'We're the mountain, you're Mohammed'

DICKIE FANTASTIC on the schmooze
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The Independent Culture
One knows something is horribly up when one arrives late to a huge and well-publicised media event at the Hard Rock Cafe and announces one's presence at the press desk only to witness the entire PR contingent break into incredibly relieved smiles. "I'm on the list," I say.

"That really doesn't matter," they gurgle merrily. "Please come in. There are a lot of canapes and many interesting people dying to meet you."

"Am I," I say hesitantly, "the only journalist here so far?"

"Oh no," they reply quickly. "Oh no. Well, actually... so far? Actually, yes."

Of course, in some marvellous scoop situation, this would be every journalist's dream, but this is, I'm sorry to report, no scoop situation. This is the launch of the Liverpool Fame School for Performing Arts, an opportunity for undiscovered Merseyside talents to meet the national press and sing cover versions of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" to the assembled media throng. This is a throng of one, it quickly transpires. The throng is me.

"Merseyside has a wealth of undiscovered creative talent," says the man from the city development corporation, "but the London media simply don't want to know, so we thought that if Mohammed won't come to the mountain, we'll bring Mohammed all the way down to the London mountain and show you just how creative Mohammed is."

"Don't you mean how creative the mountain is?" I ask.

"Hang on," says the man, blushing. "No. You're the mountain, we're Mohammed. Or is it ...?"

"You're wrong," interrupts the man from the creative development umbrella organisation. "We're the mountain, you're Mohammed. Hi! I'm Dave. I hear you're a journalist - let me tell you a little bit about our funding dilemma."

And so on. The nightmare has become a reality. I am the only journalist here, and have consequently become the raison d'etre for the entire event. Development officers and undiscovered Liverpool talents are queuing up to schmooze with me, and I've never had to grin broadly and say "That sounds intriguing" so many times in one evening. I am writing this the next morning and my jaw still hurts. They have brought the mountain all the way down to the Hard Rock Cafe and still Mohammed hasn't bothered to show up. Bill Clinton is in town, and the general assumption is that Mohammed has gone off to meet him instead.

"We've got a very special celebrity guest," says Dave. "A real Liverpool success story."

"I know," I say. "George Martin. I saw his name on the list. That's why the Independent sent me. But I haven't seen him yet."

"Ah," says Dave. "That's because there's a special surprise for you. George Martin is... oh, no. Wait and see."

And then the lights go out, a man sings "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" to me and, finally, George Martin appears.

"I'm sorry I couldn't be with you tonight," explained George looking down on us from a video monitor. "But, hey! Liverpool. Let's do it again. I'm George Martin. Thank you. Goodnight."

"See," says Dave. "He made a personalised video for us. How about that?"

"Yes," I agree. "How about that?"