Well I’m going to link a number of category themes together in this posting and the common thread is Phil Collins, interest in whom has been revived by that splendidly surreal Cadbury’s tv commercial featuring a gorilla drumming along to his song ‘In the Air Tonight’. Sorry that’s a rather tortuous opening sentence. I have a habit of writing like this. My wife C only reads the opening para to my postings; she gets bored after that. If she were reading this now she’d already have signed out. Which would be a shame because bear with me if you can, this one might just be worth the wait.
What about that ad then? God knows what it’s got to do with chocolate but who cares, it’s uplifting. Maybe that’s the point but whatever it’s compelling watching and I’ll score it 8 out of 10. It’s also made Phil C and his music so popular again. Not only is ITAT back in charts but there’s a Greatest Hits collection doing rather well and a tour with Genesis going gangbusters. I’m pleased because I always liked PC but there was a point when he just became as popular as genital herpes. I don’t know what caused it. Was it when his songs became a little too preachy, or the decision to live in Switzerland or his seemingly callous separation techniques with his wives? I don’t know but he just went from no hair to nowhere in no time.
But around the time that PC was becoming a really huge act, probably around ’89, I was working in the marketing team at Cellnet. For publicity purposes we had a number of mobile phones, which were still relatively novel, out on loan with some VIPs – Nigel Mansell, Lord Snowdon etc. I got a call from Blunter. You’ll have to refer to earlier postings about the incomparable Blunter – the guy who sourced all the company’s phones and sort of managed the VIP loans. If you pleased Bill (he used to contract his name Bill Hunter when answering the phone to the sublime Blunter) he’d ensure you had the very latest mobile to use. Upset him (easily done) and you’d be walking round with a transportable the size of a car battery.
Anyway Blunter came over to see me to tell me that one of his many dealer mates had an ‘in’ with PC. He’d supplied him with a mobile which needed upgrading and installing in PC’s new BMW 7 series. Bill had convinced this dealer that we should put PC onto a VIP arrangement and he was happy for me to negotiate the contra arrangement and effectively ‘own’ the relationship thereafter with PC. This struck me as incredibly generous for Bill to effectively gift me such a great opportunity; I’d find out the reason why later, but I wasn’t going to argue. I was off to meet and do a deal with Phil Collins for f*ck’s sake.
Now 10-12 months or so before this happened, my good friend, mentor and boss Brian left the company to work for a small but well-connected PR/lobbying company. Our Director (see posting ‘PW, what a guy’) eventually recruited a new head of marketing, MR. He was good company and we got on OK but MR had two flaws as a boss a) he was no good at marketing and b) he couldn’t say no to attractive girls. I think M had actually interviewed for the head of sales job and was given the marketing role because he showed a keeness (and aptitude) for the extensive events and social activity which Cellnet did a lot of at that time. MR was clever enough to get other people to do the key marketing stuff like advertising, PR, exhibitions etc. And always he’d appoint women to be his direct reports. I was the poor male sap who was in charge of all the sponsorship and hospitality activity which M regarded as the fun stuff which I believe he really wanted to handle. It caused a few tension points as you can imagine but we learned to respect each other’s areas of interest.
One day he called me into his office to tell me hurriedly that he’d recruited a new person to join my team. This came as something of a surprise as I didn’t know we had a role that needed filling and wasn’t aware we, ie M, was actively recruiting. I was about to have another of those who/what/when/where/why rants when he just apologised for keeping me in the dark and leered at me as he said something like ‘you’ll thank me – she’s got fantastic tits, studied in the US and she’ll be great at events. Her name’s Alex something and oh, she starts tomorrow’. With that he dashed off for the afternoon. Life was never dull with MR around.
Next morning I got the call that Alex was downstairs and went to meet her. I just had expectations of some airhead bimbo sitting in reception. In fact Alex turned out to be great, a little stunned to be in a job so quickly but eager and keen to do something in marketing. Neither of us was quite sure what. The ‘something’ surname turned out to Gluck and she got christened Rubber Duck virtually from day one. I think it was on Alex’s second day that Bill told me about Phil Collins. I told her that her first assignment was to come with me to meet PC to sort out a contra deal in return for a couple of mobile phones. I think she thought either I was kidding or she’d just landed herself one fantastic job.
