When I lived in Brisbane, I used to sit by the pool with my friend Eden for hours, days, weeks at a time, swapping stories. He must have heard every one I had. When we both ended up at a party in London a few years later, he was next to me when I was telling someone a story.
“I think I’ve heard this one before,” he said.
“Oh, no!” I said. “I must’ve run out of stories…”
Anyway, I’m getting older now, so I thought I should write a few of them down before even I forget them!
Women can go to Harvard, too…
When I was living with a woman called Anne in San Francisco, she was invited to the very posh wedding of one of her classmates at Harvard Business School and took me as her guest. The ceremony was in a cathedral, and the reception was at the best hotel in town. At one point after dinner, I was sitting with Anne at our table when the wedding photographer came over. He came up to me and asked me to line up for a picture.
“Er, are you sure you want me?”
“Yes, I need a photo of all the Harvard Business School alumni. That’s you, right?”
“Er, I think you mean my girlfriend…”
A happy ending and an unhappy ending
In the glory days when I owned an E-Type Jaguar, I drove down one weekend for a party at my uncle and aunt’s house in Oxford. I parked in the drive, and, a couple of hours later, a friend of my uncle’s noticed the car and asked whose it was.
“Ah, that’s my nephew Nicholas’s car. He’s in the lounge if you want to meet him.”
My uncle introduced me to the man, and he told me a story I’ll always remember. When the E-Type first came out in 1961, he had been amongst the first to buy one, and he was very proud of it. Back in those days, there was so much excitement about the new British sports car that owners would get mobbed at traffic lights! Around the same time, he met a girl he liked and decided to ask her out. When she said yes, he planned to pick her up in his E-Type that Saturday night. However, when the day came, his car broke down on the way to her house. Complete disaster! What was he going to do now? As it turned out, things got even worse when the very same girl happened to walk past!
“Oh, dear. I said. “I guess that ruined your date. Did you ever see her again?”
“Yes,” he said, “she’s in the kitchen!”
PS Everyone likes a happy ending, but that weekend finished with my E-Type blowing a head gasket on the M40! It was in the days before I had a mobile phone, so I had to sit for 25 minutes on a slip road while 10,000 cars helpfully honked their horns and flashed their lights at me as they went past. (And, no, I didn’t meet my future wife, unfortunately…!)
It’s better to be lucky than good
I went to see The Open a few years ago at Royal St George’s with my friend Josie. At one point, we were following Sergio Garcia, and he hit a good drive, but the fairway was very bumpy, and the ball ended up in a dreadfully difficult lie in the rough. When Garcia reached it, he spent about 10 minutes trying to decide what to do and even got the officials involved at one point. Meanwhile, I explained to Josie that his best option was to take a penalty drop and hope to get up and down for his par from what was only about 150 yards. Instead, he hacked at the ball as hard as he possible could – and moved it about six inches! The lie was still awful, so I again told Josie that his best option was the penalty drop – this time for a probably bogey. He just had to take his medicine. However, after another lengthy pause to decide what to do, Garcia hit the ball from the impossible lie. It was a good contact, and it sailed towards the green, where it bounced a couple of times…and rolled into the hole for a birdie! As the crowd cheered, Garcia went crazy, running around in circles and waving his iron over his head in celebration. Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good…!
In 2014, I went on a cruise around Spitsbergen to see the polar bears. On one particular trip in a Zodiac, we found some ‘black ice’. Black ice is ice that has been at the bottom of a glacier for a few thousand years and has had all the oxygen and other impurities squeezed out of it. As a result, it has some rather unusual qualities. It is perfectly clear, it takes an age to melt, and it’s a lot denser than normal ice. This was quite a find, so our guide reached overboard to haul in the chunk of ice – almost falling out of the boat in the process! – and brought it back to put behind the bar. A couple of hours later, I spent a very pleasant half an hour drinking a shot of Islay single malt whisky with a couple of cubes of 30,000-year-old black ice in it. They didn’t float, but sank to the bottom of the glass and were still there when I finished my drink!
Everything’s bigger in Texas
When I was 16, I went on an exchange to Amarillo, Texas, with my parents. While we were there, we went to a restaurant called Texas Lone Star, where they had a special offer: if you could eat a 72oz steak with roast potatoes, vegetables and all the trimmings in under an hour, you got it for free. There was even a roll of honour on the wall to commemorate the biggest of big eaters. I remember one chap had finished his steak in 10 minutes, and another had felt a bit peckish afterwards, so he’d ordered another one!
