The greatest celebrities I’ve ever met

Celebrity has been with us for about 30 years now and it’s gone from strength to strength. From the very first famous person, helicopter pilot Jan-Michael Vincent, to bleached female cyborg Yazz, through the glory days of diminutive real-life wizard Harold Potter, celebrity has brought us many minutes of enjoyment.

There’s nothing more exciting than meeting a celebrity. I mean it’s way better than getting married, or becoming a parent, or running a marathon, or successfully pulling off a bank heist. It’s simply great.

And in my four decades plus, I have met my fair share of celebrities.

Now I’m not talking about planned engagements like my sit-down interviews with Irish laugh manufacturer Ed Byrne or the sadly-deceased former Minister Seamus Brennan. And I’m not talking about my incidental brush on a staircase with INXS or a casual “hello” on Dame Street with satirical comedian Hugh Dennis.

I’m talking about unexpected meetings with celebrity, rendezvous that were not foreseen and therefore left me little time to plan my palaver in advance.

So what is a “famous” person?

Famous people are defined as “someone what’s been on the TV or the radio or in the newspaper but not for reasons of murder or stealing or advertising of the Subway Diet”.

So without further ado, here are my top five unexpected brushes with celebrity.

#1

When? 1986Maurice Pratt

Who was it!? Maurice Pratt

Who? The most famous marketing director of 1980s supermarket chain, Quinnsworth.

How’d you meet him? They wheeled him in to our school to do presentations on sports day. He presented me with tennis medals I’d won earlier on in my career (1984 and 1985).

What do you remember? I still remember his marketing director-like professionalism as he shook my hand. I was, of course, blown away by meeting a celebrity like him at such a young age. He offered me a sweet deal on those fat pens with four different coloured inks too.

#2

When? 1993Justin Edinburgh

Who was it!? Justin Edinburgh

Who? Tottenham’s floppy-haired full back from yesteryear.

How’d you meet him? I was sitting in the crowd at a Tottenham pre-season friendly in Drogheda and he was in the row ahead of me.

What do you remember? I reached over and in my most polite voice asked him to sign my program. He did so while chewing gum in a manner than only cocky Grange Hill characters used to be able to. So Justin can write and chew gum at the same time. I lost the program but I remember his signature being quite dramatic and among the most impressive I’d witnessed at that time.

Here’s Justin getting sent off in a cup final for bitch-slapping a girl.

#3

When? 2002Richie Moran

Who was it!? Richie Moran

Who? Former footballer who played fleetingly for third division Birmingham City in 1990.

How’d you meet him? Through mutual friends in an English bar in Christchurch, New Zealand.

What do you remember? Having a great booze up with him. Well, until he shoved a short Scottish guy off a tall stool for addressing him as “boy”. Given Richie’s documented recounting of the racism he encountered as a player, perhaps it’s understandable why he took this Scottish colloquialism the wrong way. Richie regaled us with tales about Lou Macari and John Barnes and it was a lot of fun.  He subsequently wrote a book about his travels but I did not read it so I don’t know if he mentioned me. Probably not.

#4

When? 2008John Morrison

Who was it!? The Miz and John Morrison

Who? Only one of the hottest acts of the day in WWE sports entertainment.

How’d you meet them? Well I had to hang out drinking with the WWE head of security for six hours in a Stuttgart hotel bar.

What do you remember? Morrison and The Miz strutted in to the hotel lobby at about 4am, excitedly rambling on and on to their security guy, before Morrison stops mid sentence, points at me and says “Wait. Who the fuck are you?”. He then proceeded to offer me a signed photo before the pair made their way to the elevators to pack for their 6am flight.


#5

When? 2008Whitford Kramer

Who was it!? Brad Whitford and Joey Kramer

Who? Two thirds of the under-appreciated part of Aerosmith.

How’d you meet them? A friend in the know brought us to the London hotel where the band were staying ahead of their 2008 Hyde Park gig.

What do you remember? We met the rock veterans at the top of a staircase. Brad was very nice, chatting to our friends young daughter and making her day/year/decade. I tried to engage Joey in a cute story about how they were playing a few miles from my Dublin home next week but even though I could hear them from my bedroom I still bought a ticket. He looked at me stony faced and refused to shake my outstretched hand.

Since all celebrities are brilliant, my assumption is that this was not actually the real Joey.


JaredBut I’m only 41.  So I probably have another 10, 20, 30, 7 years left. Who knows?

I have plenty of time to meet more celebrities. If you are famous and would like to go for a pint, let me know. Not you, Jared.

