What it's really like to be a celebrity assistant

An account of day-to-day life, from someone who used to be one 

Heather Saul
Thursday 22 October 2015 18:29
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Beyonce Knowles
Beyonce Knowles

The world was very briefly given a glimpse into what life as the assistant to one of the most influential women would be like when footage of Beyonce hissing at her assistant to stop fixing her dress emerged this week.

Working in such a personal capacity for high profile figures is a role shrouded in secrecy and non-disclosure agreements, as well as constant speculation about what ridiculous demands the people who want for nothing might make.

Brian Daniel is a head hunter for celebrity assistants through his LA based agency, The Celebrity Personal Assistant Network. Daniel worked as a personal and executive assistant to the rich and famous for ten years before starting his company in 2007 and his clients included members of the Saudi royal family and a number of A-List actors.

Mr Daniel spoke to The Independent about what life is really like on day-to-day basis for a celebrity assistant.

It’s a 24/7 job

“The first thing you need to know is that there is no average day - you’re going to be working grueling hours. It’s typical to work up to 16 hours a day. I would like to say that I got some sleep but in job a like that its what we call ’24/7’. Your phone will always ring and when you are working for celebrities, billionaires or a royal family, their reach extends worldwide.”

Brian Daniel on location with Alec Baldwin

You will be expected to answer your phone (and two or three others) at all times

“You are working in all time zones - your phone is ringing all the time and you can’t turn the ringer off.

“For example, we might be based in LA but if I am dealing with someone in Middle East such as the Saudi royal family, your phone rings at all times and you can’t not answer. Clients will keep calling until they get you. They know that some assistants might be so exhausted that they’ll sleep through, so most assistants have a back up phone and an emergency phone, and the ringer has to be set to maximum. If you don't answer one they will call another. I had two cell phones and sometimes I’d be carrying my bosses phone as well.

“In any situation I had to be reachable 24 hours a day. On one occasion I slept through all of my phones ringing and I woke-up to the hotel security kicking the door in. They had to forcefully enter my room just to tell me I needed to wake up my boss straight away.”

Your definition of emergency will probably not be the same as theirs

“Here’s the thing: sometimes celebrities are eccentric and what you may consider an emergency they might not. One of my bosses was renting an estate that he was not familiar with. I was sleeping in another part of it and he called me at 3am because he couldn’t find the light and wanted me to turn the light. To him, it was an emergency. That is the [nature of the] job and you are paid extraordinary amount of money to be on call 24/7.

Pay varies

“In the US and in LA in particular, it used to pay a lot more. In the 80s or 90s it was something equivalent to $100,00 today. Now there are more people in LA, the job market is flooded with willing candidates and budgets are tight, so it is common for assistants to make as little as $1,000 a week.

“However if you are extraordinary and you work with someone like George Clooney who has a big production company, you can earn between $100,000 to $200,000 a year. A couple of my candidates that I have placed earn over $250,000 a year with their bonus, plus perks such as travel and flying in private jets.“

“My entire compensation package for the Saudi royal family was valued at over $1 million a year because of all of the travel expenses, the meals and other perks.“

Breaks aren’t included, so remember to bring cereal bars

“When I train candidates, one of the things I always say is that you have you have back up plans. There are no scheduled meal breaks, you have to have those cereal bars stashed away in your pocket or in your car because sometimes it’s just non-stop. You work at a break-neck pace and you wont get to sit down for lunch.”

You need to be tough - crying is not appreciated

“A lot of people conceptually believe they would love to work for a celebrity. But you have to have a very, very thick skin and you cannot cry easily. It’s not for someone who is faint of heart. Getting the job is much easier than keeping the job. It is very easy to be fired if you don't keep your wits about you.”

Brian Daniel with Donnie Osmond

You’ll be given some highly unusual tasks

“An assistant's role is hybrid; you are wearing both the executive assistant and personal assistant hat. The work varies a lot. If you are working for a very respectable, clean-cut figure like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, you wont get the typically eccentric or outlandish requests that you might get in entertainment.

“I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘diva requests’ from rock stars. I was in a situation where a Grammy winning singer needed the room to be at a certain temperature and the humidity to be just right, and that is a legitimate request. I have also been in situations where someone wants something like candy from the UK while we were in the US and all of the shops selling foreign candy were closed. You can’t tell them no, you have to find a way to get it.

“I created a support system for all assistants that I place so I have a deep network in all major US cities for when someone needs a certain kind of thing and it is after hours. I’ve been in situations where stores are closed and my client wanted something, so I’ve had someone in a different time zone get it me and fly it over in a private jet. I had someone who wanted coffee from a particular store that was closed in New York, so I had to call a different coast and fly it over. We are talking tens of thousands of dollars spent on a menial task. It’s what some people would consider to be an extraordinary waste, but it’s a drop in the bucket to them.

“You might also have some eccentric man trying too impress some woman, and he will ask you to get them on a private and plan their dinner together - it’s all in a days work.

“I was in a situation in Vegas with a billionaire and he really loved this burger restaurant chain that sold a very specialised kind of burger. He wanted one but the restaurant had just closed and the doors were locked. Corporation rules are strict and when you are closed, you are closed. But he really wanted this burger, so I knocked on the door and the manager said: ‘I'm sorry no, under no circumstances’. Long story short, it cost me more than $5,000 for them to open the door and for him to come in, sit down and have a burger. These people have extraordinarily deep pockets. If you can back it up financially, there is no request that cannot be fulfilled.”

Your job can also involve being more than their assistant

“I was working for an A-lister and, along with my other roles, I was also a companion. It’s very lonely at the top. If you are famous or a billionaire, everyone ‘loves’ you but they don't have a lot of true friends. When I was on the road with them I was their confidant and they would tell me their deepest darkest secrets. It’s almost like being a psychotherapist - they don’t have anyone to talk to so they tell their secrets to you.

“You don’t have that many people you can talk to when you are trying to maintain a public persona, and sometimes these relationships become very deep. We tell assistants not to become a ‘friend’. Sometimes those lines get blurred and you have to be very careful. Even though they trust you, assistants will become confused with that relationship and they can cross a line.”

You can build a career out of it (eventually)

“I represent people who have been doing it for up to 30 years, although the turn-over in entertainment is quite high. Some people have become producing partners. In one case someone started as a driver and worked their way up through the assistant ranks. Eventually he actually became a partner in the production company.

“On the flip side, a lot of them are dead end jobs, you are a ‘go for’ - you go for coffee, cigarettes etc.You have to do those dead end jobs first. Once you have that position on your resume, then a lot of doors open. ”

Famous people are often very, very different in reality

“Assistants have to be aware that a person’s public persona is quite different than their real life personality. More often than not a lot of assistants because disenchanted with their new role which is why I encourage the client and the assistant to be as forthright as possible during the job interview."

You’ll be asked to do things you might not want to do, so be honest about whether the job really is for you

For example, when working for a billionaire, they will probably say, ‘Oh look at that beautiful woman over there, I want her phone number'. If you aren't comfortable doing stuff like that, you need to say it in the interview. If a guy is single, you will be going with them to nightclubs, you will be out until two in the morning. You can’t leave. You have the same schedule as them, but unlike them you have to be up in the morning and you have to start managing their day. So if you are on two hours sleep, you have to drink some Red Bull or a coffee, and get on with it.“

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