Stars, Cars and Crystal Meth: Former celebrity PA Jack Sutherland on the life of a personal assistant

'Pusher, peddler, pimp, human pillbox. They don’t put that in the job description'

Jack Sutherland
Tuesday 01 March 2016 18:40
Beyonce Knowles
Beyonce Knowles

I've swapped job gossip with career PAs who’ve had to pick up drugs, hold them, ration them out, and wipe celebrity noses as they emerge from restrooms, powdery-white round the nostrils.

Others who’ve had to arrange (even inspect) "escorts", and inject B-complex into some of the more respected buttocks in show business.

Celebrities tend to have retained doctors in every city they go to. Up where they are the pressure is unbelievable. Pills are staples of celebrity life. The PA will often hold them. And then wonder whether they should dispense so many.

Look at the post-mortem report on Elvis. So many pills inside him his corpse rattled like maracas. The doctors prescribed them, and who administered them? The PA, I’d guess.

Pusher, peddler, pimp, human pillbox. They don’t put that in the job description.

And then there’s the humble domestic stuff. Washing underwear with special soaps in bathroom basins (room service, even five-star, isn’t fast enough for one-nighters), when all you’re desperate for is a few hours' sleep before you get up (early).

My know-all dad tells me the Romans had no word for "no". Neither do celebrities. You don’t really know them and you certainly don’t ever "no" them.

They're frightened to death of hearing that little word when they ask for something wholly outrageous. It’s a test for them. "No" would mean 1) they haven’t yet quite made it to the very top of the slippery pole, or 2) they’re on the way down.

When Beyoncé, or whoever, demands that, before she/he arrives, the dressing room be repainted in puce (no, hold that, lilac), and orchids flown in from the Tibetan foothills, she/he doesn’t probably give a s**t about the décor. They want proof they are all-powerful. Still masters/mistresses of the universe.

And, looking around, who has held on to the top celebrity position? Jagger, Streisand, Clapton, Neil Young and very few others. Not many people get old up there. When the world stops obeying their outrageous commands, and their toilet paper turns white, like everyone else’s, celebrities know their day is over. They fear that day more than death itself. So the last thing a PA can say to his/her celebrity is "no".

Most of the time you’re an overpaid, two-legged alarm clock, tea-maker, trouser-presser, door-opener, UPS guy, cigarette-fetcher. And occasional trouble-shooter – the moments that make you feel more important than you are.

They’re tired. You’re tireder. In the nature of the job, you get less sleep than your boss – phone, switched to "listen" on max volume, close to your ear. Always at the ready. First up, last to bed. First to the door, at the end of the entourage. It’s wearing. But you, unlike the boss, can never be grouchy.

And never forget a bag.

This extract was taken from Stars, Cars and Crystal Meth by Jack Sutherland (as told to John Sutherland) published with kind permission of the author. The book is out in paperback on 17 March 2016.

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