I got the phone call the day before the gig. Could I interview Fergie from The Black Eyed Peas? Sure. Why not? Interviews are a fascinating process. The person doesn’t really want to talk to you. You hardly ever get to talk to someone you would really like to. Why wouldn’t I go for it?
Turns out I was going to the gig anyway (this being when, somewhat incongruously Fergie was the opening act for The Police).
I got off the phone fresh from agreeing to do the interview. And told roughly everyone I knew that I would be interviewing Fergie. I found it hilarious. Most of the people I told found it very exciting for one reason or another. I didn’t. I was in to doing it, sure, but I wasn’t amped because it was Fergie. I was amped because I was going to get paid. This was a job. And I would get some money for doing it. That’s pretty much how interviews work. Actually, that’s not true – that’s hardly ever how interviews work, but when the call comes from a newspaper editor this is how it works. When it comes from a publicist you are in (financial) trouble.
But all the guys were very excited to hear that I was meeting Ms Fergalicious. And the girls wanted to know if I could get the phone number of her – apparently hot – fiancé.
I’ve always thought that Fergie was staring out through cold, Crystal Meth eyes. Fergie ruined The Black Eyed Peas, but even so she helps them to put on a good show when they play live. They just started releasing increasingly terrible albums, almost exponentially when a certain Fergie came along.
So, to the following day. And leading up to it friends and workmates were asking me what I was going to ask her. This was not helpful at all, considering I was still asking them what I should ask her.
For those that are still under the impression that an interview with someone like Fergie is cool – and exciting – and means that you’ll be friends for life and start texting each other or even following each other on Instagram, let this post serve to burst that bubble. It’s just work folks. You ask the questions they’ve heard before. They give you the answers they’ve given before to some else (and you’ve heard before from anyone else).
First instruction was to meet at the venue – that being the “cake-tin” – at 5.00pm. Sharp. I was there. I met the lady from the record company. She was nice. I met the woman from the other magazine that was also doing an interview. She had been flown down from Auckland – she wasn’t even watching the show, she would go on to talk to Fergie about make-up and boys and all the important stuff and then she would fly back to Auckland. But anyway, the woman from the other magazine was very quiet. But she seemed nice.
The record company lady talked on her phone. And talked on her phone. And teed things up. And confirmed plenty. And we waited. And waited.
And then a black van pulled up. And a giant man stepped out – I picked him as a Cliff Richard fan immediately (you know, because he was “wired for sound”). He slid the side-door of the van open, asked us for press credentials and slapped backstage-pass stickers on us. He shut the door and gave off an impenetrable vibe.
The van drove us underground, down underneath the main entrance to the stadium. Seriously, we drove for all of 500m. It was ridiculous. We were let out at the back of the building. The bodyguard man, Fergie’s personal minder, was named Pierre. He was, as I’ve said, huge. And he smiled thinly, often. Never opening his lips. Very silent. And his eyes seemed to offer a silent question-mark whenever I spoke; trying desperately to make this guy crack.
I then surveyed where I was and drifted off for just long enough to arrive at the vision of my bruised, crumpled body in the rubbish-skip slowly coming to as Sting sung Every Breath You Take; me focusing on every breath that I was able to take. I decided to leave Pierre to do his thing. And hope that his thing did not involving putting his ham hocks on me.
We scooted up the service lift and sat in a concrete hallway. Waiting. And waiting.
A woman who was with the American crew came out to talk to us. She looked like Omarosa from the first season of The Apprentice. And she seemed severe. She looked displeased with us – sitting waiting. And she seemed to thoroughly disapprove of me wearing jandals.
We waited. And the Omarosa-clone looked past us and nodded at no-one and then announced that “here would be fine”. Meaning, we all presumed, that Fergie would come out and talk to us in the concrete hallway. Nice. How charming. But we had no say in it. I then heard “Omarosa” say that Fergie was just getting something to eat. And would be a few minutes. I had been there for an hour. The woman from the other magazine had her spiral-bound notepad at the ready. I had my school exercise book that I scribble interview notes in (my scrawl is indecipherable – even to me). And I, after patting both pockets down, had a pen. Yes, I had a pen!
