Then factor into that equation the knowledge that you could, at pretty much any time of the day or night, be called out to fire fight on behalf of Amy Winehouse, one of the more volatile stars on your client list. And if not Amy, then maybe it will be Naomi, or Scary Spice. Would you then be prepared to represent a certain Ms Katie Price, fresh from her highly-public marriage bust-up?
You would if you were the publicist Alan Edwards, one of the most influential Britons in the global entertainment industry, and one of the most placid characters you could find in a world of never-ending dramas, tantrums and tragedies. “My feet haven’t touched the ground,” he observes, more matter-of-factly than theatrically, as he sits down in his office in London’s Tottenham Court Road.
From here he’s in regular touch with David Bowie, who he has represented for nearly 30 years, and The Who, his clients for his entire career. He recounts details of a recent late night with Grace Jones and says he will at some point attend the Lord’s test match, in which another client, Kevin Pietersen, is taking part.
His business, The Outside Organisation, has grown a great deal since Edwards’s early days working out of a squat in Covent Garden “when it was a derelict fruit market and there were no jugglers in the piazza”, seizing on the potential of punk bands such as The Damned, Blondie and Buzzcocks. “In a strange way, PR’s time has arrived,” he says. “It’s a relatively new thing, not even 50 years old in the UK, and when I came into it there were only about two PRs in the whole country.” Edwards was settling in for a rare early night when he was first alerted about Michael Jackson.
“I realised something unbelievable was happening and hotfooted back to the office, by then it was 11pm. We opened the office and the world media all called in one go, we didn’t leave much before 4am,” he says.
“You don’t think of the business ramifications, your thoughts go from disbelief to shock to sadness because it’s so gigantic, we all grew up with Jackson.” He soon found himself flying to Los Angeles for the funeral, summoned by his client, AEG Live’s CEO Randy Phillips, after 80 British journalists pitched up at the Staples Center. “I came off the plane and went straight there, it was like going on to a film set, there were lights blazing and TV crews on platforms as far as you could see, the LAPD and the helicopters hovering,” says Edwards, who also met up with his clients P Diddy and Usher, who were among mourners.
Back in Britain he has been working relentlessly to feed the media’s appetite for details of the shows that never were. A front page of The Sun, showing Jackson in rehearsal, is framed on the wall in the office corridor. “It was very important to make it clear this wasn’t going to be a thrown together show, I honestly think this would have been one of the greatest shows London had ever seen, you only had to look at the video footage, it was going to be fantastic,” he says.
Some hard lessons have recently been learned in the PR industry, he says. “We are rediscovering the essentials of PR, which always come down to having a good message, telling a story well and having good contacts. Companies are realising you can get millions of people to tick boxes, come up with diagrams and make presentations, but if they can’t tell a good story and don’t know who to tell it to then it all becomes expensively meaningless.”
You will more likely see Edwards hanging out with Dominic Mohan, likely next editor of The Sun, or Richard Wallace, editor of the Daily Mirror, than stood on a platform making industry presentations on the communications benefits of new technologies.
Even so, Edwards embraces change ? Bowie taught him that. “He inspired me. He was your ultimate 360 degree artist and understood dance, film, music… he worked in an advertising agency, he understood multimedia before anybody else.”
He sits on a lot of celebrity secrets, has had his diaries stolen from the rubbish bins and felt the need to sweep his office for bugs. But he says the deskbound press don’t find out things they used to a decade ago.
With large corporations looking to dress up their recession-threatened brands with the glitter of celebrity endorsement, Edwards is perfectly placed. Having secured a deal to promote Formula 1 through music, Outside has been signed up by Nissan, which hopes to exploit the PR company’s expertise in music after completing a tie-up with the Island record label to give the car brand more urban cool. “While all the Jackson and Katie Price craziness has been going on this summer we had these meetings with Nissan,” says Edwards. “I’m fanatical about Island, it’s a label with an incredible heritage and there are a lot of bridges I felt we could build between the two brands.”
Celebrity endorsements are complicated things. “If you ring up a pop star and say ‘Would you like £1m for endorsing something’ they will just say ‘yes’ and bank the money. I’ve inherited so many situations where the deal has been done but the artist’s heart wasn’t in it.” By contrast his client Beverley Knight, the soul singer, has a cosmetic range with Jigsaw that she “loves and uses and has been involved in the design” and P Diddy has a financial stake in the success of the Belgian vodka brand Ciroc.
Outside suffered a setback recently when Stuart Bell, who had won awards for his work on the Sir Paul McCartney account, left to go his own way. Edwards has lost good people before; Robbie Williams’s publicist Murray Chalmers and industry stalwart Julian Henry are among those who have graduated from what he calls the “university of PR”.
Though Edwards no longer represents the Beckhams, an England shirt hangs on his wall, signed by the footballer and his wife. A pair of Beckham’s boots are mounted on the wall behind his desk. “The fact we haven’t represented him for a while didn’t mean the shirt got taken off the wall, I hold him in extremely high esteem,” says Edwards, who is also surely savvy enough to recognise the value of such items in impressing prospective clients. He graciously refers to Victoria Beckham as “witty spice” and points out that he still represents the LA-based Spice Girl Mel B, who is about to launch a major British primetime television show.
I was once at an awards ceremony where Edwards, calm as ever, left early to head for Gatwick airport after receiving a call that his client Naomi Campbell had been arrested after a row on an aircraft. He likens himself to a swan that appears serene on the surface, but is paddling away frantically out of sight. With his client list he needs to be. “I’m not saying every day is fun, some are hell on earth,” he admits. “But I don’t think I’ve had a dull day since I left school.”
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