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Confessions of a Box Office Manager: A famous face fiasco

Celebrity attendees can lead to all manners of drama!

Box Office Manager

Laugh! LAUGH?! I nearly spat my coffee all over the iPad!

I've just been listening to the radio (I have so much more time for that these days, funnily enough) and a certain well known celebrity was on a talk show describing, in comforting, honeyed tones, the importance of compassion and consideration as we steer through the pandemic and the latest round of restrictions. Of course I completely agree with him (who wouldn't) but the reason for my mirthless mirth was that, in spite of the caring, accessible public persona that the aforementioned celeb projects, every single time I've dealt with him on a professional basis he has been, shall we say, less than gracious.

Back when I was allowed to do my job in person, the dichotomy between the ‘on air' personalities of some individuals and what they were like when you actually met them, was a source of considerable fascination. Sometimes people that you think might be tricky end up being absolutely adorable, and vice versa. Make no mistake, some famous faces – usually people with no background in the theatre industry- view ticketing staff as the lowest of the low, being interested only in the starry colleagues they've come to see, and, at a push, the theatre manager wafting about dapperly in a DJ with walkie talkie glued to ear.

The last six months have undoubtedly changed people, possibly forever in some cases, and maybe the guy I'm listening to has had some sort of 'Road To Damascus' moment which means he is now genuinely warm, fuzzy and respectful. One can but hope.

Our first encounter was particularly lamentable. He turned up minutes before a sold out show and stood at my box office window, fixing me with a steel-like glare but not bothering to give his name – he clearly felt he was so famous that no introduction was necessary – or even say hello. Now that I'm older and, yes, bolshier, I would deliberately demand name and credit card just to get up his nose, but back then I was a lot nicer so I just got on with looking for his tickets in the COBO box as he drummed his fingers on the counter.

Nothing. I checked under his first name as well, just in case. Still nothing.

ME: Could they possibly be under any other name?
HIM (as though this is the most outrageous thing he has ever heard): NO!
ME: Ah ok. Did you book them yourself, or was it...
HIM: Producers. Assistant. Phoebe, Dulcie, something.
ME (heart sinking, as the producers PA has flaky form): Ah... Mercy. That's her name, by the way, I wasn't asking for mercy...ha ha!...oh never mind...
HIM: Whatever. Should be sorted.
ME: Let me just check...

What followed was an excruciating, increasingly desperate scan of all my emails, all the general box office emails and the ticketing system itself, all to no avail. Absolutely no record anywhere of a Mercy-ful message to book this man in, and we don't have a spare seat in the place. I try her mobile number but it's off. Great. All this time, the celebrity is staring at me fixedly, barely even acknowledging his companion when she tries to talk to him.

In despair and with minutes to go before curtain-up, I ring the producer himself to see if he knows anything. He's a lovely fellow but usually somewhat the worse for wear by this point in the evening. Sure enough, when he answers, it sounds as though he is in a particularly jolly wine bar or brasserie, although if you could actually hear somebody go pale over the phone then that's what happens when I tell him who I've got in front of me...

ME: I'm so sorry to bother you but I've got [insert celebrity name here] here for tickets for tonight and we don't have anything.
PRODUCER: Oh hell. He's such a bastard.
ME: Er, well...
PRODUCER: Oh God, I'm not on speakerphone am I?!
ME: Nope.
PRODUCER: Fab. So. Didn't Mercy do it? What's she playing at?! Any house seats left?
ME: Alas not, we sold the last pair of holds at six, as instructed.
PRODUCER: Good man, good man, but what are we going to do? He has to see this show. I'm hoping he'll invest if it goes to New York.
ME: Right.
PRODUCER: I know! What uncollecteds have you got left?
ME: Just two pairs. One in the upper...
PRODUCER: Oh he won't sit up there...
ME: And two front stalls.
PRODUCER: Ok babes. This is what we're going to do. You'll refund those two, then comp them to him. When the customers arrive, tell them there's been a cock-up and comp them on another night, and get management to charge a bottle of champagne to me for them, yeah?
ME: Seriously? That's a bit unethical...
ME: Well, no, but...
PRODUCER: Or do YOU want to tell Tellyboxman that he can't see the show tonight?
ME: Also no, but..
PRODUCER: Well then... Gotta go, our entrées have arrived. Loving your work, loving your hair... (click)
ME: OK ok, but I am NOT happy... hello? HELLO?! He appears to have gone...

And so it followed that, grinding my teeth with shame all the while, I refunded the actual paying customer's tickets to their card number on the system, praying they wouldn't arrive while I was in mid-process, and handed the tickets to Tellyboxman. He grabbed them without a word of thanks, only stopping to ask if he was going to be getting drinks on the house. With relief, I directed him to the house manager who was standing by waiting to start the show. Good luck with that, mate.

In case you were wondering, the original purchasers of those seats turned up over half an hour late, their car having broken down en route. They were over the moon at getting a refund AND alternative seats for a performance that they wouldn't have to miss any of, plus free fizz...so at least somebody was happy.

So, yes, this rather unpleasant exchange came flooding back to me this morning as I listened to the very same guy telling me how I should make allowances for other people's shortcomings, and appreciate how we're all just doing our best under trying circumstances. Right on: wise words, convincingly delivered. I just wonder if he lives by them now. I also wonder if he ever actually invested in our show...