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[Movie Review] The Condemned

The CondemnedStarring: Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones, Robert Mammone, Tory Mussett, Rick Hoffman

Director: Scott Wiper

Genre: Action

Cert: 18

Released: 2007

Dropping ten death row inmates on an island and giving them thirty hours to slaughter each other sounds like it’s the last thing that network television would choose to cover. With that in mind the only choice for TV producer Ian Breckel (Robert Mammone) is to put it out live on the Internet. His target is to get a Superbowl-level audience of forty million to cough up to $50 each for the privilege of seeing these condemned men and women kill each other, with the last person standing receiving their freedom and a pocketful of cash.

Jack Conrad (former wrestler, Steve Austin), on death row in an El Salvadorian prison, is chosen after he batters the Arab prisoner that Breckel initially selected in a bid to please his Middle East demographic. Conrad, billed falsely as a KKK member and bomber of a school for handicapped children, joins Ewan McStarley (Vinnie Jones), Kreston Mackie (footballer Marcus Johnson), wrestler Nathan Jones and six other men and women, all of whom have bombs strapped to their legs.  If you can’t kill your nemesis with your fists or a weapon then you can activate the bomb and make use of the ten second delay to escape its blast.

While the assembled criminals fight for survival, the FBI seem unclear how to track down Breckel’s illegal game. Special Agent Wilkins (Sullivan Stapleton) manages to identify Conrad and uncovers information about his former lover, Sarah (Madeleine West). Sarah hasn’t seen Jack in over a year and immediately logs on to the site so she can watch the slaughter for herself. Yeah…let’s just leave it at that and get on with the critique.

When World Wrestling Entertainment decided that producing movies was a natural extension to their sporting soap opera, hopes were probably not very high at the outset. Even with that in mind, “The Condemned” is a failure on just about every level.

Movies can require a level of ‘suspension of disbelief’ but “The Condemned” asks for far more than is realistic. For a start, it seems completely ridiculous to suggest that the FBI would be unable to use modern tracking techniques to locate where this vast network is running from. I mean they roughly, kind-of-know but the sub-plot amounts to three C-list actors looking tense in a fairly nicely furnished office. Are you telling me that an intelligence agency, responsible for investigating highly organised terrorist gangs around the globe, would not have noticed tonnes of television equipment being shipped to an island? And, independent of that, they couldn’t have the site shut down?

The entire nerve center, a mass of TV screens and television production equipment run by Breckel, technicians Goldman (Rick Hoffman), Eddie (Christopher Baker) and Breckel’s reluctant girlfriend Julie (Tory Mussett), is located on the island too. Perhaps there is not much wrong with that but the fact that finding it for Conrad was about as hard as putting on a pair of shoes indicates that not a lot of thought was put in to Breckel’s master plan. Sure, they try and paint over the cracks by having Conrad block his GPS and be a bit wily but, trust me, it’s lazy and – in the context of the film – absurd.

Director Scott Wiper, whose previous directing outings have barely registered and all of which he has starred in, attempts some social commentary along the lines of how it is us, the audience, who are in fact “the condemned” for wanting to watch the show. That’s all well and good but it’s the ham-fisted manner in which this message is delivered which raises jaded sighs rather than wide-eyed realisation. It’s bad enough that Conrad’s friends gather in a bar to cheer him on but to rubber stamp it with a reporter Donna Sereno’s editorial on the same subject is a case of a director ignoring the golden rule of “show, don’t tell”.

Aside from Breckel talking about the Internet like it’s 1996, the dialogue is actually okay in parts. It’s clear early on though that witty répartie is not safe in the hands of the unskilled “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. I could imagine Bruce Willis being able to raise a laugh by revealing that the reason he blew up a building is because it was “blocking his sun”. Austin just says it.  He doesn’t have a lot to say but one-liners are not his forté. Vinnie Jones, who impressed me in the only “proper” acting role I’ve seen him in (“The Riddle“), resorts to cartoonish villain here and it’s painful.

The fight scenes are pasasble but the camera darts around too much for us to really work out how good, or otherwise, the choreography is. Some of the transitions between scenes don’t feel right either.  You are left feeling like you missed something – maybe not something of consequence but just a small set-up scene that makes the narration seem more cohesive.

Needless to say, not a great piece of work.  Obvious reference point here is Battle Royale.  Watch that instead.

