From the Ice Bar to the Dole Age

•October 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Like most of my generation I grew up being sternly warned that money “doesn’t grow on trees” only to find that – surprise! It did. When you heard people going on about unemployment or the bad old days of the ‘80s they may as well have been talking about the Famine. The whole idea was that distant and irrelevant to us. Being just poor seemed so…old fashioned.
But now I’m looking at a bleak adulthood of belt tightening and it scares me. I was never inoculated against poverty. Even a small dose of it could kill me. I’m not hardy enough for recession. I’ve never had a “real” job and I’m pretty sure that ‘writer/hack living on his wits’ could be one of the first categories of boats to sink in the low tide of bad debts. We’re sort of more dispensable, economically speaking, than say, doctors or engineers.
And it’s starting already. This week my new bank politely declined to give me a credit card. The lady handling my application gave me a tight little smile as though I personally were responsible for the mortgage crisis. I’ve also been trying to budget: shiny toilet paper, walking instead of taxis, making sandwiches for lunch. I decided not to have blinds installed in my new apartment on the grounds that I was never likely to be naked or having sex in the kitchen. The horrors of recession are many.
Of course it doesn’t help that everyone over the age of 35 in Ireland is secretly delighted that there is a recession. Because it puts an end to the “madness” of house price rises and everyone thinking they were rich (when in fact the only ones who were really rich were the ones who could bear to part with their cash – i.e. the young). Also they love it because it teaches people like me, who fecklessly assumed that there’d always be plenty, that there was life before fake tans, Abercrombie and Fitch and the Dundrum Shopping Centre. My mother sent me an email this week, smugly noting that she wasn’t one bit worried because “we all got along just fine before frappucinos”, the whole implication being that a bit of penny pinching might be cleansing for the soul. “But I need my Frapuccino”, I wept. “With chocolate sprinkles”. And my soul doesn’t want improving penury. It wants a flat screen TV and 800 thread count sheets. And the thought that my apartment – the only thing I really own – is not some kind of diligent cash cow, working hard while I waste time chatting online, just kills me.
What makes this worse than the ‘80s is that there’s no place to escape to. You can’t just “take the boat” to somewhere like England or America and get drunk on the floor of an Irish bar until the storm passes, like in the old days. For one thing, it is their bloody fault we’re having a recession in the first place. And for another after so long in namby pampy office jobs and extended education, none of even know how to work in pubs or building sites any more. I’m writing this in New York and the bankers are practically throwing themselves out of windows over here. I’ve noticed that at the moment Americans actually prefer the word “Depression,” they’re settling in for the long haul. Also, I’ve checked and being poor here is nothing like ‘RENT’ or ‘Friends.’ You don’t get to live in a huge, brightly coloured loft directly opposite your best mate’s huge brightly coloured loft. It’s more like: rat infested basement studio in Brooklyn with six locks on the door. I started out with Great Expectations but I suspect now that I am now one interest rate rise away from wandering barefoot through Time Square singing “boy, boy for sale, going cheap, only seven guineas.”
If there is a silver lining to the dawn of this new dole age it’s that maybe it will now finally be acceptable not to work. The boom meant naturally lazy people like me had to get a job: there was no excuse. Now we can just give a little what-can-we-do? shrug and settle back for a life of benefits, daytime television and barely getting by. Just surviving will be enough. If anyone asks we can blame the recession, like they did in the 80s. And we can pretend to future generations that it was really hard, that standing in a queue until the government gave us money was something that we had to suffer so that they could have a better life.
But that sage, I-survived-the-Second-Great-Depression wisdom is a long time in the future. The present will be taken up slowly weaning myself off spur-of-the-moment holidays, glossy property supplements and organic, handcrafted everything. And I’m already getting the shakes and feeling scared. Hold me?


