Richard was back at Birmingham Airport where, a few months earlier, he had met the world-famous soprano Gloria della Piazza.
“Met” was something of an understatement, because that occasion had encompassed many emotions, ranging from mild annoyance through to extreme fury at the lady’s bad behaviour towards Richard and everyone else, and finally to pleasure as she and Richard ended the evening as firm friends.
Before they parted, Gloria had invited Richard to visit her in New York. At the time he’d thought that she probably said the same to everyone she didn’t actively dislike, and he hadn’t expected her to follow it up. But she had got his phone number from his friend Joe (who had started all this in the first place by asking Richard to meet Gloria off a plane) and had asked him so nicely on the phone that he couldn’t refuse. In truth, although Richard had put the idea to the back of his mind until then, he’d always known deep down that if she called, he would go.
Now it was January and he was boarding the plane. Richard had never been to the Big Apple before, but Joe (who flew there almost every week) had offered lots of tips about the city. At least that’s what Joe had said the tips were about, but really they were more to do with Gloria, his client - and Joe’s concern about the impact on his business if his friend Richard, literally the innocent abroad, should say the wrong thing and upset her. After all, she was a Grade A diva with a very short fuse. The only information from Joe that Richard found useful was that New York in winter was just as cold as Worcestershire, probably a bit colder.
Richard was inescapably drawn to Gloria but he knew that even a simple invitation, coming from her, would turn out to be complicated. And so it was.
Although on the phone Gloria had said to come over on 18th January, and that Jayne, her PA, would send his flight ticket and hotel reservation, nothing had arrived. Richard thought it would be discourteous to remind her, so what was he to do? It would have been easy to mention the problem to Joe, who would have got straight on the phone. But he didn’t want to involve Joe any more than he had to. Richard came to a decision. He was ordinarily a man of caution, but for once he would take a risk. He would get his own ticket and go. He’d find it all out when he got there.
What had happened was that, as she often did, Gloria had left a note to brief Jayne about Richard’s visit. In writing the date, she’d used an exaggerated form of the number 1, with a little diagonal at the top and a base line across the bottom. The result was, just like everything Gloria did, a bit over the top and it was hard to read. Jayne had taken it for a 2 and had made the booking for the 28th, and was planning to send everything to Richard any day now.
Richard still had the faintest of hopes that someone would meet his plane – but no. He hadn’t really expected it.
He thought the spark had dwindled: “Oh well,” he thought “I’ll just have to be a tourist”. This was his first time in New York, and he might never be there again. He booked a hotel room for a few nights, and after he’d checked in he went out to see something of the city. Before leaving he found that the battery of his mobile was completely flat, so he put it on charge and left it in his room. As Gloria had not been in touch, he wasn’t expecting any calls.
Meanwhile Gloria had expected Jayne to have met Richard and taken him to the Waldorf Astoria. But the hotel said he was not there. She rang his mobile, but it went straight to voicemail. She rang Jayne: “Hey honey, where the heck is Richard? I thought you were gonna meet his plane!” Jayne, knowing her employer of old, quickly realised the error. A typical Gloria explosion followed, during which Jayne got fired. Frustrated, Gloria could do nothing more that evening. She had a performance to deliver, at which she’d planned to have Richard as her guest. She didn’t need all these complications; she probably wouldn’t sing well tonight. All she could do would be to try his mobile again in the morning.
Alone in New York, Richard decided to go to an American football game, even though the admission price was about half the cost of his season ticket for Worcester Warriors rugby club. During a break in play, he bought a Budweiser and a hot dog from a vendor.
As he sat back down, the man in the next seat asked him: “Hey pal, I heard your accent when you ordered the beer, you a Limey?” “Yes,” replied Richard, I’m from Worcestershire”. “Say, is that near Shakespeare’s place?” said the man, whose name was Harry. Richard was about to say that yes, his home at Astwood Bank was no more than a dozen miles from Stratford-upon-Avon, when Harry turned to the friend with him: “Hey Al, this guy is from England”.
“Don’t talk to me about England” snarled Al. It turned out that Al’s girlfriend had lost her job. “She was PA to that opera singer, Gloria della Piazza, and there was a mix-up about some Limey guy coming over. Gloria wrote the date down wrong but Jayne got the blame. She’s a real bitch to work for.”
It was all clear now.
Richard rang Gloria as soon as he got back to his hotel. His sense of fair play meant that he insisted on Gloria reinstating Jayne. She was glad to do that anyway - in just a few hours she’d found herself helpless without Jayne’s assistance. Gloria smiled to herself as she recalled how firmly Richard had insisted on dining on fish and chips, back in Worcester. He was doing it again now and she liked it, even though she was used to getting her own way. This man was strong. She told Richard that a car would pick him up in ten minutes and bring him to her apartment; and they met again with a warm kiss.
After a late supper, Gloria put the television on for Richard to watch while she changed. He was expecting her to return in yet another designer creation, but when she walked back into the room she was wearing just a bath-robe. They kissed tenderly, then passionately; she slipped off the robe and was naked. Richard could hardly believe that this fiery but beautiful woman wanted him. Now it was Gloria’s turn to take charge. She took his hand and led him into the bedroom.
In the morning, Gloria’s first words were “Richard darling, today I’ll show you round Manhattan, and we’ll eat bagels on the sidewalk”.
“Sounds lovely” murmured Richard, who was really only half awake. But awake enough to realise that this wasn’t going to be his only visit to New York.
Read the first part The Diva here.