“Hi, Phil Parkes, (dramatic pause) Actor” announced the well-groomed handsome man in his best Troy Maclure voice. ‘Not the West Ham & QPR goalkeeper then?’ I smiled back to him. He looked confused. I started again.
‘Hello, I’m Damian. So you’re an actor? That’s nice.” Still a bit baffled he went on to tell me where his acting career was, had been and was hoping to go, my slightly frazzled mind worked out just what was going on. Phil was the third complete stranger within 10 minutes to come up and introduce themselves to me.
I was at the 2001 Vanity Fair Oscars Party in Morton’s Restaurant Hollywood. It was getting late and the famous & beautiful were starting to leave. As numbers thinned they began to let a few mortals in, many of whom were keen to meet some showbiz power brokers. To Phil and the other new arrivals so keen to meet me I was a sweaty, chubby man in an ill-fitting suit amongst a sea of the gorgeous and the blessed, the only explanation for my presence was that I had to be incredibly powerful & important. If there was a direct correlation between how bad one looks to how important one is then at that moment... I was Hollywood.
When I broke the news to Phil that I ran a record label in Brighton, England and that unless he made leftfield dance music I couldn’t really help his career, he huffed off, like I’d been wasting his time. I’ve had a look on IMDB to see if his career did indeed go the way he had hoped and well, I’ll just say karma Phil, karma.
So what was I doing there? At that time my record label Skint was enjoying it’s time in the sun, Vanity Fair had asked our biggest artist Fatboy Slim to DJ at their annual post Academy Awards party. I had no idea how big a deal it was until an LA based friend gasped when I mentioned that Norman was playing there. He insisted that if I ever got the chance to go to that party I must take it. I was going to be in America anyway so I rang up his manager to see if I could tag along. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to get in himself but we agreed it was worth a try.
I smiled at Liz Hurley whilst trying not to get caught looking at Pamela Anderson’s nipples which were rather prominent.
Our 6 strong entourage piled into the town car they’d sent for us and after a quick drive we pulled up outside Morten’s and on to the Red Carpet. Norman & Zoe had their pictures taken while the rest of us tried not to look too awkward. My natural defence mechanism was to put my finger to my ear and pretended I was part of the security detail, once everyone had stopped laughing at my little joke we went in.
The party is in two sections. Firstly, the Oscars Ceremony is shown on a big screen while guests eat dinner. Afterwards those attending the Awards arrive and the party moves to the spectacularly decorated back room for the disco and meat raffle. The dinner guests were a mix of film & TV royalty, Kirk Douglas, Warren Beatty, Jay Leno, Kevin Spacey, Jackie Collins, Bo Derek and Raquel Welch and some of your more creative types like Tom Ford, Anne Leibovitz, Stella McCartney and Monica Lewinsky.
Norman & Zoe had seats for the dinner while the rest of us had the choice of Norms’ dressing room or the empty disco room. I chose to hang out with the staff and watch the ceremony. 15 minutes into dinner they came out and asked if I could perform seat- warming duties while Norman sorted his records out. Slightly nervous I accepted the challenge and went in.
I was sat next to Sofia Coppola, her then husband Spike Jonze had made a couple of videos for us so we had something to chat about and after a few minutes and a glass of wine I felt comfortable & relaxed. After the main course Sophie Dahl came and joined us. I have absolutely no memory of what we talked about, although, around that time my best dinner party story was about when my mate Speedy Dave tried to put an E up his bum and crapped himself. I was like Noel Coward.
Once the Awards had finished more people started to arrive and the action moved into the main room. For the first hour it was just like the early stages of a school disco, people milling around the edge of the dance floor too shy to start the dancing, except instead of nervous hormonal teenagers it was the likes of Tom Cruise, Renee Zelweger & Sarah Jessica Parker. I spent a while plucking up the courage to say hello to Chloe Sevigny who had been standing on her own nearby. Of course the moment I did pluck up the courage Ben Affleck turned up, as he does, and I turned swiftly on my heel. The dancing did eventually get going, thanks to Helen Hunt and (I think) Sally Field with some top Auntie dancing.
Part of the deal for any entourage is to show support for your leader, so we established a little base camp near the DJ box, shuffled around a bit and made enthusiastic party noises when needed. We would take it in turns to go on little sorties round the venue and report back with fresh sightings whilst trying to keep the giddy excitement in check.
I have absolutely no memory of what we talked about, although, around that time my best dinner party story was about when my mate Speedy Dave tried to put an E up his bum and crapped himself. I was like Noel Coward.
It was around this point that the evening took a twist. I began to come over a bit funny, as if I was feeling the effects of ecstasy, because let’s face it the situation wasn’t surreal enough already. (Turns out I’d picked up the wrong glass of champagne.) Back in the days when I used to do that kind of thing I would get very smiley and free of inhibition. So on my next trip round the room I was greeting everyone like we were old friends from Beverly Hills High.
The next bit is probably best imagined as a montage; otherwise it’s just a list of famous people. So think of a standard trippy film scene, a POV shot, enhanced colours, wobbly effects and then insert the faces of the following. Angelina Jolie, Russell Crowe, Anthony Hopkins, Calista Flockhart, Whitney Houston, Benico Del Toro, Jennifer Lopez, P-Diddy, Eugene Levy, Samuel L Jackson, Catherine O’Hara, Courtney Love, William Defoe, Nicholas Cage and Lucy Lui. I was quite literally trippin’ celebrity balls.
Once I’d leveled out a bit and was capable of talking again I went up to Rip Torn and told him I was a big fan, I did the same with Michael ‘Kramer’ Richards. I told Kelly Brook & Jason Statham I was ‘off me face’, greeted Simon Le Bon & Nick Rhodes like old buddies... we’re not. Had a good chat with Eddie Izzard and a couple of Monty Pythons and smiled at Liz Hurley whilst trying not to get caught looking at Pamela Anderson’s nipples, which, in my defence were rather prominent.
Strangely the one person I felt genuinely star-struck by was South Park creator Trey Parker. He was standing right next to me, looked ready to chat and yet I couldn’t muster anything more than a nervous smile. Perhaps if we had of got chatting I would now have my dream job as a writer on the show and not selling my sordid celebrity tales. It’s my only regret of the whole evening.
After a brief interlude from a live band Norman went back on. Now, as a DJ there are times when you should push the dance floor to it’s limits, take them on a journey with cutting edge new music and there are times you just stick on ‘Superstition’ and ‘I’m Every Woman’. I love the fact that he went down the more challenging route but in hindsight Norm should’ve probably played the wedding set. It did lead to the funniest moment of the night. Luke Slater’s 15 minute long acid techno classic ‘Waiting To Exhale’ was reaching a climax and John Cleese had had enough. In full Fawlty mode he walked angrily across the dance floor and shouted to Norman to turn that bloody awful racket off.
Yet the story I’ve dined out on ever since was my moment with Julia Roberts. I was at the bar, she came and stood next to me. I said congratulations on winning and that I loved her speech, she said thank you very much, I said pleasure and I walked away. Standing behind was her bodyguard who was holding her award. I gave it a little pat on the head. I had touched Julia Roberts Oscar... closer than Phil Parkes will ever get to one.
DISCLAIMER: There is a chance his name wasn’t Phil Parkes, definitely a 70’s goalkeeper. Might have been Jimmy Rimmer...