Written by Annie Caulfield

Lifestyle

Namedropping for charity

Denzel Washington, Kylie, Bono, Elton John, Susan Sarandon… You name them, veteran charity concert backstager Annie Caulfield has had inconsequential fragments of conversation with them.

Annie with Denzel Washington.

Annie with Denzel Washington.

There are so many serious, analytical articles to write about big charity concerts. This isn’t one of them. Although, having worked as a writer and script editor for the presenters on some of these concerts over the years, I do know one thing that isn’t up for debate – surprise, surprise – everyone backstage is having a great time. Especially the non-famous likes of me, who run about clutching notebooks with our jaws permanently dropped.

Too young for Live Aid, my first big gig was at the 1990 Wembley concert to celebrate Nelson Mandela. He was free, and he was going to be there in person. Security alerts meant the running order kept changing, and I was one of the few to be kept in the loop. If they wanted to know where they were supposed to be, the presenters, including Denzel Washington, had to follow me around all afternoon. Oh, the things I’ve had to put up with for good causes…

Being shadowed by Denzel was, of course, overshadowed by the moment I got to shake hands with Mandela. Mandela was passing along a line of participants to thank us. Some managed to express their admiration succinctly: I made a sort of gurgling sound.

“Friends often tell me it’s amazing that my writing life has led me to meet all these people. It would be better if I’d had witty things to say to them, or even elicited more than a look of alarm with my incomprehensible greeting sounds. Or not been so busy I couldn’t manage more interesting banter than, ‘Not yet, Denzel, have a sandwich.’”

I’ve also shaken hands and gurgled at George Clooney – his fault for being even more handsome in real life. I’ve made a snurfling sound at Paul McCartney. I did manage something quite like a “hello” to Susan Sarandon, and I discussed the demerits of instant coffee with Youssou N’Dour. I was even more debonair with Elton John, warning him to mind a step, and I told Kylie that the loos were on the left. James Brown, David Frost, Yo-Yo Ma, Bono, Annie Lennox… You name them, I’ve had inconsequential fragments of conversation with them.

Friends often tell me it’s amazing that my writing life has led me to meet all these people. It would be better if I’d had witty things to say to them, or even elicited more than a look of alarm with my incomprehensible greeting sounds. Or not been so busy I couldn’t manage more interesting banter than, “Not yet, Denzel, have a sandwich.”

So in years to come, if chat shows are looking for a new Alan Bennett – a writer who has met everyone and can delight an audience with pithy anecdotes – maybe don’t call me. But backstage for celebrity world-saving? I’m always up for that. Maybe after another 20 years of it, I’ll learn to be cool about it.

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Written by Annie Caulfield

Annie Caulfield is a dramatist, travel writer and broadcaster. Originally from Northern Ireland, she lives in London or a Spanish cave. www.anniecaulfield.com