Adventures in the Book Trade (Part 12)

In which The Author and his friends bump into a rock star

As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the (few) perks of working in a bookshop was the chance to meet some famous people. A related perk was an invitation to a book launch.
I didn’t go to many of these. Hardly any of the big publishers would venture across the Severn Bridge in the early 1990s. The furthest west most authors travelled was Bristol. In those days the public transport to and from the Valleys was even worse than it is now (hard to believe, isn’t it?). The occasional trip to Bristol was the preserve of the people who lived within easy shouting distance of Cardiff.
One launch party was on our home turf, though. In 2004, Jarrold Publishing brought out a book by Matthew Williams about the architect and designer William Burges. This Victorian eccentric was responsible for (among other projects) the refurbishment of Cardiff Castle and the building of Castell Coch. To mark the occasion, Jarrold hosted a rather pleasant soirée one Thursday evening, in the grand hall of Cardiff Castle.
I’d never been into Cardiff Castle before, as the admission price had always seemed a bit steep to me. I’d been into the grounds plenty of times, but I’d never set foot into the building. Louise had been there once, on a school trip. I don’t think Glenn had been inside either. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. Louise, Glenn and I gladly accepted their invitation and strolled up to the castle after work, to have a free glass of wine, something from the buffet, and play ‘spot the Welsh celebs’.
When I say ‘celebs’, I mean the sort of professional Welshmen (and women) who always seem to turn up on occasions like this. I recognised at least one newsreader and a well-known radio broadcaster among the guests. Everybody seemed quite smartly dressed (apart from us), and we felt a bit out of place at first. There was a young lady playing a huge ornate harp, so we listened to her for a couple of minutes.
While we were chatting, Glenn pointed out a lean, middle-aged chap with greying longish hair, wearing grey slacks and a striped shirt, who was talking to another couple of people.
‘Doesn’t he look like Jimmy Page?’ he said in a low voice.
Louise and I looked across the room and agreed that Glenn had a point. The chap could indeed have been a decent stand-in for the former Led Zeppelin guitarist.
When the harpist stopped for a break, one of the dignitaries ushered the man over to meet her. We were still within earshot. The conversation went something like this:
‘I thought you two musicians might like to talk to each other.’ Then he introduced the man to her. It turned out that he actually was Jimmy Page.
What none of us knew at the time was that, in 1972, Mr Page had bought the Burges-designed Tower House in Holland Park. He’s been an enthusiast of Burges’s work for a long time. As a result, Jarrold had invited him down to Cardiff for the book launch, some thirty years after he’d failed to secure a tour of the castle when Led Zeppelin played in Cardiff.
We were invited to join a small party of guests for a guided tour of the castle. If you’re ever in Cardiff and fancy doing something different for a couple of hours, I can thoroughly recommend having a look around inside. Burges’s fascination with the Arthurian legends led him to create a Pre-Raphaelite fantasia. It’s been over ten years since our visit, so I can’t remember many of the details now. I can vaguely recall the guide showing us around the nursery, which was richly decorated with characters from fairy tales.
It was while were making our way out of the nursery that we literally bumped into Mr Page. He was coming into the room just as we were heading back into the passageway. We collided with him in the narrow doorway, laughed, and apologised to him. He apologised too, and we went on our way.
About thirty seconds later we realised that we’d probably missed our chance to get his autograph and possibly have our photo taken with him.
When I got back to Aberdare I called into my local for a pint. My friend Simon, who used to look after the gear for Stereophonics, was there, so I told him about our brief encounter with Mr Page.
‘You should said “hello”,’ Simon told me with a grin. ‘He’s a great guy, we’ve met him a few times.’
How’s that for Sod’s Law in action?
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