Sunday 30 August 1998
As book launches go, it was hardcore. Well, it had to be to coax Stephen King - Prince of Darkness and the world's best-selling author - away from his lair in Maine and into London's Royal College of Art.
Mr King's new book, enticingly titled Bag of Bones, is his 35th (ish - pseudonyms, short stories, collaborations notwithstanding), so he must be tearing his hair out at having to go through the media mill for yet another novel. But publishers Hodder & Stoughton pulled out all the stops for this one, coaxing King with a cricket match if he was a good boy at the launch.
And so he was, although strictly on his own terms. Michael Jackson couldn't have orchestrated a bigger build-up than Stephen, who still hadn't appeared two hours into the evening. Photographers were at the ready, publicists were looking flustered, rumours were flying that he was arriving "any moment now". I half expected him to explode from under the floor or abseil from the ceiling singing I'm Bad.
When the great man eventually appeared (all 6'4" of him) it was in a simple floppy white t-shirt, loose jeans and trademark goggle glasses. He reminded me of no-one so much as that bloke from King of the Hill. Still, he was very charming and was more than prepared to do his duty, gamely looked interested while earnest looking men from WH Smith talked book sales and wirey-haired loons quizzed him about Bag of Bones.
Later he confided, rather sweetly, that "the publicity thing's not that hard, actually". It no doubt eases the way, having a bodyguard two steps behind all evening and ready to flatten the nearest fan . And fans there were. Real, gabbling, gushing fans. Loads of them. Even the publicist was going for it, at one stage collecting, opening and placing a can of coke in King's hand, and all-but kneeing undesirables out of the way.
This was fun enough. But the most surreal bit was yet to come. It doesn't take a genius to recognise that Stephen King is an "anorak". And lo, after he'd done his star turn around the room and touched all his disciples, Saint Stephen picked up his gee-tar and took to the stage with fellow author Ken Follett.
It was text book rock 'n' roll cliche. Enthusiastic whooping, facial expressions of excruciating pain whilst "riffing", "high five" slaps between songs - grown men generally behaving like Bruce Willis on a bad day, but with more hair to fling around. Frankly, you wouldn't want this lot playing at your wedding. But believe me, they do a wicked book launch.
A big fat raspberry to the American film companies out there. Here's how to throw a UK premiere and party. The British gangster gem Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels had so many celebrities in attendance, the tabloid photographers were nearly wetting themselves. Ewan McGregor, Anna Friel, Robbie Williams, Steven Mackintosh, Leslie Ash, Sting, Trudi Styler (does she count?), Richard Ashcroft - and let's not forget dear Vinnie Jones, resplendent in shirt collars the width of the Thames - were all jostling for position at luvvie central. The scramble was so intense, one bloke complained at the party that there should have been an ultra VIP room, to keep out the normal VIPs!
As part of the revelry, three floors were at our disposal (I can't remember the venue - drunken haze, I'm afraid), with exquisite food, drinkies on the house until such time as you saw fit to collapse and hundreds of beautiful, pouting people. All very stylish and classy apart from, ahem, the "dancing girls". I think it's fair to say that this was a part of the evening which only the gentlemen could truly appreciate, as a dozen or so gambolling beauties, wearing spangly bikinis circa Ibiza '88, skipped around the base of a large podium, blowing whistles, clapping wildly and inviting enthusiastic men on the dancefloor for a spot of gyration.
It was hard to pick out a favourite, but my vote goes to the lovely blonde, resplendent in beaded bikini, black stilettos and bare bottom, who looked for one frightening moment like she might end her act with something like a Lewinsky cigar trick.Which, no doubt, she would have executed with far greater aplomb than dear old Monica. Still, I think we managed to show our American friends up quite enough for one day.
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