papparazziI did a post last year called Gradations of Celebrity Sightings after tripping over Boris Becker on my way to work, and we all had fun recounting our most random encounters with The Famous (you New Yorkers always win; for the record, I have since seen Bill Nighy outside Pret a Manger – twice!  So, yeah.). 

On an excellent night out a while ago, my friend Shanelle and I ended up having many, many drinks with a slew of papparazzi who’d been camped outside a nearby hotspot with their heavy-artillery camera equipment.  This was even better than an actual celeb meeting in many ways, as they were happy to share horror stories about their predatory ways and inside scoop on the stalking-for-pay business.  For fun, they even gave us a mini-celeb experience, shouting “Tailfeather!  Tailfeather, over here!” blinding us with flashbulbs and rapid-fire shots, so that passers-by stopped to gawp and try to figure out how we were famous (and we could have been any one of Britain’s roughly 10,000 reality show “stars”).  We giggled, thinking that probably a few of those people would go home and say they saw someone famous outside a Mayfair pub.  “Who was it?”, their friends would ask excitedly.  “I’m not sure… But definitely someone.  One of them was blonde, and there were papparazzi.  It must have been that drunk bird off of Big Brother!”

That evening eventually wound down when the papparazzo who’d been chatting up Shanelle got a text that Leonardo DiCaprio was at a SoHo lounge, and slipped off into the night after a money shot, gruffly whispering at her not to tell any of his friends where he’d gone.  I was reminded of this recently when the boy and I were out for a Thai meal at a little place near Goodge Street and he froze with his fork halfway to his mouth, clearly deaf to whatever riveting story about my office I was in the midst of.  His eyes tracked a group of skinny hipsters as they were warmly greeted and led to the more private dining area downstairs.  “WHAT,” I said.  “You totally just missed the part of my story where Todd stood in front of my desk and clipped his fingernails with my scissors.  That was the climax.  What IS IT.”

He cleared this throat and relaxed.  “Sorry,” he said.  “I’m almost positive Mark Ronson just went downstairs.”  I gasped.  Mark Ronson.  Mark Ronson was cool.  It was not unbelievable that he could be at this Thai restaurant in this fairly groovy part of town on a Saturday, and damned if I wasn’t going to see him for myself, and maybe try to make flirtatious eye contact.  So when we finished our meal, I took a casual stroll downstairs to the ladies’ room.  I could see him out of the corner of my eye as I went in, but would have a full-on view on my return trip.  I washed my hands and checked my makeup, and prepared myself to give Mark Ronson a cheeky grin on my way out, because the sighting would be extra cool if I could get him to smile back at me.

That’s not what happened, however.  When I arrived back at our table to pay the bill, the boyfriend was eager for an update:  “Well?  Did you see him?”  I regarded him coolly across the table.  “No, you peabrain.  I didn’t.  Because that was just some hipster with floppy hair and a checked shirt.  In fact, he looked nothing like Mark Ronson, or even a guitarist in some middling alt-rock band.  He’s was just a normal, random person.  What are you on?”

Not the Thai guy

Not the Thai guy

So the boyfriend was sheepish and I was amused, and for the rest of the weekend I would grab his arm and frantically whisper, “It’s Joe Pesci!” whilst pointing at an elderly woman, etc.  While his mistake was funny, what was more funny was how excited we initially were to see this person we didn’t know, who meant little to us.  Because the prospect of encountering celebrities is exciting, even though it is also, yes, kind of stupid.  Call it one of the many follies of human nature.  Not eager to assuage the boyfriend’s embarrassment and relinquish the amiable mockery I was enjoying, what I was reluctant to tell him about was an embarrassing “sighting” of my own, from when I was about 14. 

This one makes a lot less sense than Mark Ronson near Goodge Street in London (which was not a complete Logic:Fail on the part of the boyfriend).  I was out to dinner with my parents at an Italian restaurant in Texas, and there was a large group of people sitting on the far wall.  And over the course of dinner, I became more and more convinced that this man in the group was Mel Gibson.  I could barely eat I was so starstruck and nervous, especially when I thought he began to notice me (in typical plebeian fashion, the most important thing about seeing a celebrity is if they notice me, thereby validating my sad, non-famous existence, I guess, or maybe it’s just that interaction gives the subsequent anecdote more layers).   If this poor man actually noticed me at all, I can’t say, but if he did, it’s probably because I was flushed with excitement and my adolescent eyes were drilling a borehole through his head for 40 minutes, which would make anyone twitchy.  I don’t know if I had recently seen a Mel Gibson movie or what, but even my parents’ assurances that no, that was not Mel Gibson and yes, I was being ridiculous and should eat my ravioli were not enough to shake my conviction.

It was only later than I came to the sad conclusion that I probably did not see Mel Gibson at Il Sorriso, which is just too bad.  Even many years on, I feel a bit silly about it, although if I actually did see Mel Gibson at McDonald’s now I would probably be able to fake coolness a bit better.  So I ask you:  Have you ever had a false celebrity sighting?

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