3star

The big kid inside us all

I know yis all think that I’m a big fool for getting a kick out of wrestling, but as a young male with a leaning towards macho cock-rock, it’s hard not to be drawn to the ass-kicking soap opera that is WWE in one form or another. Debates will always rage as to what the attraction is and how this worldwide phenomenon can turn sensible, mature young men in to rabid, screaming twelve year olds again. The thing that critics don’t seem to understand about wrestling is that the whole thing is not meant to be taken seriously. Leaving aside the more intelligently-challenged fans (most of whom inhabit small towns in West Virginia I’m told), no fans take it any more seriously than they do a TV show, with a touch of sport-allegiance thrown in. We know it’s not real, that it’s scripted and choreographed. We understand that when Kat and Alfie broke up in Eastenders they were just acting – but it didn’t stop us from getting emotionally involved in the characters and their storyline. It’s the same principal.

My point is, that WWE is a live-action soap opera that is just as valid an entertainment vehicle as a TV soap.

The over-the-top storylines range from brilliantly entertaining to deadly banal and/or stupid. Eastenders and Coronation Street have always thrived despite having stupid storylines and boring characters mingling with the good and the great. WWE tells a story using events and characters. Some characters sit in the background for a long time before their popularity with viewers sees them thrust in to a main storyline. Some characters are pushed on us by the writers because they like them and have an idea for them that they want to share – sometimes it works, sometimes it don’t. Sometimes storylines don’t make sense, or sometimes they’re so bad that they’ll be buried by the writers by making a character disappear for a short while hoping that fans forget.

The paragraph above could apply to either WWE or a TV soap. The outrageous antics, over-acting, costumes and makeup, female titillation, excited crowds, hard-rock music and strobe effects are another side of the show and what helps make it unique. Okay so you either ‘get it’ or you don’t. What bugs me is the self-righteous, narrow-minded people who think that because they are not in to it or don’t understand it (of course since they are of superior intellect, they do of course understand that it is just rubbish), it gives them a right to question the sanity and/or intelligence of the millions over the age of 16 who do.

To once again compare TV soaps to WWE, as you get older your interest in it changes. The advent of the Internet in the early-90s brought what they call ‘dirt sheets’ to the masses. Sites like http://www.pwtorch.com thrive by reporting not just the on-camera, in-ring news but also the behind-the-scenes news and rumours that are probably just as intriguing. The political wrangling that goes on backstage adds another dimension to what you’re watching. For example top stars like Triple H, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels are, or have been, infamous for using their position and power behind the scenes to maintain their top positions within the company. The amount of discussion and rumour that comes from a simple thing like Triple H marrying the boss’s daughter (Stephanie McMahon) is the oil that keeps the wheel turning.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg because I wouldn’t know where to stop. So just take a peek over at the PW Torch site and read some of the columns and postings to find out what I’m talking about.

The point is that last week myself and my brother went to see the WWE Smackdown brand perform at The Point in Dublin – the second of two sold out nights (two nights that sold out in combined ‘minutes’). It wasn’t cheap (about 70EUR) and it wasn’t really like TV (basic decoration, no pyros – although the Point would not be suitable for it perhaps). But they put on a three hour show and the roster who were involved really did make a great effort to entertain everyone. It was funny without being juvenile and although a bit boring in parts, what show isn’t? Even you favourite band are boring at times.

I then listened to a radio debate on the way home where the host, Adrian Kennedy, patronised and condescended WWE fans by calling it nonsense and not even knowing (or at least claiming not to know) what the initials WWE stood for, behaving unprofessionally and showing a complete lack of respect for the topic at hand. We’re not talking about some sort of pedophilia organisation here. He brought on some guy then that claimed his son had broken his neck while doing a wrestling move and used this as a springboard for an attack on wrestling fans in general. The focus of his argument was not on how dangerous it was (a debate in itself) but rather that people who indulged in it as a pastime were simple and a bit pathetic.

I’m afraid the only pathetic thing about it all is that being complete ignorant on a subject, as Adrian Kennedy and the mouthy sidekicks he wheeled on to the show that night, gives you free reign to cricitise and make no attempt to understand. It would be equivalent to me coming on a radio show and slagging off opera because it bores me to tears. “Some fat woman screaming her lungs out in Italian? Is that it?” But then again I’ve had to listen to people slag off heavy metal since I was 15 so my shoulders should be broad enough by now.

We live in a world though where the lowest common denominator isn’t defined by what people are in to, but rather how people react to what they’re not.

Show some tolerance, it doesn’t cost anything. For those of you with any quality of character, the pictures from our enjoyable night out are at http://www.clubi.ie/grizmond/misc/wwe0405.htm.