Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Why being a celebrity dogsbody is the job from hell

Footballer Jermain Defoe (pictured with ex Danielle Armstrong in 2012) found himself at the centre of controversy after placing a job advert for an ‘Executive Personal Assistant’ on a recruitment site

One might anticipate, when working for a Premiership footballer, having to put up with a certain amount of diva-esque behaviour. 
As a personal assistant, one might reasonably expect to have to book top restaurants, ensure a player’s Porsche is gleaming and perhaps even organise the weekly shop.
But take care of their mother? Or build them a global brand? 
These were just two of the breathtaking demands made in an advert seeking a PA for multi-millionaire Sunderland striker, Jermain Defoe, this week.

The 32-year-old player found himself at the centre of controversy after placing a job advert for an ‘Executive Personal Assistant’ on a recruitment website, reeling off a startling list of tasks for the successful candidate to complete.
These ranged from stocking his fridge and organising his wardrobe to launching a branded perfume and taking care of four family members and their pets.
The multi-tasking applicant, on call 24/7, would be paid £60,000 a year for the privilege — less than Jermain, a former England player, earns in a week.
Unsurprisingly, the advert, which has now been taken down — not, one suspects, because they have filled the post — has been widely ridiculed, with many criticising the footballer for trying to outsource every part of his life to a dogsbody.
‘Can’t believe I missed the closing date for Jermain Defoe’s skivvy job,’ wrote one commentator. 
This is a man with diamond earrings worth more than your car,’ said another. ‘Is he really unable to perform these extremely basic tasks himself?’
He may have been mocked, but experts say Jermain’s exacting demands are not unusual. 

A brief at the beginning of the job specification details what Defoe expects of the candidates who apply

If anything, they’re a little mundane. For many personal assistants to celebrities (known in the business as ‘CPAs’) have to perform duties that range from the sublime to the ridiculous just to keep their famous bosses happy.
‘It can be an incredibly demanding, at times demeaning, job,’ explains Ben Arnold, co-founder of Sorted Personal Management, which supplies PAs to Hollywood actors, singers and models.
‘You get a wide range of people doing it — many of them well-educated, multi-lingual, with law and politics degrees — but they have to be prepared to put up with all manner of requests from the celebrity, at all hours of the day and night.
‘It can be anything from doing the supermarket shop or overseeing a yacht build in Monaco to getting a call at 3am asking where the pencils are kept.’
Horror stories in the profession abound. 
One A-list star is said to have employed a short personal assistant to make him look taller; he also hired a second assistant to start and deliberately lose arguments with him in public. 
Another had to apply nappy rash cream to the chafed thighs of her Hollywood actor boss, who had a habit of forgetting to wear underwear to parties.
Then there are the stories of named celebrities —such as singer Lady Gaga, whose PA Jennifer O’Neill claimed she was ‘required’ to sleep in her bed each night; and Rebecca White, PA to model Naomi Campbell, who said the famously short-tempered star ‘would gain her power by making people cry’.
Perhaps most jaw-dropping of all was Harrison Cheung, the Glaswegian assistant to Batman star Christian Bale, who wrote a tell-all book in 2012, claiming that the actor made him call him ‘Governor’, called him incessantly at 2am and left him to entertain visiting family members.
There is, it seems, very little celebrities will do for themselves — if they have the money to pay others to do it for them.
Deborah Shaw knows this attitude only too well. 
Formerly president of the UK branch of the Association of Celebrity Assistants (yes, there really is such a body!), she worked for Hollywood star Charlton Heston for four years, as well as representing actress Charlize Theron.
‘Your life is not your own,’ she says. ‘You’re always on call. I’ve had to do some extraordinary things. 
Once I was working for an actress in Los Angeles when her 6ft pet boa constrictor went missing.
‘I had to take her car for a service and discovered a very hungry snake coiled under the driver’s seat. I called a friend to help me get to the garage and I then had to pay the mechanics to free the boa.’
Most tasks are utterly unglamorous. Hers have included buying her boss’s pants — ‘One high profile client in the U.S. really liked M&S white cotton underwear and would ask me to buy packs of the briefs.
‘Then there was the time I had to collect a stool sample from a celebrity’s ill dog to deliver to a vet. 
'You just have to figure out what you’re comfortable doing and be polite about it,’ she adds.
Other PAs have had boundaries pushed even further. Merryl Futerman of PA Access All Areas, a training school for wannabe celebrity assistants, worked for comedian Julian Clary for 15 years, as well as presenters Jonathan Ross, Anne Robinson and Denise Van Outen. 
She says one of her more humiliating assignments was buying a gift from a sex shop for one of Julian’s friends.
‘It was 2005 and a friend of his was opening in a show in the West End. Instead of flowers and chocolates, he decided it would be funny to send a sex toy — and I would have to buy it.
‘I genuinely hadn’t been to a sex shop before. So when I went in, saying I was buying something for a “friend”, the staff thought I was a very shy, inhibited person and went to great lengths asking me what I thought my “friend” enjoyed. There were red faces all round.’ 
Another bizarre request — from a celebrity she won’t name — was to move three pet pigs from one house to another at the opposite end of the country.
‘It was during the foot and mouth crisis and it was a much bigger challenge than they’d realised,’ she explains. ‘I was in endless discussions with the government over logistics. It was a complete headache — but I did manage it in the end.’
Merryl, who worked in film industry PR before becoming a PA two decades ago, says frantic phonecalls in the early hours are not uncommon.
‘One client called me when they were round at their friend’s house and there was a leak they wanted me to fix. 
'Another time I had a celebrity’s neighbour call on New Year’s Eve, saying there was water coming through her ceiling. That was incredibly stressful.’
Worst of all, she adds, was the time an employer asked her to choose him a special birthday gift for his wife — and then the next day the wife asked her to return it.
Footballers can be demanding bosses, explains Stephen Lockyer, a former chauffeur who works as an assistant to leading actors, sports stars and foreign royals.

