When the Pet Shop Boys’ touring party flew east on the day before, literally accompanied them.
In the club class British Airways cabin, Neil and Chris have been given seats next to each other, but as the flight is half empty and there is plenty of room Neil moves to the very front where he can have two seats to himself.
“It’s the new me,” he explains. “I’m all about window seats.”
“We both like window seats,” says Chris. As we near Bucharest, Neil admires “the snow-capped mountains” down below.
“Now,” asks Chris to tour manager Andy Crookston, “have we any surprises?”
Andy explains that, inevitably, there will probably be various media people at the airport.
“Have to be ready,” Neil mutters. “Hatted and glassed up.”
Just off the plane, the Pet Shop Boys are separated from the other passengers and told that they are to be led to a special lounge while the passport formalities and luggage collection takes place, except that at first they are led down a corridor
which appears to be a dead end and left standing there.
“I’m already in a bad mood about Romania,” sighs Neil. “We could have gone though the normal route and got our bags by now.”
After a short while they are led to a bus — not to be taken to the hotel but to another part of the airport where the lounge is. Andy assures them that this procedure is nevertheless, quicker than going though the normal channels.
“I believe him,” Neil tells Chris. “Millions wouldn’t...
Chris asks Nathan whether he can pretend to be
Chris today. “You don’t mind being me, do you?”
(Nathan looks a little bemused at this.) Neil and
Chris discuss the hotel names they have used on
this tour. Chris is Christopher Caliente.
“He was Christopher Del Horno,” says Neil. “I’ve forgotten who I am.” Andy reminds him. He is Neil Hannay. “It was supposed to be Richard Hannay, hero of The 39 Steps,” Neil explains, “but it became Neil Hannay for some reason.”
In the lounge — some kind of a large reception room clearly used for meeting and seeing off dignitaries — several people are waiting to meet the Pet Shop Boys, including the promoter, the head of the local record company, and their biggest Romanian fan who, it will later emerge, has helped underwrite the costs of the concert simply to ensure that he can see his favourite group. A man tells Neil that they met last New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh.
“Oh,” says Neil.
“At the concert that didn’t happen.” There is a moment of silence. “The concert in Romania will happen,” Neil adds.
The Pet Shop Boys are asked to sign some photos — promotional shots taken when Chris had long blond hair. He gestures with the pen towards the two glossy two-dimensional figures. “Who are they?” he asks.
A few minutes later, they are led out of the airport. Passports have been collected and will be returned later. (“There aren’t many countries left,” Chris notes, “where you can do it this way.”)
Neil and Chris get into the back seat of a plush car.
“I’ve already forgotten everybody’s names,” says Chris.
They chat about how Frank — who often works for them as a stylist, but on this trip is replacing Jeffrey in charge of their onstage wardrobe — has been styling Danni Minogue on TV for X-Factor. Meanwhile, the outskirts of Bucharest slowly slide by outside. This is the first time either Pet Shop
Boy has been to Romania. “To think,” notes Neil, “people would assume that this is a grey and colourises country.”
“Well, it wasn’t,” sighs Chris, “until we got here.”
Chris asks Neil for a recap of their commitments for the rest of the day. Neil reminds him that they have two TV interviews at the hotel at five o’clock. “And then we have to go to a TV studio to take part in a charity telethon for a children’s hospital.
To prove we’re here...” What he means by this last comment is this: apparently artists are frequently announced as playing in Romania and then don’t turn up and the considerable scepticism that results can stop people from going to concerts. As the Pet Shop Boys’ show has already been postponed once, it’s important to let the Romanian people actually see that they are in the country. And although this TV event is not necessarily the kind of spectacle the Pet Shop Boys would naturally feel comfortable taking part in, they feel somewhat obliged to do so given how understanding and helpful the Romanian promoter was in arranging to postpone and rearrange the original concert at such short notice.
Neil’s phone rings. Apparently, back at the airport, there is still no sign of their luggage, and there are discouraging rumours about the baggage handlers.
“Does it mean we can’t do press?” suggests Chris hopefully. “Because our answers are in our luggage. I think it does mean that.”
Neil spots a concert poster on a wall outside.
“Shakin’ Stevens is here next,” he says. “In fact he’s doing a Romanian tour.” He remembers something. “When I had singing lessons in the mid Eighties my singing teacher was married to a Romanian, and once she started telling me that Ceausescu was destroying old churches to build a kind of palace and she started to cry. It was quite an embarrassing moment.” (Nicolai Ceausescu was the communist leader of Romania who was overthrown, captured and quickly executed over Christmas 1989.)