The camera oft proclaims the man
When people like my pictures, they often ask me what camera I use. I tell them, and then I tell them this story…
A few years ago, Ernest Hemingway went to a photography exhibition in New York. He loved the pictures so much that he asked to meet the photographer. When they were introduced, Hemingway asked him what camera he used.
“Well,” he said, “I have a Hasselblad, but this is a great honour for me, Mr Hemingway. I’ve read all your books. Can I just ask you one question? What typewriter do you use…?”
Alcohol beats sex
I was best man on a stag weekend in Vegas once. We’d been indoor parachuting – yes, it IS a thing! – and gambled for a few hours at the Bellagio when we decided to take a limo and find a strip club. We asked the driver the best place to go, and he said we had a choice:
“What do you mean?”
“Well, here in Vegas, you can go to a topless bar and drink as much as you like, or you can go to a strip club with full-frontal nudity, but NO ALCOLHOL!”
What a choice to have to make at two o’clock in the morning when you’re on a stag do!
We eventually had a vote and decided unanimously that – for 30-something blokes – alcohol was more important than sex…!
Revenge is sweet
We ended up going to a Roman-themed strip club in Vegas. One of the guys called Frank who worked with the stag fancied my girlfriend Anne, and he’d already tried to get rid of me by inviting me to windsurf with him under the Golden Gate bridge – when I would probably have drowned in the rip tide! Anyway, we were queuing up to go into the Emperor Room for a few lap dances, and we were standing chatting with each other when a topless girl came running up to Frank, screaming with excitement.
“Frank?! Is that you? Oh, my God! It is you!” she cried.
“Er, hello Tiffany.”
He was looking a bit awkward at this point, and it turned out that he’d met this girl at a Hooters bar in San Francisco, and he was terminally embarrassed about it. Unfortunately (for him!), the queue was a long one, so he had to talk to her for about five minutes before we eventually got in. As soon as we were sitting in the Emperor Room, he turned to me:
“Nick, this is a bit embarrassing, but do you mind not telling Anne about this? It was nothing. I don’t really know Tiffany, and it was all a long time ago.”
“Sure,” I said. “What goes on tour stays on tour.”
“Thanks. I’m glad you understand.”
“No problem,” I said.
Anyway, once it was Frank’s turn to have a lap dance, I immediately took out my phone and sent a text:
“Anne, you’ll never guess what just happened…”
Revenge is sweet!
“Get the power of sport into your life, love!”
When I used to watch sport at the Pacific bar in Val d’Isère, the manager used to go to great lengths to get the football coverage. At one point, he managed to find the video feed from a Norwegian satellite channel so that he could show the match with the traditional 3pm kick-off one Saturday. However, I don’t think he quite realised what would happen next. At half-time, just as the players were walking off the pitch, the scene suddenly cut to a rooftop where two naked porn stars were having full-on, hardcore sex!
His other experiment was an attempt to provide an English audio commentary to the foreign coverage of the games. One day, he showed pictures from a Scandinavian satellite feed dubbed with commentary from Radio Five Live. The only problem was that there was a two-second delay to the satellite feed, so the commentator ended up announcing it was 1-0 even before the corner had been taken!
A few years ago, I lived with Steve and Tom. I worked with both of them, but Tom was always off working in Atlanta, and he eventually met and married a woman called Becki over there. When I went to their wedding, we were all at Atlanta airport with another friend of ours called Damian when suddenly we noticed Oasis a few feet away! It was the Brit Awards the next day, and they were on their way to the ceremony. Now, Damian was a huge Oasis fan and had picked them out to be future stars when Definitely Maybe came out, but he was too shy to go up and talk to them. Instead, it was down to Becki to make the first move. Being American, she had no problem going up to Liam and Noel and introducing us all – she even told them that she and Tom had just got married. They’d just been to MacDonald’s, and Liam offered her a chip by way of congratulations…And I thought it was for me, so I took it by mistake! Awkward…
I was paired up with an Italian chap and his friend when I played golf at Duke’s Meadows a few years ago. He’d only just started playing, so I gave him a few tips as we went round. One bad habit he had was to turn away in disgust when he thought he’d played a bad shot. I told him he should always watch his ball until it stopped rolling: either it would help him find it or he might find out it had got a nice bounce and wasn’t such a bad shot after all. At the 5th hole, he thinned his tee shot and again turned away in disgust, but I told him to watch the ball. It was a good job he did, because it ran all the way along the ground and into the cup for a hole-in-one!