A summer on Fire Island

•October 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

By the time I was 19 I couldn’t handle another endless summer in Ireland. I was still living at home, there was scarcely a fast food outlet in Dublin that hadn’t fired me and I had so many ketchup sodden uniforms that there was a real danger that one day I’d just lose it and wear my Pizza Hut pinafore to my job as Bewley’s coffee wench.
So like all frustrated young men I went online. I googled the words “beach” “gay” and “job” and a smorgasbord of resorts in America popped up. Obviously I went for the one which seemed the most debauched. Fire Island looked sort of like the Playboy Mansion with twinks instead of bunnies and because (weirdly) it was also listed in USIT’s student guide I was able to convince my parents that it was faintly respectable.
My first clue that this wasn’t going to be a normal job was the management request that I send in a picture of myself “wearing shorts and a t-shirt” along with my application. Some people might have seen such a demand and suspected some kind of people trafficking outfit but I was more flattered than anything when they said they’d take me. My attitude was, ‘who cares if they take my passport and force me into a life of slavery; at least they noticed my pecs’.
After a plane to New York, a train ride to the westerly tip of long Island and a ferry ride I landed on Fire Island. It was as beautiful as advertised. There were no roads, only little wooden walkways and at the waterside café rich gays sat sipping gigantic cocktails and wiping traces of cocaine from their noses. Strains of Cher drifted from the speakers. I ran down to the beach and jumped in the turquoise sea.
That would be my last swim for a while. Remember the poor old man in the video for ‘Shiny Happy People’? The one who does all the pedalling while Michael Stipe and friends bop out front? Well I was going to be the underpaid pedaller that kept this godforsaken gay Hampton moving.
After drying off and enduring the catcalls at my lack of a tan I was brought down to be introduced to my new boss. John White was the first male fashion model in the world to earn over 100k a year but by the time I stood shivering before him he had become a sort of gay Citizen Kane and sat around counting his own money. Under the watchful eye of his harpy-in-chief, Megan, I started my first day with a 16-hour shift after which I was pronounced a “huge disappointment” (I think I’d sold Bewley’s as “five star waiter experience”). I didn’t even know how to swipe a credit card.
Despite my general uselessness Karen had no problem working me to the bone. In her nasal “Lawngk Island” whine she would give me little lectures about how she herself had three jobs – one of these was doorman at the local nightclub and she wouldn’t let me in if I had a shift the next morning – and how “I wasn’t in Ireland now.” My ‘colleagues’ – a motley crew of hustlers, grifters and disused actors – weren’t much help. If they felt I was flagging on a shift or feeling annoyed because a patron called me “boy” (as in: “get over here boy”) they’d offer me “a bump.” Ketamine is packed with vitamins and minerals, apparently.
Fire Island is divided into separate gay and lesbian communities (actually there’s some straight areas too but they’re tucked discreetly away) and the differences were instructive. In the lesbian area – Cherry Grove – the houses are little Hansel and Gretal-ish wooden huts, still not quite finished and just crying out for a few home repairs. In the Pines, where A-gays like Calvin Klein and David Geffen spend their summers, the places are more like Barbie Dream Homes. Nobody touches a carb after noon and the little convenience store sells such essentials as lubricant and caviar. These two areas were divided down by the infamous “meat rack” – a place where men got biblical, al fresco. I lived in the Grove but worked in the Pines so I had to run this gauntlet nightly. When you’ve been serving burgers for 18 hours an orgy is really the last thing you want to see.
I somehow survived the Fourth of July and The Invasion – an annual contingent of drag queens who take over the Pines for one day – but with Labor Day fast approaching Megan finally gave me my marching orders. I was given one night to leave “steerage” (fittingly named after the 3rd class quarters in the Titanic). The boat left Fire Island in the dead of night and I vowed never again to set foot in a gay resort.
John White died a couple of years after that and a conglomerate of young businessmen inherited the meat rack and the Barbie dream homes. Ten years later I’m also back in New York and a friend of mine wants us to take “a share” in a house on the island this summer. The plan was to make a triumphant return to the restaurant I worked at and lord it over my former slavemistress, perhaps leaving a large tip to show how far I’d come in the world and that there were no hard feelings. That was before the crash. Now I’m just hoping that the bed bugs are not as bad in steerage. And that I can still pull off those shorts.


•October 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment


Hudson River First Person

•February 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

This first appeared in the Life Magazine of the Sunday Independent on February 8, 2009.

Come Armageddon, come.