Bill later came over to tell me how impressed he was with Alex and the twins (he had an earthy sense of humour) and he suggested that we pop down to meet PC and fix everything up in a couple of days time. Fine. We agreed that the Cellnet delegation would be himself and his assistant, me, Alex, a PR guy to get some quotes etc and a photographer to get some promo shots, and the dealer of course, who we’d meet en route (as only he knew where PC actually lived. We were meeting PC at his Surrey home). That already sounded like a sizable expeditionary force when he then did one of those ‘oh by the way’ things. Ah hear come the terms. Bill explained that he was going through one of his regular bad patches with his then wife J who happened to be a big fan of PC. If he could take J along too, obviously no-one from Cellnet need know she was going of course, then it could be the thing to bring back the sparkle into their marriage. And he could probably fit that new Motorola in my car that I’d been going on at him about for months. Oh nicely played Bill. I thought sure, why not, that’s just the 8 of us descending on PC’s place. How could Phil have an issue with that?
Well we set off in convoy later that week. Alex and I in my car, Bill with J squabbling in his, his assistant in another with the photographer and PR guy. We met the dealer somewhere en route, I didn’t much like him from the start. He just looked like another of Bill’s dodgy mates. How the guy had got to sell PC some mobile phones I don’t know. Anyway I thought he’d be largely out of the scene after that day. We turned into PC’s place, it was stunning. He had this long drive way leading up to the house and if he’d looked out of the window at our arrival, it must have looked like we were coming to requisition the place.
The dealer made the introductions and Collins was very gracious even with J giggling at him like a love-struck teenager. Alex was remarkably assured and got on with him instantly. This was great because it enabled me swiftly to agree with him about some photos using the phone in his new car, and some words etc for the PR guy for our in-house customer magazine and then we could agree other terms separately. He was cool with that but asked for two things – that he should go and change into some smarter trousers first and that he’d move the car for the photo-shoot as he’d prefer not to have his house featuring in the background. That wasn’t a problem obviously. He told me that the car was brand new, he’d had it less than a week and was his pride and joy. He was pleased with the phone fitting the dealer had done. I told him that my Toyota Carina parked a couple of yards behind his was also new and made some crappy joke about it being difficult to tell them apart.
He was about to run into the house when the dealer, in a moment of delirium, suggested that he move PC’s car whilst Phil changed his kecks. PC thought for a second, came over and gave the keys to the brand new 7-series to this f*ckwit with a little wry aside about trying not to prang it. Dipstick dealer’s last words as Phil was heading for the house were ‘how could I possibly do any damage here’.
You’re ahead of me aren’t you?
I kid you not this moron climbed into the BMW, started it up and selected a gear which he thought was in drive mode but was in fact in reverse. He just floored it and the car shot back straight into the side of my Carina. Time stood still for a few seconds. There we all were, 7 of us staring open-mouthed whilst this gibbering dufus found a forward gear and edged the BMW towards the nominated place. He got out and was just hysterical. He actually wanted me to confess to driving the car – into my own car! He was begging for anyone to take the rap.
Phil appeared smiling, in smart trousers, till he noticed the look on our faces and then my car and then his. I just went over and said something like I’m sorry but in the last two minutes this f*ckwit has damaged your car and demolished mine. Guess what happened? He was annoyed obviously but just agreed that it would all get sorted with the insurance companies and proceeded to do the photoshoot and the interview for us. The deal that we later struck was incredibly generous towards us.
How can you not like a guy who does that? On of his favours to us was to allow a certain number of guests back stage to meet him after his concerts. At one show at the Albert Hall we were entertaining a major retail client, probably the biggest name in the industry and we took him back stage after the show. It was a smallish private room with around 20 guests top including Nick Faldo and other well-known faces. Our guest was already having a swell time when Phil arrived and made a bee-line for us, having a joke about the whole car incident and saying something great like it didn’t stop him having a great relationship with the company. He spent 15 minutes chatting to our group and it made a huge impression on our guest whose relationship with the company was transformed.
So that’s why I’m delighted PC’s back in favour; he is a genuinely decent guy.
Just a quick footnote. This is a true story but obviously it’s based on my honest recollections of events from nearly 20 years ago told from my perspective. If some details like dates, precise words etc are slightly wrong forgive me. We’re all getting older.