This was on the one that confirmed to me the indisputable need for drinking on the job. I hadn’t had a drink on the way there but I definitely had one on the way home. More than one. At the pub next to the venue. On the train back to North London. In the kitchen when I got there. And probably in the morning too.
It was my first ‘high profile’ gig. Royalty, Americans, fancy venue, star sopranos and a whopping great fee.
Everything was fine. Until it all wasn’t.
The get-in had been smooth and no-one had been shouted at or done any particularly out of character shouting at anyone else. The orchestra, soprano and support teams had all assembled in a relatively orderly and moan-light manner. There hadn’t been a blizzard, anti-war protest or zombie apocalypse and I was therefore convinced that my debut was going to pass off successfully and unscathed.
I had spent the majority of the period prior to the guests arriving, running breathlessly between the reception space, the concert space and the dinner space. They were all an inconveniently large distance apart from each other but were linked by deep-piled corridors that would provide ample space and time for promenading chitchat. How very courtly it was going to be.
The first indication that we were all doomed was during the rehearsal when the Eminent Host walked into the room, oh-so casually. The orchestra scraped through the next page or two of their rehearsal and then managed to pause and cast a few arch glances at each other in response to the arrival. A touch more deference was expected, it turned out. I was dragged into an adjoining corridor by a flunky who proceeded to tear me a new asshole in response to my perceived responsibility for the orchestra’s lack of protocol. “The least they could fucking do is stand up and say ‘Good Afternoon Sir’”, I was hair-dryered.
The second omen was delivered during the reception. The Eminent Host was being introduced to the assembled guests by the Managing Director. Or so I thought. The flunky re-emerged, as if from nowhere, with a razor-edged whisper of “Get in there. Your boss is shit at this. Introduce a guest. Then the next one. Then the next one. GO”.
And thus I found myself standing to the left of the Eminent Host trying to remember the names of each guest, in turn, and then forgetting them and proceeding to say words to the effect of “a valued supporter, sir”.
An enormously-coiffured lady was next in line. Her floor-to-ceiling sequinned frock was accessorised with both a large purple sash and a tiara. I thought I saw Mary Queen of Scots’ pearls hanging from the front arch.
“I am Baroness Shula von Havensbergenshnaps”, she said. Or words to that effect. The Eminent Host was approaching.
“I’m sorry. Would you mind awfully repeating that. I’m so sorry”, I muttered through sweating, gritted teeth.
“I am Baroness Shula von Havensbergenshnaps”, she repeated. And proceeded to spell it for me. Very very slowly. H. A. V. E. N. S. B…….
The Eminent Host was at my elbow, looking expectant. E. R. G. E. N……
“Our valued supporter, sir. Baroness Shushanunabergershush”, I flubbed.
The Eminent Host hummed a few pleasantries and moved on a couple of steps and in doing so stood firmly on the back of the Baroness’ gown, hindering her retreat until a tiny but definite rip allowed her to totter back towards the bar.
Prior to my new and unexpected duties taking effect, I had been popping in on the Star Soprano to keep her updated with the form and format of the evening as it was emerging.
Every chat was punctuated with words to the effect of “Don’t worry dahhling, I’m just so pleased to be here” and “I understand entirely sweeeety – whenever you’re ready”.
It turns out that she wasn’t as breezy as she’d led me to believe. The guests were around 45 minutes late arriving to the room in which we were performing. They took their seats elegantly and observed the appropriate protocols as the Eminent Host entered the room, last, and took his seat in rapt expectation of the Star Soprano wowing his guests as a prelude to them parting with their money for the benefit of his latest ‘cause’.
And the Star Soprano wasn’t there. I looked to my right in the expectation that all I would have to do is send her on but, with increasingly widening eyes, I could see nothing and no-one. A surreal domino effect of bug-eyed glances were passed down a row of stage managers, orchestra managers, security and Development staff to the door of the room that she was last seen in. The door was closed. And from inside there was silence.
I don’t know what I was planning on trying to achieve but I ran straight down the line towards the door in question.
“Miss [Star Soprano]”, I crackingly shrilled to the closed door.
“Fuck Off”, came a reply.
I was strangely relieved.
“If you could be so kind as to join the orchestra on stage”, I called with a strangulated upward inflection.
“I’m going home”, came the response.
There was now a rugby scrum of DJ’ed men gathered around the door. And at the back was the Flunky who helpfully spat “Get her out of there and onto that fucking stage”.
This to-and-fro continued for around 15 minutes and included one of the scrum being admitted to the room only to emerge, ashen-faced, reporting that she was wearing t-shirt, jeans and sneakers with her bag flung over her shoulder, ready to go. On reflection, she would have had to go out of the window to make a successful escape. But at the time it felt urgent and imminent.
Silence fell inside the room. Everyone stepped back from the door. We casually edged up the corridor, repositioning ourselves from whence we began. We averted our gazes as the Star Soprano made her way to the stage. And sang like an angel.
The audience gasped and applauded. The Eminent Host said some admiring and grateful words. The Star Soprano stood at the side of the stage, next to me, looking surprised and appreciative of the adulation.
And as the group filed out for dinner I glanced down at her and she smiled up at me beatifically.
“You staying for dinner?” I said.
“Of course, dahhhling”, she cooed, with a pouting, flirtatious smile.
“I’ve just got to powder my nose. I won’t be long”.
I am never, I thought, going to see that cunt sing again.