Saturday, April 25, 2009

LA: To Go Or Not to Go, November 2008

To Begin at the Beginning . . . The plan was simple. I would go to LA, do a scriptwriting course, sell my movie, make my fortune, buy a pair of binoculars and rent a house right next to my idol Simon Cowell in the Hollywood Hills. “Blimey, you don’t waste any time,” said my friend Phillippa. “He’s only just broken up with Terri.”

When I spotted the course I wanted, I booked my hotel and flight before you could say Oscar Here I Come. Alas, the course turned out not to be not in LA at all, but Portland, Oregon, but by then it was too late. The credit card damage was done, and I had also used every air mile in my collection to get some money off what was my big reward to myself – flying Virgin Upper Class and staying in a 5 star hotel in Beverly Hills. Ah, well. It would be some comfort for my travelling to LA for what was now no reason whatsoever. Little did I know that what my trip failed to provide me in scriptwriting classes, it would more than make up for in writing material.


I check in at the hotel where everyone thinks Pretty Woman was filmed: the Beverly Wilshire, at the bottom of Rodeo Drive, which houses all the best designer shops. In fact, the interior scenes in the movie were done on set; only the outside of the hotel appeared on camera. I discover this only when I ask to see the room where Richard Gere shows Julia Roberts that fantastic necklace. But never mind: at least I can see Rodeo and the Jimmy Choo shop from my window. My credit card begins to burn a hole in my pocket.


I have recovered sufficiently from the time difference to go to my hotel’s Side Bar. Tina, a tall blonde straight out of every American series you have ever seen, sidles up to the first men she sees and talks to them like long lost cousins. Freezing cold in the air conditioning of the hotel, I pull up my roll neck sweater as the women around me parade a silicon valley of cleavage that I defy even the most professional crampons to venture into.

I join Tina, who turns out not to know “these guys” at all; they just so happened to be the first ones she came across (anyway, she is married to Brad, who is, according to local sources, very, very rich). I learn my first lesson. “So, what’s your name?” I ask, lurching towards a rather handsome blonde called Ken. Several drinks later, he pays my bill. Thank you, Tina.


I decide to shop. The streets are lined not with glamour models, as I had expected on Rodeo Drive, but rather casually dressed men and women in “sneakers” (ie trainers – I was learning the language fast). So, my first stop is NIKE.

“Gee, we lurrrrrrv your accent,” they tell me. “You’re from England?” “No, Wales.” “Aw, gee, thasso cude. Is thad in England?” Look, just give me my flamin’ trainers and let me pay the bill. But no. Every request takes ten minutes, as they call down to the store-room, checking on availability and quizzing me on another aspect of my heritage. “You hairve a nice day now,” three people call as I leave – only the thousandth time I have heard that, and it’s only day three.

Armed with my new trainers and air of casual chic, I venture into jeweller’s David Orgell, a few doors down, to try to match a tennis bracelet I bought in Turkey with a necklace. “How much is that one?” I ask, pointing to a long string. “175,000$,” says the salesman. “It’s platinum.” “Do you have it in white gold?” I ask, not moving a facial muscle. “Yes, Madam. That would be just $75,000.” Blimey. That would be at least three villages in Wales in the current climate. But I keep my nerve. “I like diamonds,” I quiver. “Then you’ve come to the right place,” he replies, clearly having learned from Pretty Woman that you should never judge a book by its cover (although in this case, he should have).


I am back at the Side Bar in the evening, alone, listening to some very welcome English accents (already the American ones are really getting on my nerves). A man walks up to me and says: “Hello, I’m Liam. You’re that woman off breakfast TV.” “Yes, I am,” I say, glad of the company. We talk about the time I spent on This Morning and he says that he agreed with so much of what I said. I ask what he is doing in LA and he says: “A bit of radio, a bit of TV. I’m here with the band.” “Oh, who’s that?” I ask. He tells me he is with a band called The Races and, totally ignorant of them, I nevertheless feign knowledge. “Yeah, I think I’ve heard of them,” I say.

At this point, an English woman walks up, barely able to contain her excitement, and says: “You’re Liam, aren’t you!” Pe-n-ny be-gins t-o dr-op. It’s only Liam Gallagher from Oasis! Ohyegods! I genuinely don’t recognise him, so flattered am I that someone recognises me. I am already travelling first class on the LA ego trip.

We talk about TV, music and our terrific mothers. I adore him. His seriousness; his intensity; his humour. I meet his mates, who tell me that on their flight over, they drank the onboard Virgin Upper Class bar dry. I tell you, I am so excited and rocked up, I go back to my suite and nearly throw my TV out of the window.


Every American man I meet asks “You from England?” and I quickly find that “Yes” makes them pick up my tab far more quickly than a response of: “No, we are the put upon race that had our language stolen from us and continues to be oppressed . . . “ Yep, what the hell. I’m English and I’ll have another Margerita, thank you very much (in my hotel, it’s about 1,000 air miles a glass, so I accept everything on offer).

I meet up with my friend Paul, who moved to LA two years ago, and he talks the place up so much, I decide that I have to live here, and go back to my room to start looking up rental properties on the net.


Off to the Warner Brothers tour at the studios, where some of America’s most popular TV shows and films are made. There is some wood standing up against a wall. I see where The Perfect Storm was filmed. It is a large, empty warehouse. More wood. I decide that the movies are not very glamorous, although I see one man in a doctor’s uniform come off the ER set, where the last series is being filmed.

I move on to the Universal theme park nearby, which is great fun, even though the three rides are very disappointing and not a patch on those at Barry Island funfair in South Wales.


I make an enemy of a local hooker, who asks me at the hotel bar how old I think she looks. I think 55, but say 45. “I look 29,” she says. “Trust me,” I have to say, “you don’t.” “All my friends say I look 29.” “Well they’re lying to you.”

