John McEntee: Posse of minders make the job of journalists next to impossible
After crossing swords with an unhelpful manager, John McEntee is nostalgic for a life before 'handlers'
In the dawn of my ramshackle journalistic career, I was dispatched one morning from Burgh Quay to the end of O'Connell Street to share breakfast with John Wayne.
At the Gresham Hotel there were no minders, no handlers, no publicists, no managers. No one, in fact, to impede the legendary Hollywood star when he emerged from the lift to greet me, a total stranger, in the lobby.
It was 1974. John was making a turkey of a detective movie called Brannigan in London and had taken two days off to fly to Dublin --his first visit to Ireland since making The Quiet Man with John Ford and Maureen O'Hara in Cong, Co Mayo, more than two decades before.
His reasons for making the pilgrimage were two-fold --to renew acquaintances with Lord Killanin, who had become a friend after Ford made his first overseas movie for Republic in Co Mayo, and also to buy a baineen jacket similar the one he had worn in The Quiet Man.
I recall this delightful encounter with the legendary Mr Wayne to contrast it with the ludicrous current procedure surrounding so-called stars. All are now encumbered with a posse of BlackBerry-clutching, retainers determined to emphasis their role by filtering access to what they describe as 'The Talent'.
Last Tuesday at London's Dorchester Hotel I came face to face with this breed at the Sky Arts South Bank Awards Lunch hosted by an old friend, Melvyn Bragg. Lord Bragg had assembled an extraordinary array of talent ranging from the reclusive Kate Bush to Tom Jones, Tom Stoppard, Dominic West, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, Joanna Trollope, Zoe Wanamaker and Jane Asher, to name a few.
My mission was to grab as many of the luminaries as I could for a quick soundbite on the subject of 'The Greatest Day of My Life'. At the champagne reception beforehand, during the lunch and at the after party I managed to get splendid contributions from most of those mentioned
above, as well as Brenda Blethyn, Twiggy and Howard Jacobson.
At the pudding stage I spotted Tom Jones slipping out of the ballroom with Kate Bush --now an extraordinarily well- nourished lady of 53. They were to pose for a photo together in the lobby. As they preened themselves I approached Tom, who happily started recalling The Greatest Day of His Life. Then a bearded and bespectacled figure pushed between us. Not unlike a clerk selling stamps at the old GPO, he demanded to know who I was. I explained. He then revealed he was Mark Jones, manager of his famous dad. He wasn't pleasant and snapped that my conversation with Tom had not been scheduled and had to be terminated. Tom was still spouting on and I continued to listen. Jones Junior bristled. Then I turned to Kate Bush and asked her, "Kate, what was the greatest day of your life?"
As her mouth opened like a Lough Erne pike to respond, Jones minor, 55, bustled me away. "This is not permitted. This has not been agreed," he pontificated. Kate was gone faster than a roly poly Linford Christie.
I was furious and addressed young Jones (Tom had also evaporated).
"I quote the old Scotland Yard adage. 'You have given me every possible assistance short of actual help'," I said.
Blinking and bristling at the same time, he took offence and squared up to me. "Right," he declared, "I can trade obscenities with anyone. Go on, go on."
"You, you, you...," I blustered. "You Welsh toadstool."
He replied with something unprintable.
"If you hadn't a famous father," I barked, "you'd be selling Happy Meals in Pontypridd."
"Right, right," he retorted. "You're drunk, have another drink."
He repeated this mantra at least twice before heading back towards the ballroom. Moments later he re-emerged and marched up to me. "Give me your card!"
I replied in the negative. "Give me your card!" he repeated. Inhaling air into my six- foot-two Co Cavan bogman frame, I replied, sweetly. "Just put me down as an Irish chancer."
In the current anti-journalistic mood abroad here, it's odds on I'll shortly be up before Lord Levenson's inquisition to explain myself!