‘You’re doing Ladies’ Day,’ snapped my news editor. ‘At the Grand National.’
It was 2003; I was a cub reporter with no more interest in sport or horses than in, well, origami, or Chinese medicine. But what the hell – it would make a change from chasing fire engines in Warrington
‘Do colour, hats, fashion,’ he said, wearily. ‘But for God’s sake, don’t do the bloody horses’
So, with his words ringing in my ears – and a dire warning not to emulate last year’s reporter by getting drunk and falling asleep on the job, I set off.
It was absolutely pissing down at Aintree. There was mud everywhere. But the place looked very grand, with an impressive array of white, Camelot style marquees.
So I resorted to my first shameless trick – nicking stuff. ‘You got anything interesting?’ I ventured to the other reporters. But I was met with stiff, icy glares; we were all jostling glumly for laptop space amid the chaos and the coffee cups. It was like a workaday version of Glastonbury.
Ah well, I thought, pragmatically. Next strategy – I waved my press badge around at the police. They laughed me off with a wry smile. ‘Try another one, luv.’
But I had a double page spread to fill. I began trawling. Joe Public, waiters, publicity officers; anyone who looked like they might have half a story.
‘Here,’ beamed a waiter, pointing at a gravestone.
‘Red Rum’s grave!’
‘Ah.’ I said. I paused. An awkward silence followed; I wondered what the appropriate course of action for paying respect to a dead champion was. A eulogy; a tear, perhaps – or genuflecting, maybe?
At that point, the ladies began pouring in. Suddenly the place was awash with bright fuchsia and quivering orange fascia, teetering drunkenly across the mud soaked lawn. It was 10am; many were drunk; it was poetry in motion.
‘I’m Alma Cogan,’ screeched one wobbly fifty something, staggering across the gravel. And without further ado, she hitched up her canary yellow, netted skirt, thrust her hand into her fishnet tights, and pulled out a silver hipflask. Then, with a huge swig, she collapsed.
I looked around; a press officer beckoned, slyly. He led me back to the dingy, mud splattered press tent, which by now was even grimmer and filthier than before. There, like a surreal vision of Elysium, was what looked like some kind of a beautiful Russian supermodel, in the middle of a load of of gaping sweaty reporters.
‘What’s your name?’ I said, trying to avert my gaze from the legs, sprawled akimbo.
She wrinkled her dainty nose and muttered something. ‘Maartehl.’
‘Maartehl,’ she repeated, breathlessly.
‘Er, right. So how we spelling that then…?’
The publicity officer leaned forward. ‘She IS Martell,’ he said, firmly.
‘Uh huh,’ I said, turning back. ‘And your real name is…?’
‘No, no, no, no!’ He insisted. ‘She is…Martell’.
‘What…as in cognac?’
‘Yes!’ he beamed, triumphantly. I frowned; then the penny dropped. The pair of them were working for the brand.
I exchanged a sideways glance with the guy from the Manchester Evening News. For once, we united: there was no way Martell was making it on to page three anytime soon.
‘Marco Pierre White’s here!’ quipped a reporter, who seemed to be even wet behind the ears than I was. ‘And Zara Phillips!’
Really? My ears pricked up. I wasn’t a fan of celeb chasing. But the racing was underway, the punters were pouring in on all sides, and I still had space to fill. Frankly, I couldn’t afford to be choosy. Cue another grim trek across the mud bath outside to the VIP tent. It was a thankless task; the heavens opened, and we were unceremoniously prevented from getting anywhere near Zara Phillips. Marco Pierre White, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found.
But then, it came to me. We were surrounded by all manner of quivering orange fascia and bright pink hats. Yes, they looked like an assortment of wobbly cockatoos, becoming more bedraggled and cock eyed by the minute, but even so – it was manna from Heaven for a beleaguered reporter.
So in the end, it all worked out. Marco Pierre White may have failed to materialise; Red Rum to resurrect himself, but those Liverpool girls filled our pages – and really saved the day.