If at first you don’t succeed…
I went to the Brazilian Pantanal in September 2016 to take pictures of the jaguar. We ended up with around a dozen sightings, but my favourite was when we saw a jaguar kill a caiman. We heard on the radio that there had been a sighting, so we went over there in our boat to have a look. It turned out to be a young jaguar that had caught a 12ft caimon – or South American crocodile – in the shallows of the Cuiabá River. Jaguars usually kill caiman by biting them on the back of the neck, but this jaguar was only two years old and hadn’t quite learned how to do it properly. It was gripping the neck of the caiman in its jaws and could easily have killed it just be squeezing a bit harder – like lions do with their prey – but it somehow knew that this wasn’t the way the jaguar was supposed to do it. The only problem was that it couldn’t switch its grip to the back of the caiman’s neck without letting go of it and allowing it the chance to escape. It spent about 10 minutes thinking about it before finally changing its grip and killing the caiman ‘properly’. However, the business wasn’t quite over yet. Jaguars like to hide their kill from other jaguars by dragging it under a bush or a tree, and this one was no exception. The only problem was that the bank of the river was very steep, and the jaguar wasn’t big or strong enough to pull the caiman all the way up. By this stage, there were around a dozen boats watching the show, and we all saw the jaguar spent at least 25 minutes trying to get up the bank in various places. In the end, it finally managed it, and all the tourists gave it a round of applause!
Remember the basics
On the same trip to Brazil, we were coming back from a game drive when we had a call from our home base that there was an anteater in the grounds. It was getting late, so the driver slammed his foot on the gas and led us on a very bumpy and hair-raising race along the dirt roads back home. In the end, we arrived just in time to see a mother anteater with a baby on its back. When the light finally died, someone produced a torch and lit up the scene for all the photographers. Anteaters don’t have very good eyesight, and this one came closer and closer until it was only a few yards away. We all took as many pictures as we could until it eventually loped off into the undergrowth. Afterwards, all the photographers celebrated our good luck – except for Rob, who told us that he hadn’t got a single shot.
“There was something wrong with my camera. It wasn’t working properly, and I didn’t know what to do. In the end, I realised that I hadn’t taken the lens cap off!”
I hate surprises
I hate surprises. One of the worst was when I was living with my girlfriend Isabelle in Lyon. We were at home reading the paper when I noticed that Bruce Springsteen was coming to give a concert in the city. He’s one of my favourite acts, so I was very excited, but we never discussed getting tickets. The concert was three months away, so there was no hurry, but, as it got closer and closer, I was getting nervous. I had a sneaky feeling that Isabelle was going to ‘surprise’ me with two tickets, but I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to miss the chance of a lifetime. In the end, I didn’t say anything until, finally, the day of the concert arrived. It was due to start around 1900, and I was desperate to say something, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. At around 1730, Isabelle asked what I wanted to do for dinner. I said I didn’t mind, trying desperately not to give the game away, and then she suggested that we went out for hot dogs. Now, Isabelle loved her food – and even insisted on frying the duck breasts when I offered to cook her dinner on Valentine’s Day! – so this sounded very suspicious! I didn’t know what to do, so I went along with Isabelle to the car. After five or 10 minutes, I was so nervous that I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“You know it’s the night of the Bruce Springsteen concert, don’t you?” I said.
“OF COURSE!” Isabelle cried. “I bought us tickets months ago! Why would you ruin it by saying something like that?!”
Oh, dear. We ended up having a major falling out – which was all totally avoidable! – and Bruce Springsteen didn’t help when he totally ruined my favourite song Thunder Road by singing a dreadful up-tempo version! As I say, I hate surprises…
Here be dragons
I went out with a girl called Lisa once who had a four-year-old daughter called Cluny. She was at school one day when they had a visit from Father Christmas – except it was really her dad in a red suit and with a fake beard! All the other kids recognised him, and they teased Cluny about it. She still believed in Father Christmas, so she was very upset. When she got home, she asked her mother if Santa was real. Now, Lisa was very keen on being very straightforward with children, so she told Cluny that Santa didn’t exist and that it was actually her father who had dressed up and pretended to be him. Cue more tears. Anyway, Cluny spent the next weekend with her father and asked him the same question. He had very different ideas about childcare, and he told her that ‘of course’ Santa was real and ‘of course’ he hadn’t dressed up in a Santa suit!
Now, you need to understand all this in order to know how I felt when Lisa, Cluny and I went to the circus, where they had one of those Chinese dragons carried around by men with poles.
