Mike Tyson pushed past me, through the crowd, as I stood trying to buy a drink at the pool bar. His entourage surfed his wake. A youthful Robert Downey Junior looked nervous and sweaty as he waited for a cab in front of us. The Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard carried on being, well, very Los Angeles in its 1990s way.
We were away for a week, filming a Levi’s ad in South Central. (During an earthquake, at a corner store, four guys would be shaken out their floppy jeans outside whilst our hero’s rigid 501s stayed upright inside, despite the tremors, to the approval of a rather fabulous heroine.) I was copywriter to the graceful Rosie Arnold. Our producer was Philippa Crane. The director was Doug Liman. As we filmed, he was busy prepping a movie that had just been green lit. Stupidly, we didn’t really ask about it. His lead turned out to be Matt Damon. The movie, The Bourne Ultimatum.
Back in the UK, we wound up in a music studio just north of Regent’s Park with some of the most talented reggae musicians ever. They re-recorded Prince Buster’s filthy ‘Whine or Grine’, with Prince Buster himself. One of the more memorable evenings of my advertising life where Rosie played conductor with an elegance and sparkle all her own. In the end, when aired, it wasn’t the best Levi’s commercial, but it was a blast to make.
The whole project was overshadowed by a huge event that had engulfed the world. Just down from us on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood inhabitants were lining up in droves, queuing patiently to record their feelings in carefully written tributes.
Princess Diana had died two weeks previously. Her actual funeral happened while we were in Los Angeles. We watched the event, through the night, on our hotel TVs. Like millions of others, I found it profoundly affecting: the sonorous bells; the silent crowds; her brother’s angry speech; the flowers thrown the length of the hearse’s journey to her final resting place. The national sense of tragic occasion was like no other experienced in my lifetime, except possibly Churchill’s funeral when I was an infant (and the broadcast was in black and white). In the saddest way possible, the funeral was headache inducingly sombre, awful and cathartic.
The next morning, I sat down to breakfast outside, in the early morning sun, by the surreally calm pool and giant flower pots. As I shovelled bacon and scrambled eggs about my plate, the waitress approached to pour coffee into my cup. I became aware of small drops of water raining down from above.
Looking up, I saw the tears streaming down her face. She gave a muffled cry. “It’s so sad, I’m so sorry.” Her distress was evident and real. I’d never had anyone sob onto my breakfast before.