We drive on, slowly. There is lots of traffic.
“It reminds me of Belgrade so far,” says Neil.
Just before the hotel, we drive past the gigantic palace that Neil’s singing teacher told him about — the second largest single building in the world after the Pentagon in the USA.
“Here we are,” sighs Chris, as the car pulls onto the J W. Marriot hotel forecourt, and puts on his cap and glasses because there is a waiting TV crew. ‘Ridiculous at my age having to do this.” He completes his outfit. “I’ve come as ‘Madonna jogging’ ,“ he mutters.
The cameraman follows them through the hotel lobby and keeps filming them as they stand in the elevator waiting for the doors to close. Eventually they do.
“God, that’s stressful, isn’t it?” says Chris. “I really hate it.”
A few minutes later Neil comes down from his room to have tea and a piece of cake at the hotel’s Viennese coffee house. He talks about how Victoria Beckham was surprisingly good during her guest appearance on the TV show Ugly Betty (which he had not previously seen). We watch people being screened through a metal detector — a US Marines’ ball is taking place here.
Before the TV interviews, there is a minor make-up crisis. Frank, unused to the specific by-ways involved in the job he has taken on, has failed to bring any powder with him. Neil says that there’s a beauty salon at the hotel — “that’s a question, not an answer,” he points out, backtracking slightly, though he turns out to be absolutely right — and that they can get someone from there to give them a light dusting of powder.
“Are you changing?” Andy asks him.
“I’m afraid not,” he says, “because I’m saving the other outfit for this evening.”
Make-up is applied in Chris’s room.
“I wish we were doing a song on the television, rather than this thing,” says Neil. “I see a high potential for embarrassment. It’s all a bit loose.”
Andy says that he has asked for more details of what exactly will be happening, but that it seems that they will be asked to add their voice to the drive for children’s hospital donations. He explains that it is the only hospital specifically for children in Romania.
“The Pet Shop Boys have never made a public appeal for charity on television in their career,” Neil points out. “Not even once. We just don’t do it, really. If we were on doing ‘Integral’, or giving a competition prize... We could give them one of my top hats — there’s two so we could give them the spare one.
“Can we give them the yellow top as well?” Andy suggests, meaning that if they do so, there will be something from each Pet Shop Boy.
Neil worries that, if they do this, they’ll need to find a way to show what they are giving away and its significance. “We need a visual reference,” says Neil. “If you had the start of the show from the DVD... “He realises that he now has powder on his t-shirt and jumper. (The make-up artist, it will later emerge, is not a professional from the hotel but a woman who works for the local record company.)
“I haven’t got that with me,” says Andy. He calls
Chris, who is the bathroom, to say that the makeup artist is ready for him.
“That was quick,” says Chris, walking in, to Neil.
“It’s only a bit of powder,” says Neil.
“I thought you were getting the works,” says Chris.
“No,” says Neil. “Not the works.”
Andy explains that before they do some individual interviews there will he a small crowd of media — TV cameras and journalists — who have been successfully diverted from forming a scrum at the airport by the promise of a few seconds of the Pet Shop Boys’ time here. “And you will just say, Andy explains, “we’re thrilled to be in Bucharest... concert tomorrow... duddle do dee
“It’s a statement,” Chris translates.
“And then,” Andy continues, “you go into a room and do four television interviews of various lengths, five to 15 minutes, and one press interview of five minutes.”
“What’s it for?” asks Chris, about the press interview, immediately alert to the fact that while the TV interviews will be broadcast immediately and thus promote the show, a press interview is unlikely to be printed by then. Andy explains that it has been agreed as a quid pro quo in exchange for some free press advertising that has already been given. Chris nods.
“Then we’re off to the TV station?” he asks.
“No,” says Andy. “Then you’re free until 8 o’clock.” He says that after the television appearance, they are invited to a birthday party for a local EMI act.
“We don’t need to go to that,” says Chris.
“A table has been prepared...” Andy continues.
.but unfortunately it will remain empty,”
says Chris. He picks up the tray on which the half eaten burger and chips he ordered earlier from room service sits, and places it outside his room.
They prepare to face the press. Neil suddenly Worries that their statement is prepared and written on a piece of paper. “Because,” he points out, “I Won’t be able to read it.” No. They must improvise
Neil refuses the first elevator because it is too crowded. They take the next one. In the elevator, Chris sighs, thinking of the ordeal ahead. “God...” he says. Then he burps.
