The Redneck Millionaire liked being chased. He was famous for it. Being pursued for his millions and brutally evading capture for a seemingly endless but actually fixed amount of time, whilst berating the individual who he was dealing with for their ineptitude was his ‘thing’. Until the deal was closed that is, at which point you were declared Best Friends and the ferocity of his pushbacks throughout the entire process was swiftly forgotten. By him.
We’d arranged an exclusive dinner in his honour, at the Castle, to complete the final furlong of this particular chase. I’d had a couple of drinks on the way there.
The heritage charity had been introduced to The Redneck Millionaire by an Advisory Board Member who had been charged with finding him some projects that would provide some credibility and legitimacy in the UK. Another gonghunter, I thought.
When we spoke for the first time he gave me a lengthy lecture on the failings of a number of colleagues in the industry who had not passed his various criteria-less tests for being a ‘Titan’ rather than a ‘Fucking Moron’.
“Let me tell you”, he yelled. “That Museum thought I was some sort of fucking cash machine to turn on and off at will. Let me tell you. I told them where to fucking get off. I told them. I did.”
This one’s going to be fun, I thought.
He did me the service, in this and in a subsequent phone call, of telling me exactly how long this ‘dance’ was going to take (around 18 months) and what projects he wanted to give to (ones that allowed him to hang elements of his own art collection in a room in a historic building and where he could name the room after his Refrigerator company). I was also made party to how much he would give (multiples of £1m) and what he’d expect in return (anything in excess of an OBE in addition to the aforementioned ‘naming rights’).
This is not going to be fun at all, I thought.
Before this ‘final’ dinner I did stagger, on a couple of occasions, into Fucking Moron territory.
The first occasion was when I had the temerity to not call him back within the requisite 48 hours of his midnight (my time) answerphone message. The Chairman wanted to be the one to call him back on this occasion in his desire to close another £1m deal to thus aide and abet his own gonghunting. It was me that got the ball-breaking after the Chairman left his chore waiting for a couple of days extra.
“I call you. You call me back. That’s how it works. I’m not fucking messing around here”.
The other was when I took it upon myself to suggest that onion soup was not a particularly exciting starter for a private dinner, in a palace, with a guestlist drawn from the sorts of begonged individuals that he was keen to join the ranks of. A private dinner that we were paying for. That he was also a guest at. That he’d decided he was choosing the menu for.
“I told you. Onion soup for hors d’euvre. I’m not fucking messing around here”.
It’s called a starter, I thought.
This particular ‘dance’ had indeed taken around 18 months. The Redneck Millionaire had been given unprecedented levels of access to curators, conservators, buildings and projects that he basically sent his friends and family to observe and enjoy on his behalf throughout. What he was actually doing was organising their trans-Atlantic holidays for them. Through me.
“I tell them. I have a guy in London. I have a guy who can sort absolutely everything out. I tell them. I do. You’re the guy.”
I’m honoured, I thought.
Tonight’s guestlist was made up, in the main, by Trustees (prioritising those with gongs). The Redneck Millionaire had insisted on six guests of his own, four of whom were, bizarrely, Trustees from one of our principal competitors. Onion soup was being served for the starter.
The centrepiece of the occasion was going to be the unveiling of an item from the Redneck’s collection that was going to be placed in one of the rooms in the Castle for a limited period. Little did he know that that limited period was going to conclude at the moment he stepped upon a plane at Heathrow. The curators didn’t care for the piece. The rest of us didn’t care for him.
“So. Tonight’s the night Sport”, he roared on arrival. “Meet the wife”.
It would have been a cliché (but an expected one) for ‘The Wife’ to be either a ball-breaker of similar psychological and physical proportions to her husband or a bird-like subordinate who had spent her entire married life in fear of her husband’s bellowing.
She was neither. She was nothing more or less than normal. Elegantly attired, effortlessly charming and either present or retiring as the moment in question required. I looked, in hope, for just the hint of an eyeroll in response to her husband’s latest outburst. But nothing.
She must be on smack, I thought.
I had, indeed, had a drink on the way there. In a particularly smelly boozer that matched my mood perfectly. Having to work on the weekend for the greater glory of egomaniacs always brought out an aura in me that was best evoked by a pub that hadn’t been cleaned since before the smoking ban had taken hold. A couple of pints of generic lager should take the edge off of it. I thought about a warm white wine chaser given the fact that a prodigious intake at the catering bar was going to be tricky on this intimate occasion where the total tab was monitored with a little more care than more grandiose events. But time and being thundered at by The Redneck prevailed against me.
I was relegated to the adjoining room whilst dinner progressed, with neither outmess catering nor a drink to keep me company. That’s not entirely true. I spent the next two hours stamping my foot dramatically to deter the advance of at least four different mice.
The moment of unveiling approached and sixteen slightly dusty DJs and ballgowns made their way upstairs. I followed with a curator who had emerged from the shadows to say a few words in honour of The Redneck and the piece of art that they didn’t want to honour. We didn’t get that far, however. The Redneck, leading from the front as you would expect, strode into the room to see his picture perched on an easel with a small interpretation panel resting in front of it.
He froze, turned around and headed through the parting crowd, straight for me.
“So, Sport”, he hissed. “Who’s getting fired tomorrow?”
And with that he headed down the stairs and left. The Wife and the entirety of the guestlist followed, apart from the curator and myself.
We peered at the picture and peered at the interpretation panel which waxed lyrically about the picture and which subtly but ever-so-clearly acknowledged the generosity of its donor but where the spelling of the donor’s name was ever-so-slightly wrong.
We then peered at each other, wondering who was, indeed, going to get fired tomorrow.