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George Mitchell: Meeting a ‘proper’ celebrity is always a thrill

George wonders what drives people, such as Peter Andre, to crave celebrity status.
George wonders what drives people, such as Peter Andre, to crave celebrity status.

I wrote a column two years ago on “why would anyone want to be famous?”.

It’s a question I’d pondered for years.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against those who do want it. I have friends who dream of being famous.

My gripe was about modern fame. Not the decades-built-up fame of legendary performers or film stars, but the modern celeb culture, which is a very strange beast indeed.

Fuelled by shows such as The X Factor, the winners become famous, and very quickly at that. From nowhere to global fame, in an instant. I said I think it’s damaging, as it seems to me anyway, that the dance or the music is secondary, it’s the money and fame that counts.

Instant fame can also be pretty fleeting, as X Factor winner Ben Haenow discovered. 

The irony is, for many who do win these programmes, whilst I accept that some do go on to make a career, the vast majority of those who won whatever show it is, are soon long forgotten.

Anyway, it got me thinking about fame, or famous people, I should say.

Have you ever met any? I don’t mean if you’ve seen a famous person in a live theatre performance, but have you ever met or bumped into a famous person, out of the blue in an ordinary everyday situation?

Sitting in a restaurant in London’s China Town with my friend Amy, I’d say around 1998, who was at a table next to us? None other than acclaimed actor Peter Ustinov.

George was tempted to approach actor Peter Ustinov, centre.

Extremely keen to talk to him, just to meet him, in the end we decided not to, and left the guy to eat his meal in peace.

In the ’90s when I was dance training in London, famous faces of the day were two a penny in Pineapple Dance Studios. They’d use the studios like everyone else, to rehearse.

I remember chatting with pop stars Jason Donovan and Peter Andre. It was all rather normal actually.

Again in ’90s London, I once got jazz singer Tony Bennett’s autograph in HMV Records. I was, and still am, a huge fan. He signed my CD. I even got my photo taken with him and have it to this day.

Tony Bennett signed George’s CD in London.

After becoming friends with the rock band Status Quo, and being allowed to wander at will backstage with my AAA pass, over the past 10 years I’ve bumped into the likes of UB40, Chas and Dave, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure.

I even stood at the side of a stage with Bonnie Tyler after she’d just come off. We stood and chatted as we watched Quo perform their set. I have to say, at age 70, Bonnie’s still got it.

George has seen Status Quo rocking all over the world. 

When I was 10 years old, and on a plane with my parents from London to Miami, I had another experience. Back in economy class, my dad was delighted to learn that because it was the 4th of July and American Independence Day, we were allowed to climb the staircase and go up to the bar in first class.

An upstairs on a plane, with a cocktail bar? I never knew such things existed.

My dad took me up the stairs, and yes, there was an elegant cocktail bar with lounge-type seats all around. I can vaguely remember the staircase and the bar, but have no recollection whatsoever about the two gentleman sitting close by.

Miami Vice TV star Don Johnson was having a drink with none other than superstar singer Glen Campbell. My dad says that he looked across at Glen Campbell, who smiled in acknowledgment at us.

Glen Campbell.

As for the 10-year-old me, I was more interested in being upstairs inside a plane and getting my ice-cold Coke than acknowledging a huge star.

Now a big fan of his music, the adult me is shaking my head at this, and every time I listen to Glen Campbell sing the moving song By The Time I Get to Phoenix, I ponder our brief meeting on that plane.

Pop stars and famous they may well be, but can I throw any film stars into the mix? I certainly can.

Music-wise, I’m into everything from Motorhead to Mozart. And because of my parents, have from a very young age been into the golden era of Hollywood films and musicals.

Aged 14, while I was listening to such bands as Iron Maiden and AC/DC, I could not miss the chance to go and see the Hollywood giant that is Howard Keel perform at HMT in Aberdeen.

Sitting in the stalls, I marvelled at this giant of a man thunder out hits from his finest films. His persona filled the stage.

Howard Keel.

But it was what happened afterwards that was special. At the end of the performance, it was announced that Mr Keel would sign autographs for anyone who wanted. This titan of a man, after a full two hours on stage, sat in a chair behind a table in the bar at HMT and signed literally hundreds of autographs.

I queued for ages, and finally made it to the front. I stood in front of Howard Keel, I swear he was taller than me even though seated. As he looked up at the young me, he beamed a huge smile, delighted that someone so young had come to see him perform.

He signed my programme, which I still proudly have to this day.

The year was 1956 and Gene Kelly was in Edinburgh to promote his film Invitation to the Dance. A family friend of ours, Donald Mc Ley, I remember him fondly, was a law student at the time.

Working at the Edinburgh Festival, Donald was given the task of meeting Gene Kelly and giving him and his entourage a tour of Edinburgh.

Mr Kelly was so impressed by Donald that he invited him to meet up every day for the rest of his stay. Donald was even invited to Gene Kelly’s hotel on his last night to share a meal.

Gene Kelly.

Larry Adler was a world-famous harmonica player. During the Second World War, my grandad was in an army camp in England on his way out to France. Larry Adler was part of “entertain the troops”, and one night in that camp he sat and played for hundreds of British soldiers.

He then asked if anyone could play and would like to join him. Egged on by his army mates, my shy, unassuming grandad sat up beside Larry Adler and they played harmonic together. Side by Side, I believe was the tune they played.

While said grandad was off at war, his wife, my gran, a young woman in her early 20s, was stuck back home in Aberdeen.

If the word “legendary” can be tagged on to any individual’s name, then surely it must be Clark Gable.

Referred to as the “King of Hollywood”, he appeared in more than 70 films and of course starred in the 1939 classic Gone With The Wind.

Clark Gable.

During the war, Gable, while in the US Air Force, was stationed in the UK.

The Palais, now long gone, was a famous dance hall in Aberdeen. Mr Gable, on a whistle-stop tour, was taken to the Palais. For the purposes of publicity and to help boost morale, he was asked to pick a local woman and have a dance with her. He looked around, pointed at a woman and invited her to dance.

This lucky young Aberdeen girl was charmingly whisked round the dance floor, by arguably the most famous actor on the planet. The debonair Clark Gable.

That lucky woman, Cathy Mitchell, was an ordinary girl from Torry. She was my grandma.

I just wish I had a photo of it. I’m still searching for one.

Your granny dancing with Clark Gable – I can’t top that one.

But lastly, what about famous people I’ve almost met, but never quite did?

My favourite TV programme is probably Are You Being Served. My favourite character, without a doubt, is Mr Humphries, played by the late, great John Inman. I’m running out of column space, so all I can say is this.

John Inman.

In the early 1980s, at the height of his fame, John Inman was in our house in Inverurie, having a whisky with my dad. I kid you not. I still can’t get my head round it.

So, did I get to meet my hero? Nab a photo with him?

No. It was a Saturday. I was off at Scout Camp.

My dad, at least once a year, very annoyingly reminds me of this episode.

John Inman in our house and me not there? There’s no justice in the world.

Have you or anyone you know ever bumped into or met a famous person in a strange but ordinary situation?

Do share, I’d love to know.

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