You know you’ve become a hardened New Yorker when your block is more or less surrounded by emergency crews and people are running past the door looking panicked and instead of thinking “Al Qaeda!,” or “I have to tell my family I love them!” you just calmly steeple your fingers and wonder if this means you won’t have to do any work today.
That was pretty much how I felt when I got wind that a plane had landed in the Hudson River about 500 feet from my apartment. My mother had been right all along it seemed: Osama Bin Laden had indeed picked “the one year I came to Manhattan” for his follow up attack. But there was no point in worrying about that now. I may as well lay back and enjoy the trippy high of some A Grade nerve gas.
But then I remembered the protocol for a 9/11 style disaster is to get outside where it’s dangerous and film everything with your mobile phone. It could be broadcast later on TV, with the tagline “amateur footage” excusing your shaky hands. And putting my personal safety above the needs of CNN would be to let the terrorists win.
As I cautiously came out onto the street it really didn’t look like some nuclear winter was imminent. There were the kids from the local school, buying their drugs as usual. An expensive little dog in a designer coat was taking a dump on the subway grate and being scolded by his “mommy.” Basically life at the heart of the known universe was continuing as normal.
I began strolling west toward the river, my camera phone poised in case any turban-wearing maniacs should appear overhead. It was freezing and I was feeling like a front line reporter, ready to address the camera with suitable gravitas; a low budget Anderson Cooper.
As I got closer to the water there were already banks and banks of camera crews and reporters (which had of course gotten there before the emergency services). But these were just the front wave of a sea of people, brandishing their cameras in the air as though at a U2 concert. Unfortunately there was very little to film. Faintly in the distance you could make out the plane bobbing and the passengers on the wing, some terrified, some perhaps wondering who would play them in the movie of this event. Somebody was brought up from the river wearing a blanket and was instantly surrounded by a million notepads and microphones being waved in his face. Then it turned out he was just some homeless guy wearing a blanket. Because it was cold. Somebody with a headset shouted, “Cut away from him!”
There was a general air of disappointment as “geese in the engine” passed down the line to me like Chinese whispers. Geese. That sounded like something kind of Looney Tunes malfunction, not something with Osama Bin Laden’s dastardly fingerprints all over it. Everyone had been hoping for something a bit more apocalyptic, a bit more ‘Day After Tomorrow’. We were going to be footnotes in the news of 2009, possibly forgotten by the inauguration.
It was also looking less and less likely that we were going to be hailed as heroes just for stoically living here. No plaque would be erected to the plucky immigrant journalist who bravely stopped watching ‘Tool Academy’ on MTV and left his midtown apartment just so he could go down to the water and wave his Blackberry in the direction of New Jersey. Certainly post traumatic stress disorder would be implausible. Unless the geese turned out to be Islamo-fascists trained suicide drones we were probably all going to have to go back to work tomorrow. No looting, no running, no movie. What a sh**ty circus.
All of which is to say I and everyone I know were of course thrilled that everything turned out all right in the end. The pilot of that plane was a true American hero, and so what if he wasn’t one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. If anyone deserves his own primetime slot on CNN it’s him, not me. And if we are to erect a plague let it be to the dozen or so noble geese who died that we might live.
Anyway we’ll get our Armageddon soon enough. Depending on which television station you watch here it will either be the End of Days, an Inconvenient Truth-esque tidal wave or something to do with the Middle East. They threaten me with all three but whichever it is I can hardly wait. In the meantime I can only sniff the air hopefully. Maybe that is anthrax after all. Or maybe it’s just the smell of sewage and hotdogs.

