Dog Day Afternoon

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Rupert Everett, right, and Christopher Walkden in The Comfort of Strangers


By ROGER TAVENER is en route to the Cannes Film Festival

Noon. Gatwick airport, May, 1990.

I step over ‘A’ list actor Rupert Everett in Gatwick’s airside bar. He’s sprawled on the stained blue carpet. Comatose. Dribbling. 

Our Rupe’s hitting it pretty hard these days, so it’s no surprise to see him in such a state. He’s in a scruffy T-shirt and his jeans are falling off, revealing a builder’s bum. Charming. 

Later, the current Hollywood darling will swap that look for a hand-tailored dinner jacket and sashay down the red rug appearing every inch the LA hunk.

Girls just love this handsome boy. Disgustingly dashing, dangerously dark, with a dramatically-defined body. 

But so do the boys. Rupert is gay, but that’s not generally known yet. 

And he can be a bit of a drama queen at times. 

As we are about to witness…

Our Rupe’s on the way to the Cannes film festival and, bad news mate, so am I.

It’s Aer Lingus to Nice, so I guess there is no first or even business class, because he’s now collapsed across the three seats of the row in front of me in extreme economy.

Everything’s fine. Lots of free vodkas and, back then, I could even smoke my head off. Unbelievable looking back.

Then, after about 90 minutes flying south in a perfect blue sky to the Cote D’Azur, the uber-cool captain makes an announcement.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, this is the first officer. You may have noticed we’ve circled around and are heading north back to Gatwick.”

Well, no, I bloody-well haven’t.

“We’ve lost hydraulic power and need to get back to base. The cabin crew will be coming round with refreshments as we approach UK airspace. Sit back and try to relax.”

Fuck me. Are we going to crash?

Across the aisle is an off-duty airline pilot, who hears my expletive-laden rant. He’s hardly re-assuring.

“It means we’ve lost the air-brakes and the wheels won’t come down. Steering’s affected too.  Air speed is dodgy. So landing’s going to be a bit tricky and the French don’t want a plane  disaster on their soil.

“By flying back we also use up more fuel, which will help with the chances with a potential fire and also the wheels might come down through gravity.”

Might?

Can’t some hero crawl underneath and crank the fuckers down? 

“No. That’s just stuff you see in the movies. But you can do a little bit manually with the air-brakes.”

Air hostesses now go through the safety procedure again. Majoring on the brace position. Fuck.

I’m sure that’s going to help at 200 mph + with no brakes or wheels. 

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“It just means you die faster because with your head bent over when you rocket forward you snap your spinal cord and death is almost instant… It’s better than being fatally injured and taking time to die or be burnt alive.”

I’m fucking sure it is.

I don’t want to speak to this pilot anymore.

An ashen-face hostess wants to know if I want a drink. Yes, please, as many mini-bottles of vodka as I’m allowed.

I get six.

Around me people are holding rosaries, saying prayers, promising God they’ll be good if they survive, writing letters on scraps of paper to their loved ones.

The flight back is smooth, but we have to get this crippled bird down.

Terrible atmosphere. People crying.

For the first time ever, the captain doesn’t come on the public intercom telling cabin crew to prepare for the final - fucking final - descent.

We circle Gatwick, use more fuel, might even have dumped some. I don’t know.  This is unbearable.

We can see the flashing red lights of ambulances and fire trucks on either side of the runway, which is white, like snow has fallen. It’s foam to cushion our crash-landing.

The rest is blank. Fear has erased all memory. But we got down. We didn’t smash into the terminal, catch fire or cartwheel into Hell. The crew did an amazing job.

So we stand up to get off this doomed flight asap.

Rupert now wakes and stretches with a yawn.

“Welcome to Gatwick,” says the PA.

Rupert goes fucking mental. 

What the fuck is he doing here? He should be in the south of France to meet his dog.

I can’t repeat his “C”  words enough.  And mostly directed at a lovely air hostess who had done her best to keep us calm while she must have been terrified too.

He’s unloading on this poor girl.

So I tell him to shut his face and leave the her alone because he’d had the good fortune to sleep through a life or death situation.

He couldn’t stop whining about his dog, a black labrador waiting in Nice.

Why have you done this to me, Rupert bleats. You haven’t heard the last of this.

Oh yeah, the old “Don’t you know who I am ?” routine.

We’re going to be transported back in a few hours. So I file the story. Stars cheat death stuff.

I meet Rupert next at a press conference in Cannes for his film, The Comfort of Strangers, from Harold Pinter’s screenplay. It’s a great movie based in Venice.

He doesn’t mention anything about the incident and neither do I. Fair play.

He’s now re-united with his black labrador, Moise, Hebrew for “Saviour”.

And he admits that the dog did indeed save him.

“I was leading a very dissolute life in Paris when I got this little puppy and he changed my life.”

Suddenly he had to get up at 8 am to go walkies. He loved Moise.

The film also starred Natasha Richardson who was to die tragically in a ski-ing accident nine years later, Helen Mirren and Christopher Walken — who, after a few drinks, out on the town, I just had to ask: “What really happened to Natalie Wood?”

That’s another story. But I survived. Just  ….


© 2005-2018 Alastair McIntyre