The White Cross was one of the premier pubs in Richmond, south-west London; an area not lacking in such top-notch boozers. I say ‘was’ because I haven’t been there for a long time but for all I know it still is.
One lunchtime, getting on for thirty years ago, I was on my own at The White Cross, enjoying a beer, a view of the River Thames, and the early edition of the Evening Standard, when I came across an entry in the entertainment section. A small independent cinema In Richmond was to host a special preview showing of the new Paul McCartney concert film, Paul is Live. For a free ticket to next Wednesday’s showing simply call in at the box office which has a few available.
I sought the barman’s attention, “Excuse me?”
“Not just yet. Could you keep an eye on my stuff, please?” I gestured at half-full pint glass, cigs, lighter, and a loose collection of small change. “Just got to nip out.”
I snatched up the newspaper and strode off to the cinema, which, although its name is lost to time, its location is not. It was less than 100 yards away. Hoy! To the box office!
“Paul who?” queried box office woman.
“McCartney. Paul McCartney.”
“And what is it you want Paul?”
“No, I’m not…you see, it’s him…Paul...”
“Look, it’s here. In the Standard,” I shoved the paper up against the Perspex shield. “Free ticket for next week’s preview.”
“First I’ve heard of it,” she shrugged.
“Well, can I have one?” I asked.
She looked back over her shoulder and yelled, “Alan!”
“I’ll ask Alan,” she advised.
“Evidently,” I observed (to myself).
Alan appeared. He listened to her. He looked at me. I held up the Evening Standard again. Alan nodded.
“First I’ve heard of it,” he said.
However, on the grounds that if it’s in the paper it must be true, he cleared the transaction, and I went back to the pub with my ticket.
I had never been to a preview or a premiere before and I was quite excited. What will it be like? Will there be champagne and a buffet? Promotional gifts? Photographers? Telly? Paul himself? There’s a thought. Paul McCartney doing his expert PR stuff and playing a brief acoustic set for the assembly.
I think I managed to conceal my disappointment the following Wednesday when I entered the cinema foyer and noticed it was untroubled by liveried attendants, fizz, or luxury snacks. Indeed, it was also free of anyone but a solitary ticket checker, any sort of food or drink, red carpets, the media, and eminent guests.
Well, I said to myself, it’s still quite an event. The first showing of a film featuring a Beatle in a roomful of adoring fans just like me. In we go.
From memory, when I walked into the theatre the attendance rose by 25%. A bit thin, I thought, considering it starts in 15 minutes. A few more trickled in until we numbered maybe a dozen, at least we all had plenty of room.
There gathered an anxious huddle of people who were obviously on the McCartney payroll in one way or another:
“Is Paul coming?” asked a fretful PR, clearly nursing an ardent wish for an answer in the negative, but nobody seemed to know.
As far as I can remember, I enjoyed the film more and more as it went on. Looking at the setlist now, that might be explained by the heavier presence of Beatle songs in the second half. The other thing I recall was the cheering sight of Linda McCartney’s keyboards being topped with a vase full of colourful flowers.
And of course, the absolute highlight was when Paul McCartney himself climbed onto the cinema stage with acoustic guitar and played Yesterday, Blackbird, Another Day, and a slowed-down version of Help! which, to my knowledge, hadn’t been played in public before or since.
Calling me a liar is one thing. But it’s long odds that anyone who was among the dozen present in Richmond all those years ago is going to come across this article. Probably as long as those offered by Ladbroke’s on the current Chelsea manager seeing out his contract. So, as I relive that magical twenty minutes in my head, I say to m’learned friends: Prove it.