Pardon Monsieur… Am I hearing You Right #5

Kirstie alleyMY Pardon Monsieur moment with American Emmy award-winning actress Kirstie Alley was random in the extreme.

It was 1991, and Kirstie was at the height of her TV fame playing Rebecca in the US sitcom Cheers. It was also a weird time for music and movie celebs buying pieces of Scottish real estate.

Paul and Linda McCartney had long been established at their farm on the Kintyre peninsula, while former Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson had bought a Scottish fish farm and comedy star Billy Connolly was eying up a Highland castle.

So when the small island of Gigha (pronounced Geeya) was put up for sale in the summer of 1991 it did not come as much surprise to hear that both Mick Jagger and Kirstie Alley had expressed interest.

At the time I was in my first editor’s chair at the small weekly newspaper The Argyllshire Advertiser while also covering the adjoining Campbeltown Courier.

I decided to try and harden up the rumours of the celeb interest in our wee west coast island of Gigha – population 140 – and telephone both Mick Jagger and Kirstie Alley.

I was given short-shrift by Jaggers’ agent, but surprisingly had much more luck from Miss Alley’s who promised me an interview.

I was gobsmacked some few hours later to receive a personal call from the sitcom star. And as it was about 2pm our time, she must have been ringing very early morning from the States.

In either case, her Kansas drawl totally flummoxed an English editor still coming to terms with the Argyll lilt of the Scottish West Highlands.

“Hi, am I talking to Nic?”… I could just make out, as I answered my phone.

I could barely translate the next line, but am sure she said: “I gather you want to talk about Giga.”

Or she may have said she was ‘buying a cider’!

I was already confused.

She then went on to tell me how she loved the Scots, how ‘wonderful’ she thought Scotland was and how it was her spiritual home.

Or she could have said: “I love a Scotch, I think Scottish bands are wonderful and I am thinking of becoming a spiritualist.”

To be frank she could have told me anything. And to be fair to Kirstie I am sure it was just a communication breakdown between two diverse accents that meant that after a 10 minute interview I had nothing written down in my notebook.

Nothing at all!

And I still do not know, some 22 years later, whether she wanted to buy Gigha.


Pardon Monsieur… Am I Hearing You Right? #4

RANGERS - 00MY meeting with England footballer legend Paul Gascoigne was brief, memorable and steeped in humour.

In the summer of 1995, the Gateshead born Geordie had enjoyed three years playing for top Italian side Lazio.

It was no secret that although he enjoyed immense success on the pitch he found the Italian language a little tricky.

Many football punters tipped him to return to England and maybe re-sign for Spurs or even Manchester United or his home team Newcastle United.

So his transfer to Glasgow Rangers for £4.3 million that summer shocked everyone.

On the July day his transfer was to be formally announced, I had been tasked by my newsdesk to attend a Rangers training session and then a press conference at Ibrox to try and grab a word with the great player.

So I spent an hour with my photographer watching a lithe, tanned and fit Gazza train with his team-mates before making our way to Glasgow G51.

The stadium was mobbed by Rangers fans daubed in blue and white, hoping to get a glimpse of their new hero.

I picked my way through the crowd, past a cordon of police officers and showed my press pass at the players’ entrance.

Once inside, the assembled press pack was treated to prawn sandwiches, croissants and coffee before being ushered into a bustling meeting room.

Rangers’ manager Walter Smith and club chairman David Murray sat at the top table next to their new superstar.

The formal press conference lasted about 35 minutes before we were led out pitch side for a photo opportunity.

Gazza was beaming and in a playful mood with the press photographers.

I had not yet managed to ask him a question so waited for my moment.

It wasn’t long before the chance came.

It had crossed my mind that if this Geordie had found the Italian language difficult to deal with, how would he manage broad Glaswegian?

So as Gazza sat in the stands for a final picture opportunity – and remembering my own Tyneside roots – I called to him: “Do you think you will cope with the language here, Paul?”

Quick as a flash, he turned to me and shouted back; “Whey aye man, dyer think thaal understand me. Ye knaa what ah mean leik.”

Both of us broke into a chuckle.

Twenty minutes later as we made our way out of the stadium a couple of my colleagues asked: “What did Gazza say to you?”

I shrugged and lied: “Didn’t understand a word!”


Pardon Monsieur… Am I hearing You Right #3

Jackie StewartTHERE are few interviews I have ever conducted in my journalistic career quite as bizarre as the one with former Formula 1 World Champion Jackie Stewart.

The story may lose something in translation into print, but it has to be told.

It was sometime in 1996 and I had been running a short campaign at The Scotsman to support female race ace Sarah Kavanagh’s breakthrough into Formula 1.

I had already spoken at length with Sarah, her manager and her sponsors; and the day before had managed to tie down F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone for a few words.

Meanwhile, I had made a few bids for a telephone interview with Jackie Stewart or his son Paul.

Then the call came.

“Hello, is that Mr Oooterside?” said the voice at the end of the phone.

Before I could answer, I was deafened by a “Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.” The unmistakeable noise of a Formula 1 racing engine.

“Sorry, we are on practice,” said the voice again.

