That evening, Richard had been waiting for hours at Birmingham Airport. He’d got there at half past six in order to meet opera singer Gloria della Piazza from the New York flight, but fog over the eastern USA had delayed her departure.
The flight had finally arrived three hours late, and when she spotted his clumsily hand-written placard and came over to him, she was in the kind of foul mood that only a 22-carat diva can display.
Gloria was here to sing as a guest at the Three Choirs Festival, to be held this year at Worcester. Richard had been surprised to find himself with the role of her driver – but only at first. During his long wait he had reflected that it wasn’t the first time that a seemingly innocuous request from Joe had dropped him into hot water. Richard and Joe had been classmates at grammar school, along with Fred, and the three of them had kept in touch for the thirty-plus years since their schooldays.
After A-levels Richard had joined the housing department of the local council, and was moderately content that his dedication had eventually rewarded him with the post of manager of that department. He had been the plodder of the class of ’75 and he knew that he could never have done the kind of glamorous jobs that Joe and Fred, the extroverts, had gone in for. Joe was in the music business, jetting across the Atlantic almost as frequently as Richard commuted from Astwood Bank to Worcester; and Fred, who had started as a junior with a local estate agent, was now a property developer with his own London company.
It was because of Joe’s complicated business life that he’d found himself with two commitments on the same day, and had gone back on his promise to meet Gloria.
Most people would have stuck with that and cancelled the other commitment, but celebrities were commonplace in Joe’s life. And anyway he knew (though he hadn’t been entirely frank with Richard about it) that the word diva didn’t even come close to describing Gloria’s enormous ego. Really, thinking of asking Richard to do the pick-up as a favour to an old mate had been a brainwave; Joe had got himself a “get out of jail free” card.
Richard had always had both feet firmly on the ground, and his work had shown him enough of the humdrum side of life to ensure that he wasn’t impressed by fame. But even he couldn’t help a genuine gasp of admiration when Gloria approached. From head to toe, she was a vision of loveliness – shoulder length raven hair, perfect complexion, and the predictable full bosom of a soprano; but also a narrow waist and long slim legs, all accentuated by her designer outfit.
He wasn’t the only one struck by this vision – several people appeared as if by magic to ask for her autograph.
Gloria didn’t have a pen – there just wasn’t room for one anywhere on her outfit or in her tiny clutch bag (or purse as she called it) – but Richard gallantly produced his treasured fountain pen which he’d kept from his schooldays. Unfortunately, Gloria had never used a proper pen and she soon got a blot of ink on her Givenchy jacket, which quickly put paid to any improvement in her mood which might have resulted from being recognised by her fans.
Before they left the airport, Gloria needed to use the ladies’ room. She came back with a scowl and complained bitterly about the fact that there was no attendant, and only paper towels instead of cotton ones. Richard had encountered many a tatty bathroom left by departing tenants, but he had never seen the inside of a ladies’ loo, at an airport or anywhere else. Because he couldn’t think of anything else, he just said so, which only made Gloria’s mood worse. When they reached his car, a Ford C-Max, her voice was scathing:
“I really did expect Joe to send a limousine, not a kiddie car” she shrieked.
Richard was inwardly grateful that it would be a quick journey to the hotel, a former stately home just outside Droitwich recommended by Fred, via the M42 and M5. But as soon as they reached the motorway, Gloria was off again, demanding to know why there were only three lanes:
“Back home we have six lanes on the freeway” she told Richard.
It rained for most of the way and of course Gloria complained about the English weather – but things came to a real head when, after checking in at the hotel, she discovered that on the previous day they had had a fire in the kitchens and could only offer limited service for dining. The hotel staff had done their best, booking their guests in for dinner at a nearby restaurant and transporting them there in a coach – but because of her delayed flight Gloria was too late for that.
More tantrums followed – but by now Richard had had enough.
“Come on” he said, passing the darkened hotel dining room, with every chandelier switched off, and leading a protesting Gloria out to his car. He drove quickly to Worcester and pulled up in a car park a hundred yards from his office. Still muttering, Gloria followed him to the fish and chip shop which he occasionally patronised for a quick meal when working late. Introducing her to the proprietor, an Italian and a lover of the opera, Richard soon had Gloria eating out of his hand (in truth, her own hand). More autographs followed, this time in felt tip pen on the price list on the wall, and she promised to send Giorgio a photo to go with it.
On the way back, a contented diva murmured “I guess your fish and chips are a tradition, like our bagels, Richard darling. Honey, you just must come to New York – and my PA will book you into a proper hotel that has a top-class restaurant”.
Although his evening with Gloria had been trying in the extreme, Richard knew that he would go. And he knew that as well as the hotel cuisine, he would eat New York street food with Gloria.
Read the sequel Complications in the Big Apple here.