“Nick,” Cluny said, when Lisa had gone to the ladies room, “is that a real dragon?”
What a question? What was I supposed to say? Should I admit that dragons didn’t exist and shatter her childhood dreams or pretend that it was real and upset her mother. I decided to compromise.
“Well, dragons come from China,” I said, “and it would be very expensive to bring one all the way over to London, so this one must be just a pretend dragon.”
Fortunately, Lisa came back at that moment, and I was spared any more awkward questions. Phew!
In 1998, I had lunch with a friend of mine called Mark who had an apartment in the Alps. He told me he had 51 days’ holiday as he was working in Germany and wanted to buy a season pass so that he could ski every weekend. On the other hand, he wanted to make some money by renting out his flat. What was he going to do?
“Well, if you rent it out to me, you’ll get the money, but you’ll still be able to stay there whenever you like to go skiing.”
I gave him a cheque there and then for the whole season, and that was how I came to retire at 29! It was probably the first real decision I ever made in my life. After that, I spent seven years skiing and playing golf in France, Belgium, America and Australia before returning to London to settle down and start a family. That hasn’t happened yet, but I did at least make the decision to go ‘quality of life’. That means I do things because I enjoy doing them. I’m now a private tutor and a wildlife photographer. I teach for a few hours a week, and I also take several trips a year to take pictures of bears catching salmon in Alaska, tigers in Rajasthan, polar bears in Svalbard and the Big Five in Africa. In my spare time, I play tennis and golf. I still have all the same problems as everyone else, but at least I never get up in the morning wishing I didn’t have to go to work!
“You look like you want to dance…”
I once went to a club in London with a bunch of guys and a girl I was quite keen on. Unfortunately, she spent most of the evening being chatted up by an Irish guy, so it was a complete bust from that point of view. I wandered over to the dance floor and happened to see a gorgeous blonde girl just standing and watching. She didn’t appear to be with anyone, so I went up to her and said, “You look like you want to dance.” And we did. In fact, we danced together for the rest of the night. Her name was Caroline, and she was just in London for a couple of weeks on her way home to Melbourne from Holland, where she’d been working for a couple of years. When it was closing time, I asked for her number.
“Well, it’s a bit difficult as I’m staying with friends,” she said.
Hmm, a likely story, but I was desperate.
“Well, do you want me to give you my number?”
“Okay, but I don’t have any paper, so I’ll have to write it on my hand.”
Oh, dear. That didn’t sound very promising.
“That’s fine. Just give me a call.”
We went our separate ways, and I waited for her to call. A couple of days passed, and she still hadn’t called, so I was beginning to give up hope. Then I came home late from the office one night, and my flatmate Ron said someone had called for me.
“Who was it?”
“Oh, just some Australian girl.”
“Yes, I think that was it.”
“Did she leave her number?”
“No, she said she was staying with friends, so it was a bit difficult.”
I thought that was it. I didn’t think she would call again. However, a couple of days later, I had exactly the same conversation with Ron – and I still didn’t have her number! If only I hadn’t had to work so late in those days, I wouldn’t have had to rely on my useless flatmate to take a message! Again, I thought that was it, but, fortunately, she called one more time, and this time I was home. We had a quick chat and arranged to go on a date.
“Where do you want to meet?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t really know London,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, thinking on my feet, “you know where Trafalgar Square is? I’ll meet you under the lions at Trafalgar Square at 12 o’clock tomorrow.”
And so began a whirlwind courtship. Over lunch, I couldn’t stop thinking about kissing her, but I had to wait until later, when we took a walk through Hyde Park. When I tried to kiss her, though, she suddenly got all shy.
“Don’t! Not in public,” she said. “Let’s sit down under that tree.”
The tree obviously made the difference, and after that there was no stopping her. We spent the next two weeks together, day and night, until it was time for her to fly back to Australia. I was very keen to keep seeing her, so I told a white lie that almost led to disaster.
“Well, I’ve just finished a contract, so I have a bit of time on my hands, and I’ve actually been thinking about flying down to Australia. Maybe we could see each other when I’m over there.”
“Yes, that would be great.”
It felt like it was a painfully obvious ruse to spend more time with her, but it wasn’t. In fact, when I took her out for a meal on her last night, she wasn’t in a very good mood.
“Well, you’re going to fly all the way to Australia, but you’re not coming to see me!”
“Oh, of course I am!”
“No, you said that you were going to go anyway and that we ‘might see each other’ when you were over there.”
