Eddie Mair’s ten minutes with Beyoncé and Salma Hayek

“The interview would have to start at 5pm on the dot and finish at 5:10, or people would die – or at least that’s the impression I got”

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Dramatic music. Butch voiceover: “Tonight, in an all-new Radio Head – a galaxy of stars! Beyoncé! Salma Hayek! Meg Ryan! Ken Bruce!” Dramatic music has big dramatic finish… Too much?

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I’m conscious that this column often lacks star power. Working in news, I do brush up against politicians quite a bit, figuratively speaking, but the sort of celebs people are interested in tend not to swing by.

I hardly ever get folk coming up to me asking, “But what’s Vince Cable really like?” Standing in for Andrew Marr on The Andrew Marr Show last weekend, I saw more stars than if I’d fallen downstairs at a conference on concussion.

The Chime for Change concert was on in London and we were invited to the venue to talk backstage to Beyoncé and Salma. The interview would have to start at 5pm on the dot and finish at 5:10, or people would die – or at least that’s the impression I got.

And so I found myself sitting in a tiny make-shift booth. The only concession to set decoration was the most beautiful floral arrangement I think I’ve ever seen. I resolved that should the interview not happen, I could simply chat to the flowers. Viewers, I was sure, would be delighted.

Five o’clock came and went, as did 5:15. There was a huge hubbub all around. One man was talking into his sleeve like those Secret Service people you see on TV. I saw Meg Ryan wander past as if she wasn’t really Meg Ryan. Beyoncé and co were in the giant room somewhere. Photos were being taken. NBC was interviewing them. Some of their people would pop over every few minutes to reassure us that no matter how late things were running we would get our allotted ten minutes, come hell or high water.

Five-thirty came and went. I chatted amiably to the flowers, quietly wishing I’d gone to the loo before sitting down. Moments later, a rushing sound of energy – like a football crowd when the ball suddenly reaches a striker in the penalty area. Whoosh. Beyoncé, Salma and Gucci’s creative director Frida Giannini were heading my way. Four seconds later we were shaking hands and our booth was filled with about 300 people.

A stern-looking American woman whom I would not like to cross demanded of our camera operator, “Eh, cameraman… I don’t know your name. How low are you shooting?” She was concerned about Salma’s short skirt. I joked that I, too, had a “no shooting below the knee” rider in my contract, and all the women gave me that look I’m so familiar with.

Less than 60 seconds after they sat down, the women were mic’d up, Beyoncé’s hair person nipped in for a quick adjustment and we were away. Ten minutes isn’t what it used to be. No sooner was I saying thank you than Salma was off like a speeding train to her next interview and the 300 throng had moved on faster than Brad from Jennifer. Sixty seconds later it was just me and the flowers again.

TAXI!

After the show the next day, I was loitering outside BH and stumbled across Paddy O’Connell from Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, and Ken Bruce, who’d been his guest on the show. We were all waiting for cabs. I remarked that if there was a rooftop sniper nearby, British broadcasting would be bereft. And Paddy would be dead, too.

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Eddie Mair hosts PM Mon–Fri 5.00pm and co-presents iPM Sat 5.45am on Radio 4