feeling a little bit sad.

It’s a horrid time to be alone, and even worse than Christmas, when at least you can gatecrash people’s parties or go to the pub to mix with other loners.

I used to love Easter as a kid. On Good Friday, my brother and I would be dispatched to “Jean the shop” in the village of Coity to pick up the hot cross buns, and eat them, still warm, at the kitchen table. Saturday night would be like Christmas Eve, in sleepless anticipation of the cache we would find at the bottom of our beds, come Easter morning.

The violet foil that was the Cadbury’s egg with its brown cellophane bag of buttons; the pot of gold that was Crunchie; the mini eggs stashed like private jewels in a chocolate case that opened with all the joy of cracking a safe. I loved them all.

I can’t remember when the eggs stopped, although I suspect it was during my teens, when concerns about my body outweighed the chocolate. But although I have never had much of a sweet tooth, there is just something about an Easter egg that brings out the chocolate lover lurking in my savoury depths, and, this morning, I am really craving an egg.

My oldest school-friend posted on Facebook that she is feeling lonely, and I know what she means. Despite the chocolate, there has always been something faintly depressing about Easter.

I blame the church. As soon as the joys of Christmas were past, the hymns we sang in Hope Baptist Chapel in Bridgend, where I grew up, definitely took a turn for the sombre in the months leading up to Easter. Green hills far away, rugged crosses, bloodied limbs – it was all a reminder that lovely as Jesus’s birth was, we should not forget the real meaning of Christmas – which was a very gory death.

Then came Easter Sunday, and the hymns took a bit of an upturn. “Jesus Christ is risen today, Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-le-eh-lu-u-jah!”

Hallelujah, indeed.

And we would go home from church to secretly stuff our faces full of chocolate and spend the rest of the day in disgrace because we had “spoiled” our dinner.

But as an adult living alone, Easter is the most depressing of all holidays and seems even more of an exclusive – and excluding - family time than Christmas. At Christmas, people tend to stay at home and catch up with friends and family; at Easter, they all head off, usually to catch some sun after the depressing winter they have invariably endured.

Quite why they do this is beyond me. Last week, I caught an easyjet flight to Malaga that was nothing more than a flying crèche; Cardiff’s Apple store yesterday had nine appointments free in the Genius Bar. I wanted my computer to have problems just so that I could take advantage of them.

So, being at home by myself, I have decided that this year, I am not going to be eggless and lonely. I am going to go to the shop and buy up all the 50% discounted eggs, head for the pub, watch the rugby, and not think about crosses and blood.

Let’s think resurrection, not recession.

Cadbury – my gullet awaits.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Walking Tall - My Life As A Giant 4/5/12

This has been the worst week of my life.

On Monday morning, I woke to a furore not seen since elephant no 3 was refused entry onto Noah’s Ark for being too single. My crime? I had written an article in a national newspaper simply stating what everyone has known for years: that I am very, very tall.

During my secondary school years, Bridget the Midget topped the charts and I suffered endless ignominious slights from people who simply did not see what I saw when I looked in the mirror. Where they saw diminutive performers Jimmy Clitheroe, Peter Glaze and Titch (of Titch and Quackers fame), I saw Jane Bunford who, at 7 feet 11 inches, was the tallest English person ever born in the UK.

I can’t pretend that the comments did not hurt. Every time I walked into a room, people would move away, terrified that I might bump into pillars and bring them tumbling down, Samson-like, on their heads. Men who had married women of a diminutive stature would look on in envy as my frocks fell, sylph-like, from my delicate frame; dwarfs ran terrified to cupboards to hide, so immense was my stature.

I learned to live with my height, and there is no denying that it has brought me many benefits along the way. I have been given tickets to the giraffe house at London Zoo, passes and free champagne on the London Eye, and given a complimentary Conquer Your Vertigo programme at a major Los Angeles clinic.

I believe I have deserved those perks: as I was on constant call to replace light bulbs in every place I worked and saved many an executive from having to call out for a ladder, I have seen these things as merely part and parcel of the package I brought to the table.

But the downside has been immense. All men prefer tall women. Danny de Vito, Woody Allen, Verne Troyer – I will always be at an advantage when it comes to pulling. At two foot eight, Verne could be said to be punching above his height, but why should we deny what is an absolute truth: size is everything.