Singer Lady Gaga with former PA Jennifer O’Neill who claimed she was required to sleep in her bed each night
Singer Lady Gaga with former PA Jennifer O’Neill who claimed she was required to sleep in her bed each night
‘I book their holidays, do their shopping, house-sit while they’re playing abroad,’ he tells me, en route to pick up a client from the airport. 
'Some like a particular brand of champagne that I have to source from Harrods; others want to bring their Lamborghinis to London at short notice.
‘I’ve had to arrange for a nightclub to open at 3.30am so a star could go in when everyone else had gone home. It’s a crazy existence.’
Stephen once had to shut down Windsor Castle for a publicity-shy celebrity who wanted a private tour. 
Another challenge came when the new iPhone was released in 2014.
‘I was tasked with finding 100 for the celebrity to give to his friends,’ he recalls. ‘We paid 50 people to stand in queues outside shops, but got none. Luckily, he was very understanding.’
There are, of course, perks to the job.
The salary can range between £30,000 for a junior PA to £150,000 for an experienced A-lister’s aide.
Many get to travel to exotic locations with their bosses, staying in luxurious hotels, flying on private jets and attending star-studded premieres.
The downside is being on call 365 days a year — and, with non-disclosure agreements a prerequisite, keeping schtum about what you see, do and hear.
No wonder, says Tom Burch, PA to a British megastar singer from 2002 to 2005 and a Hollywood heartthrob from 2009 to 2012.
‘Some of the things you see are disgusting. You could ruin careers if you talked. The singer I worked for was really insecure and known for employing unattractive female staff. 
'I once found a fax from her agent telling her about this new nanny he’d hired - he described her as ugly, overweight and with terrible skin. “You’ll love her!” he’d written.’
Another A-lister was ‘a complete brat - always late, unprofessional and prone to tantrums.’ 
He would pick up her dry cleaning, take the dog to the vet and wash her car - as well as turn a blind eye when her toyboy lover visited on days her husband was out.
‘I knew she was having an affair two years before it was in the papers,’ he says. ‘But I couldn’t say anything. I was sworn to silence.’
And that, says Ben Arnold, is where Jermain Defoe has gone embarrassingly wrong. 
For in the celebrity PA world, discretion is the name of the game - and no self-respecting star would ever let his diva demands become so public.
‘It has the ring of someone who’s never done this before,’ adds Ben.
‘You don’t want to tell everyone what happens behind closed doors. It’s your PA’s job to keep those doors - and their mouths - firmly shut for ever.’


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