I couldn’t believe this.
“Of course I’m going to see you. That was the whole reason for booking my flight. I was just trying to play it cool!”
Anyway, she wasn’t convinced. I couldn’t believe it! How could she think that she was just an afterthought?! The mood was so bad that we didn’t even finish dinner, and I seriously considered staying in England. Fortunately, I took a chance, and it proved to be a good decision. When I arrived in Melbourne, everything was on again with Caroline, and I spent three glorious months over there. She was on gardening leave, so she had plenty of money and plenty of time on her hands. I stayed at her place, and I spent the days travelling around the area and the nights having the best sex of my life! I wanted to stay longer, but my visa was running out, and I had a job to go to as a ski rep in the Italian Alps. I left and tried to stay in touch, but it was almost impossible to make international calls in those days before mobile phones. In the end, I spoke to her and told her I was going to get a work visa and fly out again to see her in the spring, but she didn’t sound too enthusiastic. And that was it! Too bad…
One night in New York…
I have a friend in New York called Ashley, and I have him to thank for a rather memorable night in The Big Apple. He’s very well connected – I think he’s something like the fourth most connected person on LinkedIn – so he knows a lot of people. One of those people was a girl called Lorna who worked for Playboy – although not as a bunny girl! She wanted to spend a summer in London to be closer to her mother, and Ashley asked if I had an empty flat I could rent to her. In the end, we agreed to swap: Lorna would live in my place, and I’d live in hers. When I flew to New York, I called Ashley, and we arranged to meet at his office after work. We had drinks and dinner at Soho House, and then we were joined by a male friend of his from LA and a very attractive blonde called Hope. Ashley had booked us tickets for a lingerie show at the trendy Kane Club at 1130, but we still had time to kill, so we all went for a drink beforehand. It was all good fun, and it’s always nice to be able to flirt with a pretty girl! Anyway, we eventually moved on to the club, and the lingerie show was really something. There were four models strutting their stuff, but one of them was clearly the sexiest – and she knew it! Every time she came on stage, there was a barrage of cheers and wolf whistles. Unfortunately, the show was over all too quickly, and we ended up out on the street. Ashley called a couple of cabs for us and – very helpfully! – engineered it so that I shared a cab home with Hope. It was ‘only’ half-past one in the morning – early by New York standards – so we ended up having a drink together. And, to top it all off, she even gave me a goodnight kiss. Thanks, Ashley…!
Another night, another blonde
Ashley set me up with another girl on that trip, and she arranged for us to go and see another lingerie show, this time starring Elle ‘The Body’ Macpherson. We met for a drink beforehand, but the only problem was that she had some sort of cast on her leg. She explained that her kitten had been running along the windowsill, and it had knocked off a piece of china. When she’d tried to catch it, it had broken and cut her leg quite badly. This was obviously a shame, but it was even more of a shame when it came closer and closer to the time of the lingerie show. Eventually, I asked my date if it was time to leave.
“Well, I don’t think I’m up to it, to be honest, not with my leg. But feel free to go on your own if you want to.”
This was one of the trickiest problems I’d yet encountered. Do you a) do the noble thing and stay with your date or b) go and see one of the most beautiful women in the world wearing her underwear? I did the British thing and, with a stiff upper lip, chose option a)…
Yet another one…
The third blonde I went out with on that New York trip was an actress called Maureen Flannigan. She lived in the apartment above Lorna’s, so she put me in touch with her in case I wanted to drop by for a coffee. The first day I arrived, I unpacked my stuff and put the TV on. I was flicking through TV Guide when I suddenly saw a thriller starring – you guessed it – Maureen Flannigan! I turned over and watched a bit of it. She was certainly attractive, so I went up and knocked on her door. We ended up going out for lunch at the deli across the road, and I told her the story.
“And the movie was on this afternoon?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, that’ll be good for my residuals…”
And the winner is…
I’ve never regarded myself as a ‘lucky’ person. I don’t win things like competitions, and I don’t end up with unexpected windfalls, but there was one thing I did win. It was in the days when I’d just joined a consulting firm, and all the new joiners were issued with an American Express card to pay for their expenses. The loyalty programme offered us a choice: we could either accept a bottle of wine each or pool our rewards in exchange for an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Istanbul. We decided to go for the holiday, and we arranged a time for the prize draw one Wednesday afternoon at three o’clock. Some of the analysts were working abroad in Sweden and South Africa, so it was agreed that they would call the office at 1500 and join in with the rest of us. When the time came, I was just about to go down to the conference room for the draw when one of the partners grabbed me.
