Discover more from My Goodness! From Jo Elvin
That time Kanye apologised to me
The whole story about my most surreal celeb encounter
I went out for a really fun dinner this week, hosted by my friend, Elizabeth Day, and the beauty brand, Fresh. It was one of the loveliest ‘work’ events I’ve been to in a while because it was small and filled with friends.
As there were quite a few current and former magazine editors there, as well as some stylists and journalists, we ended up swapping a few of our more hilarious ‘war stories’ about our dealings with celebrities. I piped up with one or two of my own about the absolutely appalling behaviour of a celebrity who everyone is convinced is a total sweetheart. Sorry, not going to name names - annoying, aren’t I? Someone at the table said, ‘Jo, you should write a book about this stuff.’ But I probably won’t. Putting in print most of the best stories would cost me a fortune in lawyers.
But I do have a lot of celebrity stories I could tell. I imagine that on occasion a few of them will find a home here on my Substack. And this is what has inspired me to today tell you one of my favourites. That time that Kanye West came to my office to apologise to me.
Let's start at the beginning. The year was 2009 and as with most of my celebrity experiences, it starts with the Glamour Women of the Year Awards. Kanye was that year’s recipient of the Man of the Year Award.
Just as I was thinking, Kanye's flight is due at Heathrow at any minute, and arranging a gift and a note to send to his hotel room, his management team emailed to basically say, Oh yeah, about that, he’s not coming. He'd hurt his ankle playing basketball and taken medical advice to not fly.
Now, I know a hurty ankle can really hurt. But you know, I had a celebrity event I’d been organising for nine months, bosses to impress, advertisers to keep happy. I had already swirled headlong into several panic attacks about how this basketball mishap across the ocean was going to affect me.
So, first minor issue : The Glamour Awards were always reader-voted. Kanye had won that year’s Man of the Year Award and had been photographed and interviewed for one of the special Awards covers. This been done and gone to press around two months before the big night. So we always had that stress of watching the special Awards issue print and then just praying that no one involved would let us down by pulling out of the event.
Of course, people let us down all the time. New film projects got booked, people got ill and some celebrities just changed their mind and barely bothered to make up a valid excuse. They’re all a disappointment but you can handle one or two if you’re hosting a room of around 40 stars. But still, it’s not a good look when the one man you’re celebrating in a sea of women is glaringly absent. Especially when at the end of the night, everyone’s getting a set of magazines that include his face on the covers.
Kanye pulling out triggered an avalanche of drop-outs. The famous model at the time, Agyness Dean, who was booked to present his award, dropped out . Her agent charmingly told us that she hadn’t really wanted to come in the first place, but she’d been happy to agree to support Kanye. And now that he wasn’t going, she didn’t see the point. (This, after we’d been paid her flight to London and her hotel bill for four nights already.) Pretty soon, virtually that entire table of their guests pulled out.
Bit of further context for my rising panic: The Glamour Awards were an amazingly fun event to work on. They were also a huge nightmare. At the previous year’s event, it had rained so heavily that our purpose-built marquee was in danger of being washed away. The stage was so wet and slippery that it was a genuine hazard. Our host, Paul O’Grady and Keeley Hawes got into a finger-flipping spat on stage. All the publicity the next day was about Lily Allen passing out getting thrown over a fence. For some reason, absolutely everyone who got on stage said ‘fuck’ and this in particular seemed to enrage my boss. For the first time ever, he demanded to see me in his office the very next day to hear how I would make sure the event would never strike that tone again.
So for this year’s event, I was absolutely paranoid about trying to make it better than the year before. And now this whole Kanye-driven list of drop-outs had me convinced it was going to be worse. It’s just one of those things where, it really doesn’t matter how hard you work, you’re ultimately at the mercy of celebrity diaries. And whims.
It was looking like my annual awards stress dream was about to come true. Every single year I had the same dream: I’m standing in our marquee in London’s Berkeley Square, dressed in all my borrowed finery, alone - that is except for the country’s showbiz journalists all pointing and laughing at the empty room.
(I felt that media pressure every year. Even after some of our most successful nights, one or two newspapers would delight in writing about what a room of nobodies we’d put together. And actually, a few days later Grazia magazine wrote a whole gossip item about Agyness Dean and how ‘for her return to London, it wasn’t like she was just going to turn up to any old lame showbiz party’. I did laugh a lot at that swipe from our arch rivals because I have to admit I’d have done the same.)