Tommy Hilfiger interview

•February 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

In the Avery Fisher Hall of the Lincoln Centre on Manhattan’s Upper West Side it’s 4 hours to Showtime and there is a distinct frisson of tension in the air. Severely made-up women hiss last minute instructions into headpieces and an army of caterers hurriedly arrange delicate little morsels (which nobody touches) onto silver trays. A tizzy of stylists nervously flit back and forth, their heels seemingly powered by mini jets. There are banks of alter-like make up tables upon which rest gigantic bouquets of white roses. This is Tommy Hilfiger’s war room and for one night only, the rather fraught focal point of New York’s fashion week.
On a balcony above the perfumey tumult, perched on a high stool amid a cluster of lamps sits the man himself. Lean, chicly sockless and dressed in a slim fitting navy suit of his own design he sighs thoughtfully at the awful significance of today’s date – September 11 – but chooses to dwell on the positive. “Of course I was here that day too and it was a terrible time for all New Yorkers, especially those who lost their lives or those who lost loved ones. I was uptown and I can clearly remember the shock and the terror. You never know when something like that is going to happen. I was living on Central Park West. I saw the second tower collapse. But today is a new day….we have a wonderful space here. And it will be a great show.”
Today is also a more jarring personal anniversary in the Hilfiger calendar. It was six months ago at his Spring Show in New York, which took place in this very hall, that his then fiancée, Dee Ocleppo, first paraded her diamond engagement ring before the cream of New York society. The wedding between the designer and the statuesque blonde, who had been previously linked to Prince Albert of Monaco and Bruce Willis, was to happen in two parts. Firstly there was to be a “simple” no-guests wedding on the island of Mustique followed by a gigantic party this month (sub note: October) at Manhattan’s Plaza Hotel, at which they would be celebrated by friends like Harvey Weinstein, Vera Wang and Anna Wintour.
And then, without warning, in early August, the announcement came that the nuptials were off and the couple were separating. The split was initially reported to be amicable but the online rumour mill had them wrangling over everything from money to honeymoon destinations. He smiles, when I bring it up, as though suddenly remembering a long forgotten holiday that had fallen through because of inclement weather. “Oh yes. Sure. It was just that I decided that it was awkward with so many kids in the equation (Hilfiger has four from a previous marriage, while Ocleppo has two) and that it was going to be complicated. It was both of our decisions. But you know what? We remain good friends, it was all very amicable. And in fact she is going to be here tonight.”
As one of the few heterosexual fashion designers in the industry Hilfiger would seem to have unique access to a bevy of lissom beauties to move on with but he gives a rueful would-that-I-could smile at the suggestion that he would in any way use this position to his advantage. “You know I would say I have the pleasure of working with some very beautiful women,” he begins, carefully measuring his words. “But there are certain kinds of men in their fifties who go chasing after young girls in their twenties and I would really never want to be that kind of man.”
In person Hilfiger is cool but friendly, mildly batting away each question before moving on. He gives quick, one-sentence answers, punctuating each swiftly made point with a beatific close-lipped smile. He is leanly worked out, exudes a Zen-like calm – the result, he tells me, of daily yoga sessions – and even in a room full of sleek, nattily attired Italian publicists his own personal style stands out. And yet this sartorial self-possession and sharply cut suit seems a million miles from the breezy preppiness and very conspicuous labelling of his brand. Today for obvious reasons he’s dressing up, he tells me. Most days he looks “more like you.” He notes with approval my Tommy shirt (“that will never go out of style”), fingers my jacket (“is this ours too?”) but agrees that he would never do anything so vulgar as flagrantly display a logo himself. “People wear logos because they’re looking for status,” he tells me. “I don’t want to call attention to myself.” And you don’t need status, I suggest. “Exactly.”
In fact it’s been a rough few years for his brand, although it’s shown strong signs of recovery recently. During the early 1990s the designer had managed the seemingly impossible, out Ralph Laurening Ralph Lauren and selling an even cleaner, preppier Hampton-ish glamour to the masses. For a while every mall in America was crowded with kids wearing Hilfiger’s designs. But then in the later part of that decade the brand strayed from the safe ground of crisp polo shirts and into the bolder and baggier fashions of the rap world. In the short term this was a boon for the company and, as the likes of Snoop Dogg and Coolio were seen in Hilfiger gear, the company’s share price soared to more than $40 a share. The Hilfiger band had reached its saturation point. With a mixture of pride and regret the designer now tells me it was “everywhere.”
But the music industry, particularly rap stars, are fickle in their tastes and as they abandoned the red, white and blue baggies, the company turned back to it’s core audience only to discover the prepsters had moved on. At one point the share price dropped to $6 a share. In 2005 the company was sold to a private equity firm, which was charged with turning around its flagging fortunes. They developed a new line, H, which was promoted by David Bowie and Iman but this never really took off and there were some who questioned whether the Hilfiger name could ever be returned to its former glory. Adding to his woes was an ‘Apprentice’-style show (in which he selected hopeful designers to work for him), which was quickly cancelled.
Throughout all this there was one sign of hope. It was noted that in Europe the Hilfiger name still enjoyed a certain level of cachet. Without a rap subculture to sully it, and his own public persona to muddy the waters his brand remained at more or less it’s pristine original level of exclusivity. It was recently decided that, just as in Britain and Ireland, the clothes would only be stocked in upmarket department stores in America and as of this summer Hilfiger rejected overtures from the likes of Wal-Mart and reached an exclusive agreement with Macy’s. “The product in the US was broader and more mainstream but in Europe it was more upper class” he tells me. “So we wanted to make it more like it was Europe. And so we got rid of all the big logos and made a collection that is today much more sophisticated and refined.”
If he doesn’t give the impression that the success of this strategy keeps him up at night it might be because a lifetime in fashion have taught him that it’s better to handle the inevitable ups with a degree of equanimity. Born 57 years ago in upstate New York he was the eldest of seven children and remembers that this meant he had to be “a sort of a parent” to his younger brothers and sisters. “My father was a watchmaker. We were working class. I had to oversee a lot of the goings on in the family and so I became very responsible. I helped bring them (his siblings) up.”
