Monday, 3 February 2014
My colleagues and I like to play a game of trying to spot famous celebrities, generally whilst travelling. My friend Dan likes to bend the rules slightly by calling out the names of famous actors he's mingled with after theatre productions in the West End, but, whilst there's no denying that spotting Dame Helen Mirren has major kudos, if you spend time with thesps in theatre land, you're quite likely to bump into a major board-treader.
Mike and I have a more purist view of the game: they have to be people spotted in an airport, on a plane or in an airport lounge. Mike's most recent spot was Sarah Ferguson. Mine was Noel Gallagher. My previous spots have included Richard Bacon and Sue Perkins. It's a mildly diverting game.
Outside of travelling, I have seen two major Hollywood celebrities on the street. The first was Kiefer Sutherland, who I saw at approximately 8.30 in the morning wandering through a deserted Covent Garden, dressed in a blue suit, wearing sunglasses, smoking a cigarette and bearing a facial expression that said 'Yes, it's me, and yes, I am way too cool for school.' My family and I had come down to London after our flight to Portugal had been cancelled thanks to that Icelandic ash cloud back in 2010; he, I would later discover from reading a newspaper, was stranded in London for the same reason, only whereas we had spent a civilised night in our Canary Wharf hotel, he had spent the night partying, and evidently whilst we were on our way out to breakfast, he was on his way home.
My personal favourite spot, and the one that prompted this piece, was last May while we were on holiday in New York. This was our second family trip to the Big Apple, and the third for M. and I. Whenever we head to NY I think we're going to be bumping into celebrities on every block, but of course we never do. They hide, evidently.
So it was our first night in Manhattan and we'd gone for a major wander to re-orient ourselves. Our aim was to find a branch of Whole Foods somewhere downtown, but we ended up getting thoroughly lost, and instead found ourselves in Greenwich Village - arguably the most confusing part of the island thanks to its London-esque jumble of streets - and popped into a D'Agostino on Greenwich Street for over-priced supplies.
When we came out, sixty-odd dollars lighter, it had started to drizzle. On the street we saw a big man riding a bike. He looked reasonably familiar, but it was only when he got off the bike and chained it to a lamppost that I realised it was Philip Seymour Hoffman. I think I probably whispered 'Look, that's you-know-who!' to M. in that vaguely star-struck too-loud voice you inevitably use on such occasions, which unintentionally caught his attention.
In response, he just nodded sagely, raised a hand and offered a small, slightly embarrassed smile. Later we found out he lived in that part of town and that he'd just come out of a spell in rehab. In the celeb spotting stakes, an Oscar winner riding a bike after time kicking drugs was up there with the best.
Less than a year later he was dead from a suspected overdose.
Rest in peace PSH.