Well, no one was more shocked than me when it in fact the evening turned out brilliantly. Our host James Corden was working on a film that starred Jack Black. He persuaded Jack to turn up and do a piss-taking rendition of Gold Digger which had the room in hysterics. James and Jack helped me turn what might have been a disaster into one of the most memorable moments in the history of the Glamour Awards. (‘A sprained ankle is a very serious injury,’ said Jack shaking his head with mock concern). People love slagging off Corden, but I never will: there is a permanent room for him in my heart, because he heard the stress in my voice on the phone earlier that day and took it upon himself to hatch an amazing plan.
So this helped me get over my disappointment and, yes, fury.
I'd forgotten the whole thing when, about six weeks later, Kanye's manager emailed me asking if Kanye could swing by my office that day to apologise.
I was dumbfounded. Half an hour later, I took delivery of an enormous rectangular pot filled with four amazing orchid buds, getting ready to bloom (until, obviously, they were entrusted to me). And at just after 1pm, I looked up from my computer screen to a familiar figure hovering in the doorway. But even before my brain registered that there was a world famous man standing before me, he just looked like a famous person: flawless, gleaming skin, blindingly white teeth, huge sunglasses, a big expensive rock in one ear, a hot pink satin bomber jacket and artfully distressed faded jeans. And so it was that without fanfare, ceremony, or even an announcement from reception security, Kanye actual West was standing sheepishly at my office door.
The following hour and half was, to put it mildly, surreal.
The thing that struck me the most was how shy he seemed. How humble. Even slightly afraid of any perceived anger he thought I might have. For instance, when I told him that my daughter, 3 at the time, had devised a whole paddling pool routine to the song Amazing from his 808 & Heartbreak album, he said, 'I bet you don't let her play it anymore, do you?'
When I joked that I'd fantasised about slapping the people who'd pulled out of our awards show just because he had, he said, 'Well, as long as you don't want to slap me.'
I also asked, ‘Oh, how’s your fucking annoying ankle'? and immediately felt bad, because he explained it’s an old injury and when it goes, it goes and he really cannot walk on it. That was a fuller, more understandable explanation than the one we got at the point of the cancelled trip. It really did seem so important to him that we knew he was really sorry about not making it and that he was intent on apologising in person.
I made two of our senior editors sit with me in the meeting because I honestly had no idea what I was going to talk to Kanye West about. I needed some wing women. And I feel incredibly stupid for not having taken any pictures of us all. What can I say - there was a time, believe it or not, when getting a selfie was absolutely no one’s first instinct.
Funny to think back now about how passionately he was talking about his plans for having a fashion line. He'd been interning at Gap in New York - and a few months later a Gap exec would confide in me that they’d been assigned the unpleasant task of telling him he couldn’t come in anymore. He talked a lot about his desire to be a modern-day renaissance man, not limited to any one medium in which to make his mark. He showed us an unreleased picture of him holding Lady GaGa in a mock Indiana Jones-style poster (VERY keen that we didn't miss the bulge on one side of his tight jeans in said picture). It was a publicity still for their Fame Kills tour, which then never happened. 'Creative differences' apparently. He played us the song he had just made with Rihanna and Jay Z - Run This Town. We did some awkward toe-tapping in our chairs. He managed some full-on rock star moves, throwing his head and shoulders right into it, with his bottom still planted on my office's red sofa.
It won't surprise you to know the sole topic of conversation was Kanye. Former entertainment ed, Sarah, noted drily at the time, 'Not a lot of questions were asked about us'. But his self-absorption didn't really read as arrogant, just earnest.
When I see Kanye kicking off about something on Twitter, I remember this day. It left me with the undeniable impression that for all his swagger, what other people think of him really, really matters to him. It's a fact of my magazine career that celebrities did tend to let us down a lot, sometimes for good reasons, often for really inexcusable ones. Either way, they never apologise. Ever. So the fact that Kanye sought me out to do it in person is remarkable. It really startled me to think that weeks after his last minute drop-out, he was still thinking about it.
My own feelings about him are mixed. He is undeniably one of the most gifted musicians of our time. I think that whole unpleasantness about the Taylor Swift reference in the song Famous makes him one of the douchebags he sings about in my favourite Kanye song, Runaway. But I have been playing Donda on repeat this week. In particular, the indulgently epic Jesus Lord has had a great, meditative effect on my blood pressure.
I’ll always view him as someone on an endless quest to be more understood and loved. His visit spoke volumes about how sensitive and vulnerable I think he really is under all that occasional bluster and self-aggrandising. He’s complex, he’s a bit of a mess, but he’s also a fricken genius.
In a week where someone let me down - badly - I've leaned heavily on this story. Because even big disappointments can open the door to something uplifting.
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