“Do you have a minute, Nick?”
“Er, is it really just a minute, or do you need longer?”
“No, I just need a quick word.”
I looked at my watch. It was 1458, and I was cutting it pretty fine, but I agreed. In the end, it was 1505 by the time I dashed out of the partner’s office and down the stairs. On the way, I met my friend Steve, who just said, “Nick, you bastard.”
Bizarre. Anyway, when I got to the conference room, everyone had left apart from the organiser.
“What happened?” I asked. “I just met Steve, and he called me a bastard…”
“Ah, yes. He had the choice of the last two envelopes, and he picked the wrong one!”
Hours and hours
Some people laugh when I say I have to ‘work hard’ occasionally. Given that I only do a couple of hours of teaching a day after playing a round of golf or a couple of sets of tennis, this doesn’t seem like hard work to them. However, it wasn’t always like that. When I was working as a management consultant, I had to build a model of the railway network. Time was short, and there were no interviews to do, so there was no particular reason to go home! As a result, I worked seven days a week and even pulled an all-nighter. We had fortnightly timesheets in those days, and I remember one that showed I’d worked 192 hours in the previous two weeks. I was strangely proud – but also disappointed I hadn’t quite passed 200…!
The first time I went on safari, I booked the wrong flights. The trip was supposed to be from 14-28 January, so I obviously booked flights for 14 and 28 January. It was only when I was chatting to the other guests that I heard them talk about going back on the 27th.
“I thought we left on the 28th,” I said.
“No, it’s an overnight flight, so we leave on the 27th and get back on the 28th.”
Oops! I felt dreadful. I’d have to tell the guide and try and sort something out. I wasn’t sure what he could do, so it was very stressful. Right up until I actually spoke to him.
“I’m so sorry, but I’ve booked the wrong flight going home. I leave on the 27th rather than the 28th.”
“Right, then,” said the guide after a moment’s pause, “what do you want to do with the extra day? You could go white-water rafting or canyoning or perhaps go on a private all-day game drive.”
I hadn’t thought of it like that! In the end, I went on the game drive, and I had one of the most exciting wildlife encounters I’ve ever had when the driver and I spotted a cheetah ‘timing’ – or hunting – an impala. It was a hectic chase, and at times we were travelling at 40mph over a very bumpy dirt road, trying to keep up with the cheetah. It was the first time I’d seen one of the big cats – apart from a quick glimpse of a lion the previous day – and it was a sensational finish to the trip. The only problem came when I put a couple of cheetah photos on Facebook. When I got home, I saw the other guys from the trip, and one of them was confused.
“I saw you’d put a picture of a cheetah up on Facebook,” he said, “but we didn’t see any cheetahs, did we?”
Beware the bear
A few years ago, I went to Brooks Falls in Alaska to see the bears catching salmon. The bears were free to walk around the camp just as we were, so we had to get a lecture on how to stay safe. That involved singing as we walked to the falls or even wearing bells to frighten off the bears! However, I still came uncomfortably close to bears on a couple of occasions.
The first was when I was just dropping off a bag at the outdoor locker room. I turned the corner of a building and there, right in front of me, only five yards away, were a mother bear and her cub. Not a good place to be! Now, bear safety is very counter-intuitive. If you see a bear, you’re supposed to stand still rather than running away, and, if you’re attacked, you’re not supposed to fight back! In this case, I kind of did the right thing by backing slowly away round the corner of the building until I was out of sight – but then I pegged it. It’s the only time I’ve ever run away from anything in my life…
The second close shave came early one morning when I was the first person to arrive at the raised wooden viewing platform next to the waterfall. It was fairly secure, but there was one part that had a short staircase down to the ground. It was roped off, but that was it. After a few minutes, another photographer arrived, and we started chatting. I had my laptop with me, so I showed her a few pictures I’d taken. As I was doing that, a bear walked past the staircase, a matter of 10 feet away! We carried on chatting, and it carried on walking past. Thank Goodness for the rope. Otherwise, the bear would never have known that it wasn’t supposed to eat us…!
