Matthew Bell: The night I stalked Britain's 'golden girl' Jessica


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The Independent Online

What was your best moment? The opening ceremony? The event you actually got tickets for? Mine managed to be the best and the worst. As someone who has spent the past fortnight quietly Googling words like peloton and handball, I admit this is all a bit foreign. But I get the feeling that highs and lows often come together in sport.

Anyway, it was the night I met Jessica Ennis. I know. Get me. She was the star billing at a party at Omega House on Wednesday. Normally, this is the House of St Barnabas, a tumbledown Georgian place on London's Soho Square, established as a charity for "fallen women". But it had been taken over and spruced up by Omega, the watchmakers and official timekeepers, for the duration of the Games.

As it turned out, a lot of other people wanted a glimpse of Jessica. They were lining the pavement and climbing the railings. The paps were four deep. Well, she did win gold at the heptathlon last weekend. I looked that up too: not one event, but seven! All lumped together under a Greek name. It doesn't get more Olympian than that. That's why we cleared the front page last Sunday to pay Jessica the honour due to her.

That's also why we knocked up a box of badges saying "I ♥ Jessica". So off I went, wearing my bright red badge, and carrying a framed edition of last week's front page, as a gift for her. It was the least we could do. Trouble was, Jessica had a lot on. Running, jumping, and throwing things must have been quite relaxing compared to her hectic schedule of interviews. So I had a drink. Maybe I had two. But after four hours of being promised my moment with Jessica, I was beginning to wonder if it would ever happen. PR people can be the nicest folk in the world when they want to be. But sometimes, you wonder if they're quite telling the whole truth.

So when I suddenly spotted Jessica through the crowd, being handled from one schmooze- lounge to the next, I saw my chance. Reader, she is as wonderful in the flesh as on telly. No, better. A beautiful, athletic, friendly, warm, talented, open, normal and nice person, who happens to be one of our greatest athletes of all time.

Like a stalker, I elbowed my way through to throw myself into her path. The giant Perspex picture frame I had been clutching was by now a bit clammy, but her face instantly lit up. "Wow! That's lovely," she said, as I handed it over. I think I managed to mumble something about how proud we all are, and what a hero she is. And then I asked to have our picture taken.

Jessica said fine, but as we looked about for the snapper, minders intervened. "That's enough!" growled one, and shoved me aside. Two more bundled me away and the caravan moved on. And that was that. Endless hours of preparation, sweating, and deep breathing, all for a second of mixed agony and ecstasy. This must be what it's like to be an Olympic athlete, I thought. Except that, unlike Team GB, I managed to bungle it at the end. Still, Jessica: if you find yourself struggling to cope with the come-down, I know how you feel.