A slender preppy young man, his ironic nickname at school was “the bull”. “I was this big” he tells me, holding his thumb and forefinger a few inches apart, “my friend who was big was ‘the flea’ and I was ‘the bull’, so that was a little joke.” He was determined to play football, even if it meant getting hurt. “If you didn’t you were a wimp.”
By his own account his interest in clothing design sprung up almost from nowhere late in this sporty-preppy adolescence. At 18 he had a job in a shop selling “candles and beads, that sort of thing”. With just $150 to his name he bought a few pairs of jeans and began customising them. “I sold them to stores and they were very successful so I decided I would start designing jeans myself. And they did well.”
He would open his own store, The People’s Place, in upstate New York but with recession looming and the local buying public diverted to a new super mall, which had opened on the outskirts of the town, The People’s Place went bankrupt. Hilfiger was just 25 at that point and decided to move to New York City with his now estranged wife Susie, where he turned down jobs with Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis to start his own company. “It was a wild time. I was young and starting out. I was already known in the industry and had won a number of design awards but the wider public wouldn’t have been aware of me at all,” he remembers. This was not to be the case for long. In the mid 80s he founded The Tommy Hilfiger Corporation, opened his own store and debuted his signature menswear collection. Slowly, a polo short at a time, Hilfiger began a shake up of the fashion industry, pulling the cable-knit rug from under Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis and selling a sleeker, more modern preppiness to middle America. In 1992 the company went public and by the early part of this decade Hilfiger employed over 5,000 people. His empire expanded from clothes into watches, fragrances, gloves, socks, underwear. An entire Tommy lifestyle was available for purchase. “They were great years,” he tells me. “But there were tough times too. And you have to be able to handle the low spots, especially in this industry. You have to be very humble because you can never tell when everything is going to be taken from you. Even now I think of that even though we’re on a roll. You have to brace for those moments.”
One such moment came a few years ago as an internet rumour that Hilfiger had publicly said that Latins, African-Americans and other minorities were pulling down his brand image and really shouldn’t be wearing the clothes gathered some steam. “There are some things you can let slide,” he tells me “but this was something I felt I really needed to address”. He went on Oprah Winfrey and publicly rubbished the claims. “It was a very warm interview and I was incredibly grateful for Oprah giving me the opportunity to clear that up. It had gone on for years. I don’t know how it started.”
That Hilfiger was simply able to call Oprah up and ask for an audience gives an idea of his celebrity in America. The RSVP list to the show in a few hours includes Hillary Swank and by the late afternoon there is already a smattering of photographers prowling the sidewalk outside the Lincoln centre. Hilfiger’s children, who will be in attendance, are stars in their own rights now. His daughter, Ally, was featured on a sort of precursor ‘the Hills’, MTV’s Rich Girls (which, endearingly, revealed him as a bit of a doting pushover) and his son Rich Hil (the last two syllables jettisoned for coolness) is a hip-hop artist. Ally is now running her own vintage accessories business and has said she regretted making the show. Tommy tells me that it hasn’t always been a gilded passage for them. “Certainly my fame made things more difficult for them in a way. If you’re a known person in this country (America) certain people will try to tear you down, that’s just the way it is. You have to rise above some things.”
He’s said in the past that designers like himself and Ralph Lauren merely “download ideas onto people” and gives a little bemused smile at the idea that he might do his own sewing. “I’ve always been upfront about the fact that I’m a businessman and a designer. You know a lot of designers say ‘oh all of my ideas just come out of my head’ whereas I’ll tell people that I’m inspired by rock ‘n roll, by photography and by art. There’s no huge secret to it.”
He has a quiet day-to-day he tells me. He lives on Park Avenue in Manhattan and sees his children off to work before taking his yoga class – “for fitness and relaxation”. He then makes the short trip to his office in Chelsea on the door of which there hangs a $37,000 pair of jeans, which were once worn by Marilyn Monroe. “I am happy,” he tells me brightly, when I wonder if this has been a tough summer. “I feel better than I did in my forties. I’ve a lot to be grateful for.”
He remains on his perch after I depart, serenely watching the frenetic preparations below him. By the time I return a few hours later a well-heeled Manhattan crowd have already mostly taken their seats in a long, multi tiered room. The men wear brightly coloured bow ties, waistcoats and are conspicuously sockless. The women are immaculately coiffed and wear panoply of designers but nothing that looks like it might have been pulled from the rack at Macy’s. Nowhere but nowhere is the famous Tommy Hilfiger crest to be seen. (I realise that I have committed a major fashion faux pas and discreetly pull my jacket closer to my status-hungry chest). The sounds of George Michael singing ‘Jesus To A Child’ wafts from the speakers and a bank of photographers train their lenses on the celebrities here gathered. There is a quiet hum of conversation, which gives way to a small commotion down one end of the room as the svelte forms of Julianne Moore, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Helena Christiansen take their seats. A few mortals further along Pharrell Williams sits, his earrings glinting in the evening light. In terms of magnetism Anna Wintour in the front row, seems to trump them all. Her huge black shades glare out like some sci-fi robot. In one swift moment the room around the shades goes black and the show begins.
The models strut down the runway, staring straight ahead with dead eyes, and as promised by Tommy there is not a hoodie or rugby shirt in sight. Princess coats, sheath dresses and tunic tops over wide trousers recall the boomer years with the palette of red whites and blues the only link with the brand’s immediate past. It’s classic Hilfiger Americana; fun, youthful, steeped in nostalgia. At the end he emerges beaming, walks half the runway proffering an impish little wave to the gathered cognoscenti. Within moments people are already filing out of the Lincoln Centre into the warm night air, forsaking the free champagne. This is New York fashion week and there are a lot of shows to get to.