Her breasts compete for attention with the very fine place settings in the bar and I ask where she had them done. She tells me they are real. Yeah, right.

She is furious with me, but I am more furious with her, because there is a Jimmy Choo glass tree in the hotel foyer and, if you guess the value of everything in it, you win a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes and two nights’ stay in the hotel. As a guest, I am allowed one entry; she sits there, filling in one form for every room in which her various gentlemen friends reside. I complain to the management and promise them that, if she wins, there will be war.


After lunch on a rare couple of glasses of wine, I find myself in a potential rental flat – sorry, I mean apartment - just off Sunset Boulevard: so much so, that I give them a $200 deposit to reserve it. Saleswoman Misty (think Dynasty’s Alexis Carrington with bells on) snatches my cash like a hungry squirrel storing nuts for a bad winter; the property market is as unstable in the US as it is in the UK.

I am thrilled to be moving to Hollywood. I go straight back to my hotel to phone my friends. Julia, who has known me since we were toddlers, is in shock. I can hear her hyperventilating. When she suggests that I might be rushing things a tad, I declare that if I don’t do it now, I never will. Paul tentatively suggests that I should make a couple more trips before deciding. I am adamant. I e-mail the Daily Mail, suggesting that I become their Hollywood correspondent. I e-mail the University of California to try to get on their two-year writing course. I phone my mother to tell her that I am moving over 6000 miles away from Bristol, where she lives.


The effects of the wine wear off. I remember why I stopped drinking completely in April and why I thereafter drank just the occasional glass. That “Oh my God, what have I done!” moment I remember so well from my heavier drinking days hits again. What was I thinking? I can’t move to Hollywood. My life is in the UK, where I have my family, friends and work. My house. I have my rugby there. Sky Plus. Quick trips over to Paris on the Eurostar.

I have to get to the Real Estate agent to get my money back in the 72 hours they give you to change your mind. I start telephoning Misty. It goes to answer-phone. Ten times. The hours tick by. Still, the answer-phone. I finally reach Misty and tell her I am on my way over. When I get to the office, she counts out my dollar bills with quick efficiency and all but kicks me down the stairs.


I am in the hotel restaurant having lunch, when I spot Sidney Poitier on a nearby table. Sidney flamin’ Poitier: star of To Sir with Love; the man to whom Lulu sang the song of the same title. I don’t know how introductions are made in LA, so I leap over: “Mr Poitier I am such a fan and you were great in To Sir with Love and I really love you and you still look so great and how important was that film now with Obama and all that and you must be so pleased and do you ever see Lulu and sorry to disturb you but I had to come over . . . “

I don’t stop. Not only do I not stop; I re-visit the table another three times to do more non-stop talking. The man is gracious, polite, sweet. “Which was your favourite film?” I ask. He starts a gentle speech about not being able to say, because there have been so many actors, producers, directors, blah blah blah. Yeah, whatever, Sidney. “To be honest, I don’t give a damn,” I tell him. “I’m only going to be writing about you and me.”


I go to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Greg, the waiter, tells me I am doing the right thing ordering tap water because it has more fluoride in it than bottled. “It’s what the dentists never tell ya,” he booms, moving from table to table, even less subtly than the incredible Hulk might do, auditioning in a loud voice and being a fount of information on everything. “Soooooo good ter see yer. Really hope ter see yer again soon,” he says, to every departing guest. No, you don’t, Greg. I know about life. Real life. And you’re lying.

I assume Greg is a writer, producer or director, not least because everyone I meet is, but he claims to be “just a waiter”. I am impressed – except when he forgets to bring me my water. If he can’t remember what I asked him for two minutes ago, how is he going to remember those guests?

Sitting at the next table is Jennifer Angel, astrologer for the New York Post, the editor of which I used to work for in London. She is sitting with Lana, one of the LA in-crowd, and they are the two most glamorous women I have met all trip.

“So,” says Lana, to me and Tatiana, one of the many new best friends I have acquired. “Whadderyerthink o’ the Urrrrrrban?” I’m sorry? “Obaaaaaaaama. Urrrrrrban.” I decide to put political correctness aside and ask what Lana does. “Nothin’.” She turns to Tatiana. “Whadder you do?” “Me?” says Tatiana. “I do nothing, too.” I can’t ever remember a time when I have been in a room with two women in competition about the nothingness in their lives.

Unnerved, I turn to Jennifer, who tells me that there are changes ahead for Scorpios (dear God, please not an LA apartment), but I don’t hear much more because I feel shallowness overwhelm me when I star-spot Jean Michel Jarre across the room. Oh, give me some oxygene. I leap over to get his autograph and tell him I am a huge fan etc. etc., even though I’m not.

By now, I am so aversed to Hollywood bull, I can do it in my sleep. Talk, talk, talk. Apart from the Brits, who all seem gainfully employed, that’s all anyone seems to do.


Great drama at the hotel. The local hooker throws a drink over a resident who calls her a hooker. On his way out, she throws a dish of wasabi nuts at his back. The next thing I know, the LAPD are there, handcuffing her and whisking her away. The hotel assures me she can say goodbye to the Jimmy Choo prize, and my shoes are as good as in the box.


It’s all over and I must leave my star-studded, celebrity lifestyle to return to a cold autumn in the UK. I have had a ball and I return with many happy memories, but realise that, at heart, I am very much a European. I remind myself that not every holiday has to end with my returning with a lease in my suitcase, and when I get home I sit down to watch Sky Plus with a joyous heart: Desperate Housewives, CSI, Law and Order – all great American shows. But at the end of the day, just planks of wood standing against a wall.

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