Then another: Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Hello, Mr Stewart, it is Nic Outterside. I would like to ask you about Sarah Kavanagh,” I replied.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“It’s not a good line,” said Jackie Stewart.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Sarah who?” he added.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Sarah Kavanagh,” I almost shouted back.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“We are in Spain testing a new engine,” replied Jackie.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Well, do you think Sarah is good enough to make it in Formula 1?” I asked.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“Yes, but I think you ought to speak to Paul,” came the answer.

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“He’ll be here in a while.”

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

“What’s the weather like back home?”

Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr.

You will get the drift by now.

I interviewed Jackie Stewart for a full 15 minutes and his son Paul for a further five minutes.

When the phone call was over, I looked at my shorthand notebook.

Deafened by the interruptions of “Whooooorrrrr roooooshh errrrrrrrrr”, the only things I had established were that Jackie Stewart was testing a new F1 engine with his son Paul, somewhere in Spain; they had both heard of Sarah Kavanagh; the weather was warmer in Spain than in Scotland and they were travelling onto France later in the week… the rest of the interview was lost somewhere in translation.


Pardon Monsieur… Am I Hearing you Right? #2

antanddecIT is January 1998 and I am sitting eating my lunch at my desk at the Sunday Sun newspaper just off Newcastle’s Groat Market.

The winter sun is whispering through the window over my shoulder and the office is almost deserted.

Suddenly a phone rings on the desk next to me. Following office protocol I answer the vacant desk phone.

“Is that Mike?” a broad Geordie voice asks.

I politely explain that he is out to lunch.

“Dinna worry,” is the reply. “Can you just let him know that Anton Deck rang.”

The caller hung up.

I left a suitable note on Mike’s desk which read: “Anton Deck rang at 12.45pm.”

The guffaws of laughter after Mike read my note still stay with me.

Pardon Monsieur… am I hearing you right? #1

I MUST start by admitting that I know nothing about snooker and class it as a sport left on my personal coat stand, along with show jumping, all-in wrestling and synchronised swimming.Stephen Hendry

I must also add that I spent the first four years of my life in Hull and the next 14 in Sussex and North London. Upon leaving home at 18, I have lived and worked in South Yorkshire, Manchester, North Wales and now Shropshire.

So my natural speaking accent is somewhat neutral and I pride myself that I can often place someone to any area of the UK by their dialect.

But nothing prepared me for the 11 wonderful years I spent in Scotland where the regional accents and dialects vie for total uniqueness.

And lay ready to trap me many times.

In my first year in Argyll, I was bemused whenever I covered a district council meeting.

The chairman of the council was called Dick Walsh, yet the clerk kept referring to him as Jim!

It took me four meetings to discover that the clerk was actually saying “Chairm’n”, which to my un-tuned ears sounded clearly as Jim!

So I now take you forward a few years to 1995.

I was working as a reporter at The Herald newspaper in Glasgow – then a big selling broadsheet daily.

I have just come off the back of a week-long 10th anniversary investigation into the mysterious death of Scottish Nationalist Willie MacRae. I was in need of a couple of days of routine news writing.

Suddenly, the news editor Colin calls across to me: “Nic, we’d like you to cover the wedding of Stephen Hendry later today.”

“Okay,” I answer nervously.

I think deeply… I recognise the name, but who the fuck is Stephen Hendry?

Within 10 minutes, I have grabbed my reporter’s notebook, latched up with a staff photographer and together we share a car to the village church near Stirling, where the wedding is to take place.

We arrive in good time and join a small but growing band of journalists outside the church.

The as yet unknown Mr Hendry has provided the press pack with a stack of Coca Cola and brief but clear instructions to give the wedding party space and respect the happy occasion.

I have yet to admit to either my photographer or any fellow journalists that I haven’t the foggiest idea who Stephen Hendry is!

Cars start to pull up and an assortment of Scottish VIPs emerge and mingle with family and friends of the bride and groom as they enter the church.

Another car drives up and a smiling young man gets out.

I recognise his face and instantly realise this is Stephen Hendry. But I am still no clearer about why he is so famous.

The cameras start to flash and snap and the reporters around me scribble notes. A few questions and greetings are yelled and I hear the words: “The man’s a tart”!

Open mouthed, I jot down a few notes and wonder why he is being called such a term… maybe he’s a comedian!

But then my moment arrives.

Behind the groom’s car, another is decanting its occupants and outsteps football mega star and Celtic legend Kenny Dalglish.

I make a short move in his direction and blurt out some inane question such as: “Good weather today, Mr Dalglish?”

He smiles and utters a reply: “Yes, perfect,” and follows the groom’s party into the church.

I kick myself at not asking more obvious questions, such as “Are you interested in managing Celtic?” or “How do you know Mr Hendry?”

But the moment is lost.

A few minutes pass and the bridal car arrives and outsteps the beautiful bride. She turns and smiles at our press gallery and disappears into the church.

As the service begins, a grey-suited usher hands us all smart orders of service and a press release.

I read through the sheets carefully and everything becomes clear… world snooker champion Stephen Hendry is marrying his childhood sweetheart Mandy Tart!