Brad Pitt

•February 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment


The sun is setting over LA and the paparazzi outside my Hollywood hotel have been waiting since early morning.

I occasionally go to the window and rustle the curtains just to tease them a little but in fact their lenses are trained several floors above my room where, in the penthouse suite, Brad and Angelina are possibly making mad passionate love and/or having a good laugh about Jennifer Aniston‘s catty outburst, which that very week has been wall-to-wall tabloid news.

I try to get the low-down from the Mexican room service guy who somewhat makes up for the fact that coffee and a sandwich cost 60 quid by telling me that Brad had oatmeal and orange juice and left a good tip. I was hoping for something a little wilder, that perhaps he walked in on Angelina wearing a “Rachel” wig or that Brad was morosely drinking himself to sleep having raided the minibar, but even with a big tip the most he would tell me is that Brad is “a little smaller than you’d expect”, which I would have known anyway. Midgets rule Tinseltown.

The next day, having conquered my own minibar demons, I make my way towards the iconic Warner Brothers Lot, where Brad and the rest of the cast of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button — a brilliant adaptation of an F Scott Fitzgerald short story — are waiting for the world’s press. LA, I notice on the way, is hideous, like a huge car park, divided up by palm tree lined highways. It could be the most soulless place on earth but it’s here that what Susan Sarandon calls “the dream factories” are to be found; the big Hollywood studios. Actually “factory” is a fairly apt description because without their stars and sets, the vast, warehouse-like spaces that most movies are shot in look more like timber yards or aircraft hangars. In the middle of one such cavernous lot Brad, Cate Blanchett and the others are waiting to answer questions from the assembled press.

A better description of him than “small” would be “compact”. In a grey waistcoat and fitted trousers he looks trim and lean with a flop of blond hair hovering above those pale blue eyes. Sitting bolt upright on his chair he seems intense, articulate and very serious. The fact his name has always been a byword for “handsome” is something of a mystery to me. In fact, nothing about him seems very movie star-ish. I have seen third-rate stage actors with haughtier body language.

Cate Blanchett on the other hand is every inch the diva. She seems to exist in a different light to everyone else — her skin is so translucently perfect that to make her seem like her actual age of 39 the make-up artist for Benjamin Button told me they had to “draw” CGI pores onto her. She purrs and oozes and laughs at herself with the self-confidence of someone who has it all and knows it. At one point she catches herself, saying, “Oh, listen to me going on and on as if everything I say is so fascinating and important.” But in fact it was; we listened rapt to every word.

Generally, however, the set-up of the press conference seemed designed to militate against anything terribly fascinating or important being said. Someone from the studio was on hand to break questions into bite-size pieces to feed to Brad, Cate and their co-stars.