I bought a Paul Smith suit a few years ago, but it had a pink pin-stripe, so I needed a few new shirts and ties. The only problem was that the assistant gave me a pink and white check shirt and a pink and purple flowered tie. They obviously didn’t go together at all, but, when I tried them on, the chap just looked at me and said: “Ah, that’s very Paul Smith…”
Paul Smith (again)
When I went in to buy a suit at the Paul Smith boutique in Notting Hill, I accidentally went into the bespoke tailoring room on the top floor. An old, white-haired chap with a tape measure around his neck came up to me and asked if he could help. I told him no and went across the landing to the off-the-peg section. As I turned to leave, though, I heard someone say: “Are you all right, Paul? Do you need any help?” It was only when I went downstairs and looked at a few pictures of the staff that I realised the chap I’d been talking to was Paul Smith himself!
Paul Smith (this is getting ridiculous…)
The first function I went to in my new Paul Smith suit was a wedding in Barbados. The rehearsal dinner was at a restaurant on the beach, and I was just talking to a pretty girl as the sun set when a chap came up to me and asked if I was wearing Paul Smith. When I said yes, he told me a story about an Emmy award ceremony he’d been to a few years earlier. He’d been nominated for an Emmy, but he’d had nothing to wear, so, on the day of the awards, he called the local Paul Smith store at five o’clock in a last desperate bid to find something appropriate. Unfortunately, the store was just about to close, but the manager agreed to wait for him if he came right away. He rushed out of the office, found the store and ended up buying a suit, a shirt, a tie and a few accessories to wear on his big night. It was a good job, too, because he ended up winning the Emmy!
(By the way, the girl I’d been talking to said it was the first time she’d ever been completely ignored by two blokes talking about fashion!)
I’d always wanted to go to Africa, but I wanted to go there for the first time on my honeymoon. However, that didn’t happen, so, when I received an email from a friend asking me if I wanted to climb Mount Kenya and go on safari, I signed up immediately. When I finally boarded the plane, I was very excited, and, as we crossed the Mediterranean, I was constantly looking out of my window to catch my first glimpse of Africa. When I first saw land, a big smile crossed my face…until I noticed on the seat-back map that we’d just reached Crete!
“We’ll always have Paris”
When I started working for PwC as a computer programmer, I had to go on an eight-week training course. When it was over, it was a tradition to do something special to celebrate. The previous intake had gone to Brighton beach for a barbecue, but we decided to go to Paris. We didn’t have much of a budget, though, so we decided to save money by taking a coach early one morning and coming back late the same night! Now, one of the tutors was called Jane, and I had a big crush on her, so imagine how jealous I was when I saw her dancing with some French bloke in a cellar bar we went to. However, when we left, she took my hand and led me to a bridge over the Seine, where we kissed for the first time. We must have been enjoying ourselves, because a passing Frenchman took one look at us and said: “Un peu, mais pas trop!” [“A little bit, but not too much!”]
It was only two years into our relationship that I found out Jane’s side of the story. When I recalled how she’d taken my hand on the way out of the Paris bar, she said with chilling certainty, “No, I didn’t take your hand. You took my hand!” As Yeats once wrote, “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams…”
I once invited a girl to dinner at my place in Notting Hill. After a few drinks, I cooked a Spanish stew with potatoes, onions, chorizo and white wine. The ingredients needed to be fried on the hob, and then I had to put the frying pan in the oven for 40 minutes. When everything was ready, I opened the oven door and lifted out the pan…and the handle fell off! The stew spilled all over the oven door, and my evening looked to be over before it had even started! Fortunately, my date was a good sport and helped me scrape the remains on to two plates, and we carried on as if nothing had happened…!
I went to a recording session with Eden once, and I was led into the producer’s booth while they were setting up the drum kit in the studio. A drummer was drumming away, and then the producer turned on the microphone and told him to put a piece of carpet against one of the drums as he was getting ‘snare-spill on the overheads’. I think he meant that the volume was too high from the overhead microphones. Anyway, what a great line! Now, when I’m with a pretty girl on the dance floor and I can’t hear what she whispers in my ear, I can just say: “Sorry, I was getting a bit of snare-spill from the overheads.” If she looks at me funny, I’ll say, “Sorry, I thought you must be in the music business…”
I flew to Kiruna in Sweden a few years ago to stay at the Ice Hotel and see the northern lights. After a couple of washouts, I decided to book a trip to Abisko on the final night to try and see them. My friend Amanda came along, too, and we ended up sitting next to the driver on the minibus. After half an hour or so on the motorway, I started to notice a few swirling, grey shapes in the sky.
“Is that the northern lights?” I asked.
“No, it’s just light pollution. There must be a town over there.”
Five minutes later, I saw similar shapes in the sky.
“Are you sure it’s not the northern lights?”
