A celebrity stuck his head around the door and called out, “Quickly, come quickly, it’s Ricky”. We all ran down the corridor to the main stairway where the celebrities stood in an excited horde, pointing to the lobby below in hushed voices at a man walking past. It was Ricky Martin.
Read about how I unsuspectingly landed a job working in a celebrity agency in Barcelona in Working with the Rich and Famous in Barcelona: Part 1. Read on for part two.
I started working in a celebrity agency in Barcelona, and the first few weeks were surreal. I was in an office surrounded by engineers in an upbeat modern atmosphere, while I liaised with Cristina on the telephone and then tried to put into words the emails she dictated in Spanish that were later sent to the managers of A list celebrities in LA. It was tremendously difficult getting the tone of the emails right, as not only were we dicing with potentially huge sums of money for advertising campaigns and celebrity events but I was also trying to adopt Cristina’s larger than life and lavishly affectionate personality through my writing. It was completely different from my own somewhat English awkwardness.
After two weeks of going to work in her husband’s offices, we moved to one of the trendiest districts in Barcelona. It was interesting to work in a tiny company and see first-hand how Cristina deployed her business strategy in the cutthroat world of PR. Cristina’s work with celebrities was hinged on Spain’s tabloid celebrity culture and the kind of people who have done little of merit except to be born into a particular family or marry a bull fighter. She also acted as a broker for Spanish companies, seeking out international celebrities to appear in advertising campaigns or events. It was certainly a ruthless domain, and Cristina worked late into the night, often phoning people on LA time at 3am Spanish time.
My heart did summersaults as I drove into the headquarters of Spanish Television, TV 5. I parked my tiny Renault 205 in the car park, straightened my jacket - I had been told to wear smart clothes and dark colours - and walked to the hotel across the road. Cristina stood there waiting for me. “Gen, you made it,” she beamed. I was ushered over to a sofa in the hotel lobby as she looked me up and down. “So, today, I want you to follow me and do what I say. Just make conversation when required. Get her a drink if she wants one. You’ll be in charge of the key to her dressing room.” I nodded, resisting the urge to bite my nails. “Oh, here they are. Yooo-eeee, over here. Come and meet Gen.” I looked up to see a gaggle of celebrities walking over, laughing and joking. Actually, I didn’t know who any of them were, a disadvantage, or maybe an advantage, of being English in a world of Spanish celebrities, and I was unphased by having to speak to people who were considered famous here.
We were there for a TV show, the Spanish equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing, where celebrities partner up with professional dancers in an eliminatory dance contest. Cristina was representing a Spanish celebrity revered by the Spanish tabloids. My job involved following the famous woman around the set, fetching her water or tea, minding her cloakroom key, and generally making chitchat to make sure she felt comfortable, protected and chaperoned. Needless to say, I felt like a fish out of water, awkward, and tongue-tied. Next to the other people working for TV, who dressed casually in jeans and shirts, I felt like a mafia member in my smart skirt and dark jacket. To make things worse, I was semi-shadowing Cristina, so there were two of us, following this celebrity around the set. From 15:00 until 20:00 I trundled around after them both, with no escape from the endless scrutiny, endeavour to make small talk, need to fit in and pressure of looking like I knew what the hell was going on.
The celebrities milled around, chatting, giggling, sitting on the side lines and watching the rehearsal for the live show, due to take place in a couple of hours. Some of them knew I was English and came and had a chat. All of them had a secret subtext going on, which I took to be the subtext of the famous, the unspoken assumption that they were important and that we should acknowledge this in some way. All in all, it made for a strange atmosphere. I still didn’t really know who any of them were and I could perceive the undercurrents of the famous without getting caught up in the incredulity that being around celebrities can entail.
Another peculiarity of television was high tea. Upstairs, beautiful little cakes and croissants were laid out with tea and coffee, in a small room, just off a carpeted corridor. A young guy around my age, who I vaguely recognised as someone from Operación Triunfo - Spain’s equivalent of the X Factor - was also there. We chatted about nothing in particular, when suddenly the conversation veered sharply towards national politics. I can’t remember what exactly was said but I do remember that he suddenly got aggressive, at which point my boss and our celebrity, who had been chatting quietly among themselves, rapidly intervened to change the subject and smooth down the ruffled atmosphere.
A celebrity stuck his head around the door and called out, “Quickly, come quickly, it’s Ricky”. We all ran down the corridor to the main stairway where the celebrities stood in an excited horde, pointing to the lobby below in hushed voices at a man walking past. It was Ricky Martin. Someone shouted, “Ricky, Ricky”, while the celebrities stood around gaping. Ricky Martin carried on walking, his head bent down, without stopping or saying hello to anyone. I chuckled inwardly, thinking that Spanish celebrities were worse than non-celebrities when it came to being starstruck.
For some hours I had been nursing the onset of a migraine and as 20:00 approached, my boss came over and told me that I could go home if I wanted. In retrospect I think she had expected me to stay to see the show, but I snapped up the opportunity to go home and lay my poor head to rest. I left the site, smiling now that it was all over.
Back home, I gabbled at Jordi about all the famous people I had seen, and Ricky Martin and the guy from Operación Triunfo and the celebrities and my boss and Ricky Martin, and Jordi stood there looking at me. He said, “But Genevieve, what’s happening to you? Since when did you care about celebrities?” I stopped mid-sentence, realising he was right.
I continued working at the celebrity agency for some months. In the end, though, it wasn’t the job for me. Many years later, I love looking back on my short-lived experience of working with the rich and famous in Barcelona. It was eye opening and exciting, but I have no regrets about making a leap of faith and deciding to become a writer and