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The celebrity publicists who've tried to kill me
How is there not a helpline for this stuff?
It tells you something about the power of celebrity publicists that, even though I haven’t been in charge of a magazine for more than a year now, I’m still finding myself strangely nervous about writing this post.. As I’ve written previously, they wield enormous power over magazine editors. Not only that they can be terrifyingly aggressive and rude with it. Granted, there are many media outlets that I’m sure give them daily headaches with press intrusion or misquotes and other such bad behaviours. So I often found a blanket mistrust of all us who wanted to interact with their precious assets, their celebrity clients. There are many, particularly the Americans, whose default setting seems to give the full hairdryer treatment to any and every journalist query that comes their way. Sometimes I would find myself just staring in disbelief at an email, and calling in other colleagues to bear witness to it. “Yes, Jo, that really is an all upper case threat that you’d better LAWYER THE FUCK UP IF YOU’RE THINKING OF WRITING ANYTHING NEGATIVE. ‘ What the hell did you say. ‘I asked if I could have an interview.’
So I thought it might be fun to share with you some of the behind the scenes trauma that I have experienced at their hands.
First, some predictable caveats.
There are many, many celebrity publicists who I have adored working with and even become great friends with. I have an editor friend who is always a bit gutted when a celebrity or their publicist is charming and the shoot or interview is without incident. “It’s much more interesting and fun when everyone’s awful,’ he says. And he’s right. These are some of my core memories of when the celebrity publicist was awful and I always tell them to make people laugh, not because I’m actually complaining or in any way traumatised.
I am very well aware that many celebrity publicists could write a similar column about my side of the fence, the journalists.
You’ll notice no names are mentioned and this is because these people continue to be terrifying and I value my life.
The completely fake interview
Getting a wildly popular celebrity to agree to shoot for your cover is fantastic. But one thing I learned very quickly about the wildly popular celebrities: their wild popularity puts insane demands on their diary. So often times, even when you’ve had the green light, all attempts to schedule an interview and photo shoot still fail. It was common to get a shoot done in one window of a celebrity’s schedule and do the interview on a completely different date. We found ourselves in this situation with a major American pop star. The photos were done and the cover image selected. We had promised the celebrity and her publicist that she was on the cover. The small matter of getting words to go with the pictures - her interview - was proving challenging. There was filming, rehearsals for filming, the days scheduled in a recording studio for the beginnings of an album. Over about five weeks we’d had two ‘almost interviews’, where the time and date were booked, only for the celeb to have to pull out both times; profusely apologetic but with so many other stakeholders wanting a piece, it was not to be helped. I was relaxed about this for some time, but soon the actual deadline for the magazine was terrifyingly close. Our calls to the celeb’s publicist got more and more frantic and demanding. For her part, the publicist was also frustrated that she was way back in a queue of agents, directors and others who needed the celeb’s time. On the very last possible date, as I was tearing my hair out, the exasperated publicist said to our entertainment director, ‘Oh I’ll just do the interview. I know how she’d answer all the questions anyway.’
Despite the sheer ludicrous and I’m sure unethical lunacy of this situation, I felt I had no choice. The production staff at my company were threatening my death, we were well past the point of me producing an alternative, sellable cover image and, well… this publicist was one of the most notoriously scary and powerful so I didn’t want to get into a huge fall-out with her.
Cue our entertainment director suffering the indignity of conducting an interview with the publicist, hearing what the publicist thinks the celebrity might have said, all the while telling the entertainment director how stupid every single one of her questions was. Ah, good times.
I will never tell you who it was, but there was an issue of Glamour where the coverline should have read, ‘CELEBRITY NAME - meet her publicist.’ I think my former boss reads this column sometimes. Sorry Nicholas, but it was that or miss the print slot and we both know how expensive that is.
Anyway, that issue sold really well.
I was on a very glamorous shoot in New York once - and that was even with it being in a massive empty warehouse (always a popular choice for photo shoots). The cover star was a mega, A-list film star. She was delightful for the entire, very long day. Though I do remember struggling to hide my horror when she walked in: the world knows her as a very definite blonde, and on this day she rocked up looking unrecognisable with jet black hair. No one had thought to tell us she’d dyed it for a new role. I was already imagining the complaints back at HQ when I presented this cover to my employers. Such disappointments were commonplace and there was very little you could do. I asked if I could try retouching it to blonde and got an earful from the publicist and the photographer. (OK, OK, God loves a trier, guys, jeez).
Despite that awkward moment, this particular scary publicist was actually in fine spirits. Until we were working on the first picture of the day and the photographer produced his first couple of polaroids. She snatched one from my hand and yelled, ‘You see, THIS is a problem!’ in my face before storming down to the opposite end of the warehouse. I had to sort of skip/run to keep up with her begging for more detail: ‘What’s the problem? Please tell me! I’m sure we can fix it!’
When I caught up with her she thrust the polaroid up to my eyes. I stared, trying to focus and then figure out what the problem was. Even with her new annoying black hair, I thought our star looked beautiful in a black slip dress, arms draped seductively above her, resting on her head.
‘She HATES seeing her armpits in photos and it’s all you can see with her arms up like that! It won’t work!’
I paused for a few seconds and said, ‘What if we try some with her arms not over her head?’
Pause… ‘That’ll work, yes.’
See it’s that kind of agile problem-solving is why I got the big bucks, people.
