Rob McGibbon

19.02.04

8am: the 15-step commute to the home office is as smooth as ever. No door jams or leaves on the landing. At 8.01am I assume control of my freelancing empire amid multiple surfaces of MDF with beech veneer. And this is it for the rest of the day, folks. Brace yourselves for the thrills of my week.

Freelancing, it’s a weird one. The amazing freedom it brings can be like you are in the Alps while everyone else is on the Tube. But, equally, you can feel that the world and his distant half cousin are at the party of the year while you’re in solitary at Belmarsh.

Most days are a mix of the two.

Add “showbiz” to all that and you’ve got a recipe for – if I may humbly quote that great celebrity sage – insania.

Every morning is spent on a book I’m trying to finish. It’s based on a diary written in 1914 by an English girl called Olive Higgins. She was 16 and began it as she set off for school in Paris, but she died tragically eight weeks later. A romantic comedy, it ain’t.

This is a big departure after 12 books and 15 years of celebrity journalism, but I think of it as a kind of rehab – my spell at the Priory for showbiz hacks.

The book doesn’t have a boy band in sight, but – three years in – there’s no publishing deal or end to it either.

Hey, any cold turkey is tough and, in true Met Bar tradition, I’m doing it one line at a time. Afternoon, over the wall to the gym.

20.02.04

Walk to work. I have my best morning for ages and celebrate by casting the movie version of this unfinished book. Best to get these things sorted. I read the papers, e-mail ideas, chat with some contacts, rejig a feature – world domination is moments away. A PR confirms two soap stars for a trip to Dubai, which is part of an ongoing celebrity holidays venture. I write pitches for commissions. Tennis.

21.02.04

Research at the Colindale newspaper library. A computer problem at home later sends me into a blind panic. All files of the magnum opus have vanished. During my meltdown a fast-moving chair takes a nine-inch chunk of plaster out of the wall. I then find everything on the, er, desktop. My IT department is run by an imbecile and the idiot in maintenance who will have to repair the damage is no better.

Reboot from the stress by jogging.

Dinner out with a mixed bunch.

Someone mentions I do showbiz stuff and one woman is beside herself: “Who’s the most famous person you’ve met?” I reach for a yard of red to guarantee next-day amnesia.

22.02.04

Ouch. Collect Sunday papers in a hod and flat spin onto the sofa. Do daily sit-ups there.

23.02.04

“Morning everyone, good weekend?” Pure Belmarsh today. Ahh, the frustration. I wilfully distract myself with nonsense e-mails. A supportive note arrives from a friend who has risen to bracketless media heights: “You still alive?” I ban personal e-mail throughout the entire company so I can focus. There’s a backing track in the office of wristslitters from Tragic FM, then a mix of Beethoven numbers. I glance over the catalogue of his works. Jesus Christ – if LVB did all that, surely I can do this? I do what every freelance dreads – call the contributions departments of various publications.

It reminds me of condition check calls to hospitals. “Nothing on the system” is the freelance’s flatline tone and it sounds out from a few places. One payment is seven months overdue. No, really, any time before the coffin arrives is fine.

Much better news from elsewhere and I receive royalties for an updated biography I did on Eminem for Germany in 2000. The new edition is eine bestseller. Accounts condition: out of ICU, full recovery expected.

I go to a meeting at a record company where everyone is hollow-eyed and wearing black; it’s like being at an undertaker’s. They show me photos of some boys they have recently embalmed and talk of single releases, books, percentages, publicity. It’s like past lives regression and suddenly the misery of 1914 seems a happier time.

Must get back in the programme.

Gym workout. Anyone would think I’m on standby for the Olympics.

24.02.04

Fall off the wagon to do interviews on the set of a drama series. The PR greets me close to tears – she hates the producer, the cast, her life. And probably me. Actor one arrives in full fightinjuries make-up and tells me how much he loves everything. If he says “fantastic, mate” one more time, I swear I will put the makeup artist out of work.

Actress two: vulnerable.

Actress three: scary. I feel like a counsellor, but I stroll on an exotic beach somewhere during depressive actor four while my tape machine gently weeps. I leave before the PR drags the security bloke in for a chat.

Still, a productive day. I return to OD/1914 at MDF HQ. I get confirmation of two meetings at the London Book Fair. Urgh! Good news from a Sunday – a buy-up I have agented is a go and another idea has been taken by a daily. Hey, hey, the hills are alive… Dinner with a senior newspaper executive who says I am a “self-congratulatory, glib tosser”. I miss these newsroom empowerment sessions.

25.02.04

A broken sleep sees me start work at about 5am. Things go well, but by lunchtime I’m knackered and ready for a takeaway and a quiet night in.

Oddly, today is the 90th anniversary of Olive Higgins’ death. It’s crazy that her speck of life is consuming my career, but I wonder if a fitting irony would be that this book makes her famous. Maybe tragic anonymity will be the new bling. One thing’s for sure – I’m gonna need rehab from this one, too.

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