By MAURICE HIBBERD
Having, in the past, told three or four tales about the Picture Desk and Photographic Department of the Daily Express it is only fair to tell you about my most embarrassing experience.
One of my colleagues on the picture desk told me there was a young lady on the phone waiting to talk to me. The voice on the phone was young and I would have guessed about 16 years of age. She addressed me formally by name and I confirmed she was speaking to “Mr Hibberd”.
The young PR invited my wife and I to the opening of a new restaurant in the centre of London to which I thanked her and said “Yes”.
It is quite common to be invited to various Press launches and I took this as an opportunity to meet up with a few colleagues from the other newspapers, have a glass of wine, a few nibbles and a pleasant evening.
My wife was not so keen because it meant she would have to dash from her office and catch a train to Waterloo but she did agree.
On the day in question I was running late in the office. I buttoned up my shirt, put my tie straight, rolled down my shirt sleeves and removed my jacket from the back of the chair. picked up a couple of newspapers and my battered briefcase and made a dash for the door. Caught a taxi, met the wife and arrived at the restaurant about ten minutes early.
To the best of my knowledge I had never met the doorman in my life but he opened the door of the cab and welcomed me and my wife by name. My wife and I entered the brand new restaurant and was met by the owner who also knew who I was. I was a little surprised to see we were the first to arrive although there were several waiters in the large room, all dressed for the part and ready to leap into action.
The owner thanked us for coming and took us to a cream leather sofa where we were offered champagne. He explained who he was and his ambitions before pointing out some of the finer points including a series of large wall mirrors that cost several thousands of pounds each.
We were then invited to take a tour of the kitchens and to meet the chef and his team.
I tried to sound intelligent but when we were given the menu, leather-bound, as thick as a telephone directory but of a larger format, printed in English and French. I suggested, as it all looked wonderful, I would leave the decision to to our host.
By this time I was worried because not a single person had come through the main doors.
We had another glass of champagne and was given the leather-bound wine list to look at.
I explained I could not possibly choose the wine because I had no idea what food was being served.
To say I felt scruffy and out of place was an understatement. We were taken to our table by the owner while about six waiters hovered in the background. At one point my wife, who appeared more composed than I felt, knocked one of the many forks off the table. I swear one of the waiters caught and changed it before it hit the carpet.
The food, every course, and there were many, was excellent and was served with the correct wine every time
Our train left Waterloo about midnight so we made our excuses and left just in time to catch it.
To this day I have no idea who the poor guy thought we were but we were the only ones invited and its the only time I have had a restaurant staffed just for me. The PR company may have had some questions to answer after the event.
The doorman, chef, and owner had, obviously been well briefed. I just wish somebody had told me I was the guest of honour and why!