The hell hounds
Another day, another shoot with a huge film star. A favourite of mine as it happened and I was excited she’d be on my cover. We had a meeting with the photographer and fashion director beforehand and threw around some ideas about what we might do for pictures. The photographer liked the idea of her having a cute dog to interact with for some shots. Not groundbreaking, no, but research has proven that animals on magazine covers increase sales, so any time someone wanted to try throwing one in the mix I was all in.
Of course, by this point in my working life, I was very experienced at anticipating Publicist Rage. And nothing gets the red mist going faster than any form of surprise. If you would like someone screeching at you, in front of at least 15 other photo shoot crew, that you are a worthless piece of shit, present a celebrity publicist with new information - perhaps an outfit they didn’t know you were bringing, or the presence of an unauthorised soft drink brand, or any one extra person they were not expecting to see on a shoot.
To be honest though, getting permission to throw in a dog is only right. The celeb in question might be allergic or just deathly afraid of dogs. So, wise to the horrors of a surprised publicist roaming free at your photo shoot, and feeling like a thoughtful and obedient little editor, I sent an email to the publicist concerned saying, our photographer would love to bring a dog to the shoot. I mentioned the small breed we had in mind and asked whether or not this would be OK.
That evening, about 9pm, my mobile rang. It was one of those annoying flip phones from back in the day that answered as soon as you flipped it open. Horrifying. I didn’t even get out a ‘Hello’ before this publicist started yelling and yelling and yelling.
‘How DARE you just DECIDE that my client will have a DOG on this shoot!’
‘No, I didn’t decide, I was as-’
‘SHUT UP! I am speaking. She is not going to perform circus tricks with some dog for your stupid magazine. How do you even know she’s not allergic to dogs?’
‘I know, I was just asking if we could bring a dog, I wasn’t say-’
‘Well you CANNOT bring a dog.’
So I got the sense from this phone call that I should tell the photographer to just sack off the whole dog idea.
The day of the shoot arrived. The location was an LA house, where the owners had two cute golden retriever dogs.
The celebrity walked in and said, ‘Oh my god, why don’t we take some pictures with the dogs?!’
No one understands the hell of being a celebrity
There was the British singer who arrived two hours late to her shoot and then demanded to leave an hour early. I didn’t feel we had enough photos yet and said so to her team. Her publicist scolded me for being so demanding and said, ‘You’ve got to understand, Jo, [celebrity’s name]’s day doesn’t end at 6pm.’
Do you know anyone whose day does??
Let me forget to think about it and get back to you when it’s too late
The competition was on to land a very hot film star who was the lead in a new major film franchise. It had been made clear to us that her publicist was still deciding between our magazine and one other. A decision would be made shortly. All our enquiries over the next three weeks were met with, ‘Still not decided but it’s looking good to be you.’ ‘Still not definite but we’re speaking with her team tomorrow and we should know then.’ The whole time this conversation was going on, I was doing what publicists hate about editors: Fobbing off other celebrities who wanted to be on that same cover. Because I was still waiting to hear about my first choice - who I felt certain would be a huge seller and a massive coup. But I couldn’t risk an outright ‘no’ to my plan B or C incase plan A didn’t come off. So in turn I was spinning all sorts of white lies to these people about why I couldn’t give them an answer yet.
When I was really losing patience with all of this, I got another email saying from the plan A camp saying, ‘We still haven’t decided’. Five minutes later, one of our fashion assistants was at my door holding a big garment bag and looking puzzled. It was clothing from a fashion designer that had been addressed to us at Glamour but the label on it also said, ‘Clothes for [celebrity name]’s fashion shoot with [another] magazine.
Turns out they had indeed already decided it wasn’t us, but for some reason were still telling us they hadn’t decided.
Somebody save the publicist
One of my favourite stories and I wasn’t even there. It was a Saturday night in London and I was enjoying myself at my friend’s birthday party. In Los Angeles, the Glamour team were waking up to what would be a day from hell. A big star from a major TV show was being shot for our cover. Our sensors were already on high alert as communication with her publicist in the run-up to this had been fraught. A lot of arguing about who would take the pictures, and who would do the interview. They kept demanding mood boards of how we wanted the pictures to look and rejecting loads of ideas. The biggest worry: They just kept ‘forgetting’ to give us the star’s sizes. We had to do a lot of guesswork from pictures and unreliable googling and just, as much as possible, take a range of different-sized clothing to the shoot.
Sure enough, the celebrity rejected most of the clothes and berated the team for the fact that many did not fit her. Our fashion editor kept phoning me from because the publicist wanted to tell me, repeatedly, how shit we all were for not providing enough of a choice of clothes and making her client feel embarrassed when many were too big or too small. My protests about them not producing her sizes counted for nothing. Runners were dispatched to shops to get more clothes.
By the fourth time I was getting it in the neck from across the ocean, I asked our fashion editor if she thought she had ANY useable photos. ‘I think I’ve got one that will work as a cover and two for inside.’ ‘OK, tell everyone, thank you, we’re done, we can wrap.’
Cue outrage, but honestly, no one was loving this. I figured, why carry on the torture? The star and her publicist made sure everyone knew how rude we all were. ‘We will never work with your magazine again!’ the publicist yelled as she bundled the star into her car. After waving her off, the publicist turned to our fashion editor, grabbed her in a hug and whispered in her ear, ‘I hate her’ before scurrying to her own car.
All the yelling on set and bitchy calls to me had been a show for the benefit of her difficult client.
I softened a lot to all publicists after that one.
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