An A to Z of Writing part 6


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My Night With Terry Gilliam

If you imagine the microphone is a glass of champagne and that I am standing nearby and that Terry Gilliam is within spitting distance then this is an exact recreation of part of this story.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to win NFM’s 30 second film competition, with a short cartoon about a talking vegetable. This just goes to show that it’s good to have a short cartoon about a talking vegetable handy for occasions such as this. The prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to London to attend the National Film and Television School Great British Comedy Event in London on the 8th of June.

I didn’t know much about the event, except that Terry Gilliam would be there, and now so would I. The chance to be in the same room as Terry Gilliam! I might meet him! What would I do? Perhaps I could shout over: “Keep making those films, Terry!” as a form of encouragement, or if I got a bit closer perhaps I could kiss him. I wasn’t making any firm plans as I sat daydreaming on the train journey there, but it is good to think through various contingencies just in case.

I got to the hotel and put on my suit: black shirt, black tie. I was looking swish! A friendly thank-you kiss from a swish-looking man would mean more to Mr Gilliam, I thought, so I was really making an effort.

What I didn’t realise until I got to the venue was that I was entering comedy celebrity heaven. There were Charlie Brooker, Adrian Edmondson and Jennifer Saunders milling around at the entrance. This was a bit overwhelming, if I’m honest. The Comic Strip were my punk rock in the 1980’s – comedy heroes and a lifelong inspiration. I caught my breath, wiped away a single tear and walked round the corner to find myself in the midst of a living Heat magazine photo spread. Celebrities everywhere, standing around and chatting in the evening sun outside Billingsgate Market, surrounded by some very swish-looking waiting staff handing out free champagne. It was very glamourous. The staff really were looking swish. Exactly as swish as me, in fact: they were wearing black shirts and black ties too. Luckily I was wearing a jacket, which at least meant I looked like I might be in charge of them.

I wandered round in a bit of a daze. I hadn’t eaten yet, at all, so I figured I’d best go easy on the champagne, but I am from the North and so genetically programmed to say “yes please” every time someone asks “would you like a top-up?”, just in case they don’t ask again. They asked a lot of times, as it happens, but I wasn’t to know that.

I saw Terry Jones and Michael Palin walking around as though they were mere humans. I saw Paul Merton and Ian Hislop. I saw Nick Ross. I saw what probably used to be Anne Robinson but is now a kind of plastic, smiling cyborg. I stood next to Duncan Bannatyne because someone once told me I looked like him. We have similar hair but he was not looking as swish as me. I shook hands with Daily Mail showbiz reporter and film reviewer Baz Bamigboye because it seemed like a funny thing to do at the time.

About 10 minutes in I was suffering a bit from jaw-drop fatigue and so decided it was probably time for a cigarette. Now, cigarettes are VERY BAD FOR YOU INDEED, I know that, you don’t have to tell me that, but all I will say is that if I hadn’t sat down for a ciggie in the middle of this swanky soiree I would never have got chatting to Jo Brand. And because I got chatting with Jo Brand I suddenly felt like I was part of the party. Lots of people wanted to talk to Jo Brand, and politeness meant they had to talk to me too. Which is how I got a little kiss off Claire Balding, got to tell Rebecca Front that she is awesome and made some suggestions to the Head of Sky One about US comedy shows he should take a look at. He asked how to spell “Xavier: Renegade Angel” and “Wonder Showzen” as he typed them into his Blackberry. Yeah, boy! For 45 minutes before dinner I was a player. Jo Brand told everybody we were having an affair. I’m pretty sure we’re not, but then celebrities do things differently to us so who knows, maybe we are? Even if we’re not, I have to say a big “thank you” to her because she was just bloody lovely and friendly and made me feel like I belonged there.

The rest of the night is a bit of a blur. The food was lovely but tiny, like the pretty little babies of an actual meal. And there was wine, I remember the wine. Two or three different flavours of it, I remember that. There was a charity auction at which an original script for Life of Brian went for £10,000. Cheap, if you ask me. And the people round my table were lovely, and I accidentally did a bit of that networking stuff, so it was all good.

At some point I wandered out for another cigarette, and there, 15 metres away from me, was Mr Terry Gilliam. My heart leapt a little, it really did. He was in Monty Python and he made Time Bandits and Brazil, you know. But he was talking into his mobile phone. And then he stopped doing that and walked quickly and with determination back inside through a special deities-only door. I watched him go, then looked round to see if there was anyone else about. There was, but what the hell: I blew a little kiss after him. I had to. He was in Monty Python and he made Time Bandits and Brazil, you know.

Thank you, NFM, for a brilliant night out. I’m having an affair with Jo Brand, kind of, and I got to kiss Terry Gilliam, kind of. And I’ve learned some lessons, too: 1) keep a short cartoon featuring a talking vegetable handy at all times, 2) cigarettes are good for you 3) I don’t look like Duncan Bannatyne at all, and finally, 4) there’s a special kind of thrill that comes with leaving an event and hearing your name shouted, and you turn and it’s someone off the telly running over and asking you if you’ve enjoyed the evening. I’d tell you who it was but I don’t want to make Jo jealous.