Mick! Over here!
Donald Clarke rehearses a few intelligent questions for the band, and hits Leicester Square for the premiere of Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones movie. But at a micro-managed red-carpet event, you’ve more chance of getting blood out of a stone than talkin
THE IRISH TIMES does not do red carpets. Representatives of this newspaper will not be found elbowing aside the mike-handlers from FabGossip.com in pursuit of a quote from that idiot out of Hollyoaks. If Harrison Ford wants to get into The Ticket, then he will just have to invite us to his cabin cruiser.
Yet, here I am in Leicester Square surrounded by dozens of journalists at the premiere of Shine A Light, Martin Scorsese’s record of a recent Rolling Stones gig. Look, the opportunity to get within spitting distance of a Stone doesn’t come along that often.
It is certainly true that the experience is closer to a wildlife shoot – “The Leatherskinned Jagger Monkey makes his way cautiously to the watering-hole” – than it is to a formal interview, but these are, perhaps, the best circumstances under which to monitor an endangered species.
Even before I get to the barricades, I have gathered some impressions of the dispassion red-carpet journos bring to their work. The Italian hacks ahead of me in the queue at the hotel reception have made a point of decking themselves out in Stones regalia. This one wears a brooch fashioned in the shape of Mick’s mouth. Another has the band’s name plastered across his T-shirt.
Where is the cynical ennui I have come to expect from my colleagues? (“You interviewing that jerk Brent Sparklestar?” one of us might say. “Yeah, he’s got no more brains than his cretinous, talentless shrew of a wife,” another might reply.)
The wave of enthusiasm is all the more baffling when you consider how red-carpet journalists are handled at such an event. You are asked to arrive at a particular time to be placed into a reserved “pen”. Yes, you read that right. The gentleman from The Irish Times has been placed into the same sort of apparatus they use to restrain pigs and sheep. You never saw Maeve Binchy in a pen.
Anyway, it can’t be denied that 20th Century Fox have put on a good show. Spotlights strafe the low clouds, satellite dishes sit waiting to beam the event throughout the world and a massive red carpet works its way along the eastern stretch of Leicester Square. On the other side of the rug, Stones fanatics – many are decked out in stupid hats; one is odd enough to brandish a Jagger solo album – nervously protect the territory they staked out hours earlier.
On this side of the carpet, a wild hubbub persists. The shoulder-shrugging disdain that characterises formal journalism is of no use down here among the pigs and the sheep. The only way to succeed is to bounce wildly from foot to foot and scream the name of the arriving stars like a five-year-old hopped up on Fanta and Skittles.
The lack of dignity is quite startling. Look at them, bellowing at botoxed nonentities and then pretending to be interested in their inane prattle. You’d never catch me doing that. I would rather . . . Jesus! It’s Anita Pallenberg. “ANITA! ANITA! OVER HERE!” I shout at Mick and Keith’s former squeeze.
By the time the words are out of my mouth, Pallenberg, now saddled with the face of an elderly house-cat, has already been swept into the cinema.
Scorsese’s film is mostly taken up with footage of a contemporary Stones gig in Manhattan, but the director does also manage to squeeze in some archive material of the band in their chaotic early years. The contrast between the spiralling chaos of their 1960s tours – ambulance men ferrying damply hysterical girls from the auditorium; policemen scowling at the band as they might at escaped gorillas; drunks lurching across the stage – and the military order that characterises the current operation is remarkable.
Back then, more hysterical media commentators suggested that the Stones and their clones might have killed off showbusiness. A brief glance at the spotlights in Leicester Square confirms how misguided those speculations were.
I would like to ask Mick Jagger about that. Hell, I will ask Mick Jagger about that. But not yet.
“Anybody else got a question for Charles Dance?” the PR commandant plaintively asks our pen. Sheep stare at the clouds, pigs suddenly begin fiddling conspicuously with their telephones and the tall actor is led hopefully towards another set of bouncing maniacs.
Then, suddenly, the band is on the carpet. Keith Richards, taciturn in the 1960s and 1970s, has, it seems, been smiling and cackling for the past 10 years. Wearing a hat at a jaunty angle, he somehow manages to giggle his way past our enclosure and on towards that Scottish woman from the BBC. Charlie Watts, the perennially likeable and taciturn drummer, has, as always, as little to do with the press as he can manage.
Little Mick Jagger, accompanied by his gigantic girlfriend, L’Wren Scott, is slowly making his way towards our corner of the red carpet. His face is heavily creased and his eyes are slightly rheumy, but, at 64, he still seems effortlessly lively and engaged.
“Talk a little bit about the way the business has changed since you first started out,” I intend to say. “Do you miss the sense of urgen-
cy you enjoyed in the early days?” When he eventually stands before us, it quickly becomes clear that I have as much chance of reading out the Gettysburg Address as asking such a complex question.
“What’s it like working with Christina Aguilera?” somebody shouts.
“What you doing after the film?” another hack blurts.
And then, leaving me opened mouthed and silent, he skips playfully down the red carpet and vanishes from view. It seems as if I do not have the stamina (or the lungs) to attract the attention of the stars that matter.
But, wait a moment. Is that Tom Stoppard? It is Tom Stoppard. The distinguished playwright, author of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead and Travesties, is making his way entirely unmolested towards the entrance. “TOM! TOM!” I scream. Stoppard stops, looks over his shoulder to check that Tom Cruise is not behind him and makes his way towards my tape recorder. While the lady from FabGossip.com looks on bewildered, we chat about his last play, Rock’n’Roll, and about that piece’s treatment of the Syd Barrett myth.
Then, after joking that I am, surely, too young to appreciate the Stones, he swivels on his heel. Well, that’ll do nicely. I came to the red carpet and interviewed Sir Tom Stoppard. I’m from The Irish Times, you know.