“No, it’s just light pollution. Trust me”
Ten minutes later, all hell was breaking loose in the skies outside, so I leaned over to speak to our Swedish guide.
“I’m sorry, mate, but isn’t that the northern lights outside?”
He’d heard what I’d said before, and he was getting a bit testy.
“All right,” he said impatiently, with a strong Swedish accent, “I’ll stop the bus, and I will get out and see if it’s the northern lights. Okay?!”
So he stopped the bus and opened his door to have a look outside. After only a couple of seconds, he came back, and he was very excited.
“Yes, it is the northern lights! Everybody out! Get your cameras! It’s the northern lights!”
When I was planning my trip to Buenos Aires last year, I asked the sales girl to book me a ticket to a tango show. She said she’d investigate, and she called me back a couple of hours later.
“Apparently, there are two major shows, but one is a bit raunchier than the other. It’s up to you, but I know you’re probably used to seeing scantily clad women, so I’ve booked the raunchier one. Is that all right?”
“Er, yes, but why did you say that?”
“Well, I just looked at your website, and I saw some of your pictures.”
I was still a bit confused. Why should pictures of wildlife make her think I was used to looking at naked women?! It was only later that I realised what had happened, so I called her back.
“Are you sure you went to nickdalephotography.com?”
“No, I think it was nickdale.com.”
“Ah, that’ll be the other photographer called Nick Dale, the one who does glamour shots!”
“Oops! I’m so sorry…”
I like doing nice things for people, things that are nice enough to get a really heartfelt thank you. The one that always sticks in my mind is when I was training for the Oxford University ballroom and Latin dancing Varsity Match. (Yes, it does exist!) I was with a partner called Sian, but we weren’t doing very well. Eight couples were going to be selected, but we were only the ninth-best. Things got even worse when Sian had to pull out just two weeks before the match with glandular fever. I was given a girl called Caroline to dance with, but she’d been part of what was probably the tenth-best couple, so we had our work cut out! We had completely different routines, so we almost had to start from scratch, but it was difficult to get lesson time with our coaches Bruce and Jean because they wanted to spend more time with the better dancers. We needed to train a lot harder, and I found somewhere for us to go. It was the fencing salle on Iffley Road, and it had full-length mirrors all down one side, so it was perfect for us to check our lines. We danced a couple of hours a day in that room every day for two weeks – and I spent another five hours a day in there just practising on my own! When the tryouts came along, Jean stopped the first record after the first few bars.
“What’s going on?!” she snapped. “It’s only a few days before the Varsity Match, and I can only see one couple smiling.” There was an awkward silence as we all looked at one another. “And that’s Nick and Caroline!”
That was a good start, and we did make the team in the end, but we didn’t have very high expectations. The deal was that we would only get our Half Blues if we beat at least half of the Cambridge couples, but that was a tall order. During the Varsity Match itself, nothing went too disastrously wrong, and we had a good time. Afterwards, they announced the results in reverse order, but we were too busy chatting to notice who finished where. When the MC announced third place, Caroline and I looked at each other, wondering where we had finished. It couldn’t possibly be higher than third, could it?
“And in second place overall, congratulations to Nick Dale and Caroline Flint…!”
As soon as she heard those words, Caroline ran over to me, threw her arms round my neck and said, “Thank you, Nick! Thank you so much!”
I’ve never been thanked like that, either before or since…
Top of the charts
Eden was a budding musician, but he was always dirt poor, so I lent him some money to release his first single Halo. It was covered by another band and used for a White Horse whisky advert on TV in Greece. All that publicity led to a lot of sales, and one day he emailed me at work to say that Halo had reached number four in the Greek charts. I was just about to go to lunch when I saw another email from him, telling me that he’d just ‘knocked Alanis Morissette off her perch’ and reached number one. I walked over to my colleagues and raised my hand:
“Quick question: how many of you have financed a number one single? Is it just me…?”
I went to watch the World Matchplay at Wentworth a few years ago with my Uncle Michael and his friend Chris. They weren’t sure where to watch the action, so I suggested standing behind the 10th hole. It was a par three, so we’d be able to see the tee shots and the putts. The first pairing we saw was Hansen and Stenson. Stenson was eight holes up with nine to play, but Hansen stepped on to the tee and hit an iron straight towards the pin. We were right behind it, and we saw it bounce once, bounce twice and then bounce into the hole!
“That’s only the fourth hole-in-one I’ve ever seen live,” I said, “and two of them were mine!”