If you’ve always dreamed of working with celebs, there are quite a few options out there – from celebrity assistant jobs to making sure they don’t get mobbed at venues. We spoke to three people who all get paid to look after the A-list. Find out what they do, how they do it and how you can do it too but, first off, you have to learn to start referring to celebrities as “talent”. As in: “the talent’s in the building” and “when’s the talent arriving?” and “The talent’s drunk and in the loo and won’t come out”.
Jo Parkerson works for Bauer Media (heat, Empire, Magic FM, KISS FM, FHM plus hundreds more)
What the job actually is: Getting talent (wahey!) into Bauer Media, coordinating their stay and making sure that the radio, TV and magazine brands have good access to them for interviews. “I’ve started a ‘one stop guest shop’, telling PRs and film publicists they can bring their talent here in one visit and do as many interviews as possible. For example, on Monday, Arnold Schwarzenegger did a Magic breakfast, KISS FM, Absolute, Empire, In Demand and ISPN. Kermit the Frog did something similar.”
What it entails: Every day she sends audio cuts of celebrities – whether on the red carpet or from their own interviews – to be used in radio bulletins across the UK, she co-ordinates the celebrities coming in and out of Bauer and does a fair few interviews herself. “Nothing beats the feelings of getting a big celebrity to come in and thinking “Yay me! I got it!” because you have all these confirmed/not confirmed/confirmed conversations so it’s great when it works out,” she says. “It’s also great when you hear a celebrity say something you know is going to be newsworthy. That’s a really great feeling.”
The hardest part of the job: “Sometimes you have to stay calm when everything around you is going wrong. You plan ahead, but you have to remember that not everything is going to work out the way it should,” she says. Another downside is, not dealing with difficult celebrities, but with their publicists or the people around them: “They say the bigger the star nicer are, but it’s not the star, it’s the people they surround themselves with. You can have a lovely celeb, but a real rottweiler of a PR who doesn’t take any shit and acts as a gatekeeper. Some of the people think they’re as big as the person they represent,” she adds. How to cope with it? “I often find myself saying: ‘NO ONE’S DIED’.” Unless of course, someone dies while being interviewed. In which case, this saying won’t help.
How you can do Jo’s job: She working her way up through all sorts of roles within the entertainment industry (working in a call centre at the same time until she managed to earn enough to get by), specifically radio – and is a firm believer in work experience. “Be focused, know what you want to achieve, and get a good skillset. So if you’re at uni, or going to uni, learn how to use all the editing programs and the software. Get work experience anywhere you can and do all the jobs nobody else wants to do,” advises Jo. “Once you’re in, then you can work your way up and start booking guests for the shows.”
Francis is one of the original members of the Guest Relations team started up about a year ago when the O2 realised they needed a specific team to deal with very high profile guests.
What the job actually is: Making sure that, when a celebrity pulls up to the O2 to watch a show, their stay is as smooth and shrieking-fan-free as possible. Oh, and that there are no accidents and they don’t fall over or anything. “We talk to their team before they arrive in order to make a plan, and then basically make sure they have everything they need and are as safe as possible – we deal with very high profile people sometimes, and they might not want to be mobbed…” says Francis.
What it entails: He heads up a team of nine people all stationed in different areas of the venue to make sure everything goes smoothly. “The biggest challenge is getting a celebrities’ tickets located and their accreditation sorted before fans clock that ‘oh my god! It’s David Beckham!’” he explains. “We’re in constant contact with each other, referring to the celebrity as a code word – you never use their name – to make sure they make it to the VIP lounge and get seen to their seats.” The best part of the job is the strong camaraderie, the great atmosphere and the staff perks: “We get discounted tickets – sometimes they’re £2.50! Also, you get to meet so many great people in this line of work. And there’s always something new coming up, something you need to solve.”
The hardest part of the job: Apart from trying not to get excited when Jay Z shows up, the hardest part of the job is dealing with literally everything that could possibly go wrong when a hugely famous person comes to party and watch a gig. Which, as you can imagine, is a lot: “You’re thinking on your feet all the time. If someone passes out, spills something or gets mobbed you’ve got to know who to call – as well as where to take them. We know the arena like the back of our hand,” says Francis. “If you’re dealing with a difficult customer then that can be hard, but you’ve just got to try and make their stay as enjoyable as possible. Stay calm. Throw in some sweeteners – a free ticket for next time, that sort of thing. At the end of the day, they’re just people.”
How you can do Francis’s job: While he came from a security background, the team he works with are from all walks of life. “We’ve got a fair few students from uni, single parents, mothers, dads, all sorts of people. The job is open to everyone, because it’s common sense and you get pretty much all the training you need when you’re hired,” he explains. “It’s a zero hour contract, so really flexible, but you do need to have great customer service skills. That’s vital, because you’re the first thing a person sees when coming into The O2 and you’re there to deal with problems in a professional way.” The only official qualification you need is an SIA – it’s the same across the board for everyone working in protection – but you get this once you’re hired, so no need to sort it out beforehand.
Deborah is the president of ACA-UK, a huge online network of celebrity PAs, and has worked as one herself for years (among many other roles including marketing, PR and as a buyer).
What the job actually is: The job itself is essentially assisting a celebrity in whatever area of their life they need help with. “I’ve had some bosses who won’t call me beyond 9-5 hours and others who need me around the clock. You can become really close friends with the person you work for because you know so much about their life, or sometimes it’s just a working relationship,” she explains.
What it entails: Oh, so much stuff. “A PA’s role differs depending on who they’re working for but it ranges from helping with your boss’s fan mail, coordinating travel arrangements, making sure bills are paid, briefing them on what they’re doing, where they’re going and why, booking restaurants, making sure they’ve got scripts, sorting their food, basically managing every aspect of their life,” she explains. “It’s an incredibly hard job and a lot of work but you get to travel, and work with some amazing people.”
The hardest part of the job: “There’s a lot of begging. To get into restaurants, to change the timings of an interview, to rearrange meetings and tell annoyed people that your boss is going to be late… the list is endless so you’ve got to be charming and nice while at the same time making sure things get done,” says Deborah. While you can put on a smile 98% of the time, there is that other 2% that’s going to break you, so there may have to be a lot of deep breathing. “If someone’s told you they’re going to do something, and they don’t, and your boss is asking why, then you’re going to be stressed. Touch wood, I haven’t had to yell yet. But I have got extremely cross. I tend to lower my tone and speak rea-lly slo-wly when annoyed.”
How you can do Deborah’s job: get a solid background in assisting, events and any other aspects of the industry you want to work in. If you love films, for instance, then it makes sense to join some aspect of the film industry so you can make contacts and, at the very least, have something to talk to your boss about when sitting on the plane. “It’s not a young person’s role, so you have to work your way up – a PA role or team assistant job is a great way to learn the trade. Having basic secretarial skills, and maybe getting some work in a charity is a good way, too – you can get experience organising events that way,” she advises. The best way is to work your way up in a team until you’re assisting the director or head of a well-known company. “Making the transition to celebrity PA is then a little easier because you’ve made so many contacts; your boss will maybe attend conferences or your company may organise events where celebrities are hosting and suddenly you get chatting to their PA who is thinking of leaving and… well, you never know.” It’s an industry relying on solid experience, good skills and building up your contacts. Oh, and not bursting into tears if something doesn’t go right.
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