October 5, 2008


How different Paul Newman was from fellow celebrity actors was clearly brought home to me whenever I visited The Ivy where I've eaten regularly for the past fifteen or so years - ever since Chris (Corbin) and Jeremy (King) reopened it. Admittedly, since their departure, it seems less 'starry' with actors like Bill Nighy and Charles Dance more regularly seen at one of the pair's new ventures, The Wolseley or Scott's. Doubtlessly, though, if you had kept up to date with the latest boy bands and reality show winners, you'd probably recognise the faces there but since I hadn't, I don't.

During the Corbin-King tenure, however, it was quite usual to find yourself sitting next to any number of A-listers from Lauren Bacall, Richard Gere, Tom Cruise, Clive Owen, the Beckhams (Victoria forever picking at oysters) to Joan Collins, Britney Spears, Salman Rushdie etc. Not to mention the regulars such as John McCritrick (always arriving late from race meetings and poring over ripped-out newspaper reviews), Melvyn Bragg and Harold Pinter.

The last two always had the same table on Saturday evenings but, as if by prior arrangement, not on the same occasion. On one New Year's Eve a couple of years ago, it must have been Harold Pinter's turn. He left, though, about twenty to twelve presumably to attend a function elsewhere although, judging by the traffic later that night, he may well have celebrated the New Year in his taxi. And no sooner than he'd left than Chris Corbin arrived for a late meal. A wonderful case of le patron mange ici...

And inside the restaurant, discretion ruled - strictly maintained by Chris and Jeremy - so that a Martian, dining there for the first time, would be totally unaware if his neighbour hailed from Hollywood or Hartlepool, Bel Air or Belfast, so even-handedly were waiting staff focused on the job and diners on the food.

Everyone, that is, except for Britney Spears. From the moment she arrived accompanied by cronies and assorted hangers-on, she took every opportunity to get the restaurant's attention with belly laughs and screeching chatter. Forever swivelling her head in all directions, she seemed, in an eerily insecure, immature way, to be in constant need of the limelight.

Britney Spears apart, then, the unwritten rule at The Ivy is complete anonymity and privacy for celebrities within its walls. Outside, however, it's a different matter. Hordes of paparazzis line up on the pavement opposite for hours, tipped off by agents about their clients' scheduled visit but not their ETA or ETD. So, when flashing lights start to dazzle through the famous leaded windows, you always know when someone "important" has arrived or is leaving and that some smilingly composed face snapped "unexpectedly and off guard" will appear in next day's tabloids. And all part of the game that is PR, of which all celebrities who choose to eat at The Ivy are aware and which they are all more than happy to play.

And as I mentioned at the start, so unlike Paul Newman...

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