Tony Barrell once had a lift home in a limousine with Celine Dion
I was once given a lift home in a limo with Celine Dion. It’s true! I once shared a car journey to my home town with the mega-famous singer of ‘My Heart Will Go On’, ‘Think Twice’, ‘Because You Loved Me’ and a heap of other hits.
It all came about in 1997 when I was working for The Sunday Times in London, and I was offered an interview with Ms Dion. I thought she’d be perfect for the paper’s ‘A Life in the Day’ column, in which interesting people discuss their quotidian habits and suchlike. The 29-year-old Canadian singer was coming over to London for a round of interviews to promote her latest album. The only trouble was, her schedule was filling up fast. Her friendly publicist, Joanna Burns, told me that she had only a single spare hour left. “The interview will have to be in the limo going from her hotel to the Des O’Connor TV show,” she said. Fine, I said. Which hotel? “The Landmark Hotel in Marylebone Road.” And where is Des’s show being filmed? “Teddington Studios.” Perfect! I lived in Teddington, so the interview would be conducted as the limo driver effectively chauffeured me to my home.
And so, at 3pm on Tuesday, December 2, 1997, I arrived at the Landmark to meet Celine, and I switched my microcassette recorder on as we hopped in the back of the car.
As we drove through Twickenham, Celine’s attention was seized by an Italian restaurant to our right in York Street
Celine turned out to be very pleasant and chatty, and our conversation covered a lot of ground as we motored in a southwesterly direction from Marylebone through Bayswater, Kensington, Putney, Richmond and Twickenham to Teddington. We discussed her favourite foods, her sleep patterns, her musical family, the CDs she listened to when she drove her BMW in Florida, and her hobbies (golf and shopping). I had discovered beforehand that she and her husband had a chain of 1950s-style restaurants back in Canada, and we talked about that as well as the light faded on that winter’s afternoon.
As we drove through Twickenham, getting very close to Teddington, Celine’s attention was seized by an Italian restaurant to our right in York Street. It had a running-water effect on its front window, which intrigued her. This was my home patch and I knew the restaurant, and I was suddenly struck by the surreal nature of the situation: I had never imagined that one day I would be chatting to Celine Dion about my local area.
These were the days when a long white car with black windows was more likely to be occupied by a celebrity than by a gaggle of girls on a hen night
The limo was also receiving some attention from people on the streets, because these were the days when a long white car with black windows was more likely to be occupied by a celebrity than by a gaggle of girls on a hen night.
As the time neared 4pm and the driver approached Teddington Lock I wrapped up the interview, wondering if I’d collected enough details on tape for a good ‘Life in the Day’, said farewell and walked home. After I transcribed the interview I was relieved to find that it made a nice piece, highlighting some little-known quirks of a superstar’s life and personality.
For a couple of weeks afterwards, I told anyone who would listen: “I had a lift home with Celine Dion.” But not everyone believed me. ♦
For more classic London music stories, see Tony’s new book Rock’n’Roll London.
© 2019 Tony Barrell