The problem with Ireland being counted as part of the “rest of the world” (so far as the dream factories are concerned anyway) is that for an audience with Hollywood royalty we must often sit with European and Asian journalists, who aren’t embarrassed to ask things like “if you could be an animal, what would it be?” (As one Japanese hackette once asked a very confused Daniel Craig while I sat to her left with my mouth open). On this occasion a German lady seemed determined to expound at length to Brad and Cate on what she thought of the film (her opinions seemed very similar to what was written in the press notes). They listened politely while the rest of us stared at her back and willed her to have a heart attack.

Despite this deadly combination of stage management and Euro-hackery Brad did come out with a few nuggets. He told me that the film — in which he plays a man who ages in reverse, starting out as a wizened infant and ending as a senile young boy — had given him some interesting insights into his own ageing process. “Once you hit 40 you really have to examine the math of it all,” he said (he turned 45 a few days after we had met). “I’ll trade wisdom for youth any day.”

Of course, everyone in the room wanted to know how he was feeling about Jennifer Aniston — who had just told a magazine that Angelina was “not cool” for saying that she, Angie, had fallen in love with Pitt while they were filming Mr and Mrs Smith and Aniston was still married to the future Mr Jolie. Perhaps sensing this, Brad emphasised his more domestic side — the implication being that he was first and foremost a father and husband and not merely a hunk being torn limb from limb in a Hollywood cat fight. “I had a whole other life and probably got to experience more than I should have,” he said cryptically, perhaps referring to his partying bachelor days. “And it kind of ran its course, hit a dead end.” Fatherhood, he added, “is a natural direction and one I felt I would go in, but not until it felt right with Angie.”

It’s a relief to hear her finally mentioned, but then you’d expect Pitt to have some idea of what we’re after. He majored in journalism at the University of Missouri after all, though he did leave early to go to LA to make his fortune. His southern Baptist parents may have despaired of his recklessness but this, of course, turned out to be a move that would eventually make him one of the most famous men in the world.

Financing himself with part-time work as a deliveryman and chauffeur he eventually hacked his way on to the set of Dallas, among other shows. His big break came in Thelma and Louise when, as the grifter with the rippling torso, he caused a million hot flushes. From there his ascent up Hollywood’s greasy pole was spectacular as he mixed reliably bankable movies (Legends of the Fall, Interview with the Vampire) with quasi-indie fare (Snatch). He also forged a close relationship with David Fincher (Fight Club and Se7en), with whom he also teams up on Benjamin Button.

As all this was happening, of course, he was becoming a synonym for sexy and Brad had leading ladies falling at his feet. Juliette Lewis and Gwyneth Paltrow were but precursors to the media feeding frenzy that would continually surround his union with Jennifer Aniston and the fallout as seemingly he dumped her for Angelina Jolie.

And it is to this subject that we are dying to turn our attention. I try, in a very tortured way, to relate the Angelina-Aniston throwdown back to “the project” by asking Brad if his role in the film had given him insights into the soap opera and “bubble of fame” he found himself at the centre of. He narrows those blue eyes at me and says that growing up he had always had a sense of what it was like to be an outsider — “I think all of us do” — even before he entered that biz they call show. Sensing that there might be a moment of revelation on the cards, the German lady thought of something else she’d forgotten to say earlier and it was clear we would get no further comment on l’affaire d’Aniston.

Before we leave though, I am going to get a little more Brad time. He stops the press conference to hold up a Dictaphone — which I realise with shock and awe is mine — and asks, “Whose is this?” I meekly raise my hand and Brad cheerfully tells me in front of everyone that he’s “just going to flip over the tape as it seems to have stopped” and checks if this is OK with me. It’s highly surreal. I feel my own hot flush — my tape recorder has been blessed by Brad on the Warner Lot — it’s probably worth millions now. And at the same time I have the curious feeling of room full of journalists willing me to have a heart attack.

Finally… my blog goes live!

•October 14, 2008 • Comments Off on Finally… my blog goes live!

Welcome to my blog.

I know this is just what the world needs – another wannabe writer sifting through his own vomit for nuggets of gold. If you are too cheap to pay to read me (and who could blame you in these harsh economic times) then you can get the uncensored version for free here.

It will be a little chronicle of my brand new life in New York City, a kvetschy record of my hopes and fears, my bad hair days and my fat days. All waiting for me to look back over in the days – surely not that far off – when I am truly fat and have no hair.

By right it should probably be kept under the bed, in a locked journal.