I once came face to face with Frank Sinatra. It was only for about a minute and a half and happened on one of the strangest mornings of my life.
I was 19 years old and working for the impresario Robert Stigwood. It started as a day like any other. I had crossed the road opposite my Islington flat to catch the 38 bus into work. The Robert Stigwood Organisation was in Mayfair close to Claridges Hotel so I would hop off the bus somewhere along Piccadilly and walk up through Berkeley Square to the RSO offices at 67 Brook Street.
But on this particular morning the bus never arrived and after waiting about 20 minutes I decided I would get in by some other means. A black cab came along, I hailed it and told the driver my destination.
“Brook Street, eh?” he repeated. “How much do you normally pay?”
It was an odd question to be asked by a London taxi driver but I told him roughly how much it was.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll charge you that much regardless of what the meter reads but would you mind if I tried a new route avoiding the Angel and instead going round the back of King’s Cross and down to Marylebone?”
I said I didn’t mind how he got there as long as I only had to pay the usual fare and it didn’t take too long.
So off we went, meandering all over the place with the meter jumping up to far more than the usual amount. It did strike me that I was being taken for an almighty ride (literally) but the cabbie was true to his word and when we pulled up in Davies Street next to the side of Claridges Hotel, he said he would only charge me the original amount agreed.
“Cheers mate,” he said. “It’s always good to try different routes now and again.”
I was just paying him through the glass screen when suddenly a herd of photographers came thundering around the corner of Claridges. We both looked in their direction.
“What the hell?” said the cab driver.
But just before the pack of Fleet Street’s finest lensmen could reach us, a side door of the famous hotel flew open and some men in black suits came charging out shielding a man and a woman.
They came straight up to our black cab, opened the door and bundled the couple inside. One of the suits then gave my driver a fistful of banknotes and ordered him to drive off fast, which he did.
Thrown back into the seat I suddenly realised that the man beside me was Frank Sinatra and the woman Barbara Marx, who later became his wife. He was in London for a concert at the Royal Albert Hall; there had been much coverage in the press all that week.
We shot over the junction of Brook Street followed by photographers and popping flashbulbs.
When we were safely a few streets away, Sinatra turned to me and said “Sorry about that. We had to get out quick and this taxi was the first vehicle we saw.”
He then asked me where I was going and I explained that I was just about to get out and go to work. I kicked myself later that I didn’t make out that I had just got into the cab. It would have been interesting to know which destination we would have driven to?
The singer then asked the driver to pull over and let me out. He shook my hand and once again apologised for the intrusion.
As I stood on the kerb and watched him drive away I thought what an extraordinary event that would never have happened if that cabbie had taken the normal route!
I looked at my watch, I was going to be seriously late for work. But what an excuse I had to tell everyone.