The social network marketplace went into meltdown when I explored the possibility that short people might not attract the kind of attention that I, as a giant, have encountered. Small people everywhere spouted forth incredible bile, claiming that it was not my height that had caused such widespread approbation, but the fact that I had spent so many years boasting about it, not only in print but everywhere I went socially.

I went on television to defend my position this week, but was met with the usual size-ist reaction from presenters far shorter than myself, and also a psychologist of the kind much favoured by daytime programmes these days.

It was not my height, they said, that was the problem; nor my acknowledging that I was, indeed, very, very tall; but that I had dared to voice it in public and blame small people’s attitudes for the devastation wrought in my life on a daily basis.

What can I say?

I am a giant.

I always will be.

And I have the column inches to prove it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Are You Not Being Served? 4/2/12

La La means I love you – and, hopefully, haven’t lost you.

Yes, there are many things I miss about Los Angeles since returning to the UK full time in November. I miss not being in a one-industry town in which nearly everyone you meet lives, breathes and talks TV and film (well, apart from the realtors who are too busy whingeing about the lack of tenants).

I miss the sun, the palm trees, the outstanding drama on telly, sunsets over the Pacific – leaving these things behind has been a real wrench.

But the thing I miss more than anything is the service.

The phrase that drives me nuts in the UK is the one on the other end of the phone when I call to complain that my latest purchase – let’s just pick a vacuum cleaner at random - isn’t working. “It should do” is the inevitable response.

Yes, I know it should work; that’s why I bought it. It’s a vacuum cleaner. I didn’t buy it to place on my mantelpiece and admire it from afar.

Having established that said vacuum cleaner should work but doesn’t, the next question is invariably: “Have you turned it on?” No, because I have managed to get through 50 plus years on the planet without understanding the basic rules of electricity.

This is all supposing that you can get someone to answer the phone in the first place, of course, and the verbal obstacle course just gets worse with every communication. “You have four options”, so I press number one. “You now have six options”. So I press number three. “You now have 12 options”. Finally, after you have endured three birthdays and whittled your options down, there is light at the end of the tunnel. “You now have two options”. Could it be, at last, that a human being is imminent? The tension is unbearable. I press two. “You now have 103 options” - and you’re back where you started.

Personally, I blame the music that now pollutes almost every working environment; it just isn’t conducive to concentration and putting the customer first. Lloyds Bank in Queen Street might as well have “Disco” tattooed on its black horse, so ridiculously loud is the noise throughout the entire branch.

In Starbucks, you need a megaphone to get yourself heard above the racket. A visit to O2 requires you to down Valium if your nerves stand a chance of surviving the background – or, more accurately, foreground – music. As for Mocha bar, a 60 piece brass band would be drowned out by what they play there.

This has been a traumatic week, as I ventured into town to sort all sorts of problems and suffered the musical ear-bashing in every place I visited. There was, however, one glorious exception – an oasis of calm for my otherwise nerve-racked body: the Apple Store in St David’s 2.

I have to confess I am an Apple girl through and through. My loft is an Apple cemetery, stacked with every Mac that has hit the shelves since day one. The turquoise desktop like a finely carved torso; the blue laptop that could pass for a handbag; silver laptops whose beauty brings tears to the eyes – I have loved them all. And now, in the Apple store, there are more of these divine creatures: a sea of white and silver like a heavenly host, reaching out to welcome me and starve my purse of the little money I have in it.

The store also has the best and most knowledgeable staff of any Apple store I have ever visited. They really are geniuses at the Genius Bar, and if I could pocket Nick and carry him around in my bag, always at hand to sort my computer problems, I would.

He has made me promise to stop using the word “nightmare” in relation to the numerous difficulties I have been having with my new computer and the Lion operating system. I just want Apple to promise to pick up the damned phone when I call. It doesn’t take a genius to do that.

Of course, as readers of this blog will know, there were things that drove me mad in LA about the service – not least, when people promised they could do things and either couldn’t or didn’t; and I always said that the slogan most suited to Best Buy was Best Buy Somewhere Else.

But, for the most part, service in LA was in a different league. Lucky my stuff is still in storage over there.

I am never more than a hair’s breadth away from my next Virgin Atlantic flight – all supposing I can ever get anyone to answer the phone at the damned place, of course.