These days I tend to take opportunities if they come along, having learnt lessons from the past. Opportunities, I have discovered, become less frequent as I get older.
When I think back to my youth, between the ages of 15 and 25, I was presented with chances that might have changed the course of my life, had I recognised them for what they were and taken them...
Although I am content in my life these days, looking back I might have taken a few more leaps of faith along the way.
Some that spring to mind....
Well, my 'dinner party' story, the one that I have bored people with for years, has always been about the time I turned down a film role alongside Barbra Streisand. Well, kind of... it was my chance to appear with Barbra Streisand when she came to Liverpool filming in 1982. The call came in to the small newspaper I was working for at the time, she needed extras in her new movie. For fifty pounds a day (a considerable amount back then) all I would have to do was stand there looking like an extra, well actually being an extra, while inwardly aspiring to be the star. In my head I fully imagined I would be plucked from the crowd of non-speaking supporting artists by Miss Streisand personally to co-star with her in her next epic.
And even with that illusion buzzing around my head, still I said no.
But that was not the only missed opportunity from back then.
At around the same time as 'turning down' Streisand (and doesn't that sound lofty!), I was offered an exclusive interview by the legendary Frankie Vaughan.
Now this time it did involve a real-life encounter with a big star - and another missed opportunity that I regret a little even to this day.
I was chatting with Frankie (we were never on first name terms though I like to imagine we would have been had this particular encounter progressed further...), but anyway I was chatting with him before his show at the famous Grafton Rooms in Liverpool. Being only about fifteen I was not even supposed to be there, but I had been sent on this assignment by my then editor (who thought I was older than I was, which is long story for another time...). So, in the green room at this legendary venue, I was there, a very unworldly teenager, with Mr Vaughan and his wife as he was getting dressed for the show. It was awkward, Mr Vaughan, a huge star, standing there half dressed with me firing questions at him, armed with my little reporter's notebook. I was clearly getting on his nerves. But he was very kind and he said to me “listen kid, come and see me after the show and I'll give you an exclusive...”. Being the naïve, silly youngster that I inevitably was back then, I turned him down telling him, with a Cinderella flourish, that I had to be home by midnight....
What was the exclusive story he wanted to share with me? Nobody will ever know, perhaps a secret about the time he starred with Marilyn Monroe?
Ah well, who knows....
Other missed opportunities include the time I was offered a job as a radio DJ, I turned that one down because I was going on a two week holiday. Stupid or what? Where might that road have led me? I could have been the next Terry Wogan. Yes, well.
Such are the follies of youth. I have often wished that I had those opportunities today, though, as I said, they don't seem to come along as frequently any more.
There have been a few, more recently, though nothing too life changing. The difference is that I do tend to grab at them now...
On a Mersey Ferry commute one morning about ten years ago, I spotted the British veteran TV presenter Esther Rantzen filming a piece to camera outside on the top deck of the boat. Without a second thought, having learnt my lessons from failing to recognise such potentially transformative moments in the past, I ran up the stairs and approached her enthusiastically and with a little too much gusto, determined not to let this opportunity (or her) get away. Startled, she stopped filming and stared at me with a bemused expression on her tiny face (she was so much smaller than I had ever imagined from seeing her on the television) and then she visibly recoiled from me, this stranger encroaching on her personal space. Before she knew what was happening we were having our photo taken together and, consummate professional that she is, she smiled sweetly as if this moment were planned, and that meeting me was the pinnacle of her career. She was very kind and gracious and was no doubt left entirely bewildered by the unlikely encounter that morning. The photo remains a blurry memento of that moment when I grasped an opportunity, proving that perhaps not all opportunities should be seized.
Sometimes what might have been is better than what is. That's a lesson I suppose.
But I do hope I still have some windows of chance left to take and opportunities to run with. It's not about encounters with famous people anymore. They are, I've found, just people, each as confused about life as the rest of us, they just happen to have found themselves in the public eye and along with that comes all the hassles of fans and intrusion.
So, on reflection, perhaps it is just as well I turned down Barbra Streisand that day. I'm probably not cut out for the Hollywood life. And maybe Mr Vaughan's exclusive revelation would have changed things for me but not necessarily for the better. Who knows....?
Meanwhile I go on my way, content with my life, while sometimes wondering if I could have been a different person had I followed a different path and recalling as I plod on, the words of Lily Tomlin (who I also never met) “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific”
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