Then – a few more minutes later – we were told to come forward to the dressing room. Fergie had decided that she’d be more comfortable in her dressing room. Fair enough. We had watched her – and her tribe of pygmy dancers (seriously, she must have chosen them by height, to make herself seem tall) file past us having been to catering.
Pierre nodded down at me from his towering position above, knocked on Ms Fergie’s door and we heard a “yup, come in”. I thought Pierre was going to come in too – but mercifully he left me alone. He left us alone. I edged in the door and Fergie was sitting on a chair sipping from a water bottle. It was just me and her. I took my seat, far more nervously than I had anticipated, and said hello. Fergie offered her hand and a very nice smile – and said “hi honey”. I was very close to star-struck. I looked around and saw her team of make-up ladies having a cup of tea. I would have been surprised if we were completely alone. But basically, it was just me and Fergie on two seats at one end of the room. A rack of dresses to the side. A space of about two feet between us. There I was, stuck, as the saying goes, between some frocks and a hard face.
My half-hour with Stacy Fergusson was reduced to about 12 minutes. And this is not me getting caught up in how time flew. This is not an exaggeration. 12 minutes or so later, Pierre opened the door and gnashed in my general direction.
Fergie had been nice. She had been real. She had told me that she had had no plastic surgery done. (“No work at all, it’s the number one rumour I hear about myself”). Days later I found myself looking at the cover to a Black Eyed Peas DVD and could see how much her face had changed in just the last 2-3 years. But she was happy with her version of the truth. And I wasn’t working for Hard Copy. I was working hard enough just for basic copy…
Pierre asked me if I was staying for the show. I told him I was. He explained that, all the same, I would need to be escorted from the venue. And would have to come back in. I was entertaining vague ideas of visiting Sting – what with my backstage pass. But no, Pierre walked me to the gate. On the way he suddenly became human. He asked me if I had enjoyed my time with Fergie. I told him I had. He went on to tell me that he had worked with her for close to five years and that she was his best employer; he only worked with female pop stars and rattled off a list that included Beyonce and Mariah Carey. And he was sure that what made Fergie so great was that, at the end of the day, “she was just a nice person”. He said all of this while shaking my hand rather firmly. I agreed with him that yes indeed she had seemed very nice. Largely because I wanted my hand back.
I got my hand back. And Pierre got his backstage-pass sticker back, peeling it from my chest.
If I wasn’t so frightened by the man-mountain I’d have suggested that he and I have an interview – I reckon he’d have some interesting stories. I’d worked so hard just to get him to break character.
Fergie had given me a peck on the cheek as I left, roughly 90 minutes after lining up for my “be prompt” call-time. And, almost as exciting, Pierre had given me my hand back and not left me curled, fetal, in a giant bin somewhere.
Walking out of the stadium to find members of my family so that we could walk back in together to enjoy the show I heard tween fans gushing about the chance to see Fergie. I wanted to tell them I had just been talking to her and she was nice and friendly and (kinda) honest.
Later that night Fergie would go on stage and she would have the fly down on her pants for the first few numbers. That would make the headlines the following day. And this incongruous opening act, that I hadn’t cared a thing about leading up to the gig, would hold my attention throughout her support slot. She wasn’t well received and she was a poor choice as an opening act – but she did her best, working hard, perhaps trying a little too hard with a misguided medley of classic rock songs in attempts to appeal to fans of The Police. I wrote my story up – two actually. A gig review for the newspaper I worked for. An interview for the Sunday paper from the competing company; they’d called and commissioned. I did the work for them and they published it. I wrote about Fergie’s engagement and her movie cameo and her new album and how if she could write a letter now to the 17 year old Fergie she’d say “just keep going girl, be true to yourself, stay strong, you’re gonna be okay. It’s going to work out, honey. Some guys in a band are gonna give you a shot”.
The weekend rag from Auckland had called me up and asked me if I’d do the story, they “needed someone on the ground in Wellington”, they knew I would “deliver”. You see, I had delivered two 75-word book reviews the previous Christmas when asked. About three months on from writing about meeting the pop star in the dressing room in the concrete tower, after querying twice, I was paid for the story. Enough to get a beer after paying for the parking ticket I received for being prompt.