Chapter 4 – Chicken Run
Running a charity was becoming just like being a student, or my early years as a music journalist: a drunken stagger from one day to the next, with no coherent link between the two.
I once woke up to discover that I’d done a four page interview with David Bowie, though I wonder to this day whether I actually met him.
The only difference this time was that as the days passed I appeared to have established a charity, which I’d never managed even in my most out of it sessions as a journalist.
As was becoming the norm, I woke up with a hangover, knowing that my day involved a 10k run along the Norfolk coast, where Sting had chosen to raise money for Mid Life Crisis by completing the run dressed in a chicken costume.
Sting was our only volunteer, but we stood to raise nearly £100,000, with high profile sponsors including Alasdair Campbell and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I went along, partly to be there to thank Sting personally for his support, but also to take over any media duties, as a number of national papers had expressed an interest, as had the regional TV programme Look East.
Bryan had laid on a car for me, though for once he couldn’t be there, as he was recording a new single, in order to appease a record company that had been waiting on a new album for three years. “Now all I need to do is write a single.”
“When’s it being recorded?”
“Oh today, DM, I’m going to have to write it in the car. Exciting times.”
Those readers of an envious nature should turn away now, as the song he came up with on the way to the recording studio was ‘Ungracious Girlfriend’, which went to number one in no less than 37 countries.
My first stop was the Last Shilling, a new, fashionable winebar on the seafront. I was due to meet Cash, one of Sting’s PR team, who would fill me in on the media opportunities.
The bar was empty when I came in, except for a young girl perched on a bar stall talking to the barmaid about shoes. I ordered a pint.
“Hi,” said the girl, “are you Danny Manny?”
My mind went temporarily haywire. Once upon a time, in my early journalistic days when I was a close personal friend of the likes of David Bowie (allegedly) and Simon Le Bon (until the great falling out) I was approached by attractive young women all the time. I don’t know whether they were simply hoping I’d introduce them to Bowie and Le Bon, or if their charisma had somehow rubbed off on me.
“Hi, yes,” I said, “you can call me Dan the Man if you like.”
She sat down next to me. (Yes, I’ve still got it). “Hi,” she said, “I’m Cat.” (I must have looked confused as she explained further) “Sting’s Cat.”
“Ah, yes, of course. I was expecting you.”
“The Times are here, the Independent say they’re sending someone and there’s a camera crew here from the BBC.”
“The BBC? You mean the BBC news?”
Cat laughed, an infectious, warm laugh that made something in my trousers stiffen. “Just Look East, the regional news, but it might make News 24 if we’re lucky. Sting doesn’t do much TV these days.”
I nodded appreciatively, “Very good,” I said, struggling for enthusiams. I was still an innocent in the ways of charity work, I had no idea that a few shots of Sting dressed as a chicken would generate more coverage than we could buy with a £5 million campaign. In truth I thought the whole thing was slightly silly.
“Sting’s doing his warm-up exercises. I’ve prepared the press release,” (she hands me a well-written piece of paper that the useless tossers who make up our media will have no problem lifting in its entirety and pretending they wrote it).
“Very good,” I say. “What’s Sting pay you, I could do with someone like you in my charity.”
“Oh I don’t work for Sting, I’m just contract.” Her eyes widened in a ‘take-me, conventionally at first then anyway you choose’ sort of way. “I’m available if you want me.”
Oh god. This is it, my first experience of being a middle aged man being flirted at by an attractive young woman who wants something from me.
I can’t remember what I said next, but by the end of the conversation I do seem to have hired her as my media team. There’s no doubt about it, middle-aged men need all the help they can get.
With the work already done and no Sting, there was little to do other than drink our drinks and share harmless banter.
“I do admire you,” Cat said.
Admire me? For setting up a charity? Maybe she didn’t appreciate how easy it was.
“For still going, not giving up. I mean, hitting 40 must be such a blow. I think I might kill myself on my last day in my 30s.”
“Oh I came close, let me tell you that.”
“And it’s so nice to be doing something to help people like you. It’s so easy to forget you’re there.”
Excellent, well phrased. It’s reassuring really, to know that the reason I can never get anywhere with young women these days isn’t that I’m unattractive, but simply because I’m so old they can’t see me.
Half an hour before the race was due to start we left the bar. Sting had texted Cat to say that he was in the starting line, so we went looking for him. Unfortunately it proved tougher to find him than we thought. It being an Easter fun run there were hundreds of people in chicken costumes, some of whom got annoyed when you went up to them and asked ‘are you Sting’.
He’d switched his phone off by this point so all we could do was wait around for him. Cat went up to the BBC crew and introduced herself. “This is the man,” she said, pointing to me. I was confused. Surely she doesn’t think I’m Sting?
“This man single-handedly set up a charity for middle-aged men.”
The BBC journalist, who was clearly one of my kind, shook my hand. “About time,” he said, “I’ve a few problems I’d like to talk to you about. Maybe when we’re finished here? Only there’s this girl at the office, young enough to be my daughter, and I’m sure she’s flirting with me. What should I do?”
My god, was this what it was going to be like for the rest of my life. Every middle aged bloke I meet burdening me with their sexual fantasies? (yes, it would be exactly like that).
With no Sting available I am interviewed about the charity, with the runners in the background. “This is going out live,” I’m warned in a whisper.
I talk about the charity, quoting liberally from Cat’s press release, trying hard to remember who I was and what the fuck I was doing there.
Sting, I am informed by the interviewer, hopes to raise £100,000, which is a stupid amount of money. I don’t say that. “It’s really important that our work is funded and that we’re able to give support to those who really need it. It’s not too late to donate” I add, though in truth I’ve no idea how anyone would go about donating.
As we’re speaking a chicken crosses the finish line and walks over to us.
“I think we’re being joined by Sting,” says the interviewer, pushing me away. “Sting, can you tell the viewers why you’re doing this?”
‘Sting’ responds in a distinctly female voice. “Er, because Tricia dared me to. Is this the telly? Hello Tricia, see, told you I’d do it.”
“You’re not Sting,” the interview says, shocked.
“I never said I was.”
Behind him another chicken has crossed the line and turned towards us.
“Let me through,” the chicken shouts, “I’m Sting.”
“I’m Sting”, shouts another chicken from the back of the crowd. More chickens appear, and each starts shouting “I’m Sting.” Then a woman in a bikini joins in, “I’m Spartacus,” she shouts.
Within no time a full five hundred people, some dressed as chickens, some not, are shouting “I’m Sting” and/or “I’m Spartacus.” The interviewer has collapsed on the floor in tears.
I decide to take back control of the interview. “Once you hit 40,” I say soberly to the camera, “this sort of thing happens all the time.”