Neil is singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” having heard Jeff Buckley’s version of it on the Victoria Beckham episode of Ugly Betty. “I finally get Jeff Buckley,” he says.
“Why do we have to do this?” Chris asks. “I can’t.”
“Just smile and relax,” Neil suggests.
“I don’t want to do it,” says Chris. The doors open and he spots the scrum ahead. “There they are. I can’t bear it. Actually, what happened to me and no photographs? What happened to that? Neil?”
“I don’t know,” says Neil.
They stand in front of the cameras.
“Off you go,” prompts Andy, and Neil makes the required statement: “Hello, I’m Neil Tennant, this is Chris Lowe — we’re the Pet Shop Boys. I’d just like to say, we’re very happy to be here, our first ever visit to Bucharest and, indeed, to Romania. We’re sorry the concert had to be delayed for very sad circumstances but we’re very much looking forwards to playing our first concert ever in Romania here tomorrow night. Thank you.”
“Is that it?” asks Chris.
“That’s it,” says Neil. “That’s your lot.”
Out of earshot to the press, as they walk into the room where they will do the individual interviews, Chris says, authoritatively, “I now consider the matter closed.” (A reference to a Little Britain sketch.) There is much laughter.
The first TV interview is for the main Romanian news programme. The interviewer explains that they have been using her make-up. “We always use your make-up in Bucharest,” says Neil. The interview itself does not begin in the most encouraging fashion: “Tell me how fundamental is this tournament.”
“This is a very fundamental tour for us,” Neil begins, “because it’s the longest world tour we’ve ever done... we’ve played well over a hundred dates...” He explains about the tour, the delay, and Dainton’s death. Then she asks Chris what surprises they’ve prepared for their Romania audience.
“Well,” says Chris, “we’re doing all the songs we’ve put in the show so far, so it’s going to be a long one. The audience will probably leave before the end.” Pause. “Or I will.”
She asks where they will spend Christmas and they both say they will spend it with their families in England.
Her last question is to ask whether they knew that the European parliamentary elections are taking place tomorrow and that people will be voting in the same building they are performing in?
“No, is the answer to that,” says Neil. “I didn’t know that.” He points out that a Russian concert scheduled for December 2 has been cancelled Because of the Russian elections.
“The good thing is that you can vote and then come and see the Pet Shop Boys so it makes a lot of sense.”
Chris talks about the Australian election while the next interviewer sets up, and sings a bit of “Hallelujah” himself. “Shall we perform that as well, for good measure?” he suggests. They are told that this is the most important television programme in Romania.
“So that other one was a waste of time?” Chris asks.
They’re told that this interview “hopefully will catch the main news bulletin”.
“‘Hopefully...”’ repeats Chris, laughing. “I need it in writing,” says Neil.
“OK,” the interviewer begins to tell me a few words about your new album...”
“Oh God,” says Chris. (Neil answers.)
“What made you choose Bucharest for this tour?” the man asks.
“Bucharest chose us, I think,” says Chris. “But we always like going to new places. We’ve never been to Romania before. It’s always great going to new places. It’s one of the perks of the job, isn’t it?”
They’re asked whether they’ve listened to any Romanian music. Chris says that they’ve only just arrived but they do know one Moldovan one. They’re asked what they knew about the country before they arrived.
“Um, well, a reasonable amount about it,” says Neil. “I mean, the most famous event for the rest of the world is when — which was at this time of year, Christmas, wasn’t it? — Ceausescu was overthrown and killed. I remember watching that at home on Christmas Day back in England.”
“It beats the Queen’s speech,” says Chris.
“It would certainly beat the Queen’s speech,” Neil agrees. “So we know about that. And of course Romania is now in the European Union, which is a great ting. We know that the Romanian king lives in England sometimes, King Michael. I studied history so I know a reasonable about Romanian history but there’s no point in waffling on about it.”
“I know nothing,” says Chris.
“You are English — do you like football?” he asks.
“Well, we used to like football until the other day,” says Chris. (England have just failed to qualify for the 2008 European championships after feebly losing at home to Croatia.) “Now I think we should totally give up on international football and just concentrate on the home game because
it’s better.” Chris explains that he supports Arsenal and that they are playing Wigan right now as they speak. “I think this season Arsenal might win, because we’re playing really well — we’ve got a great young side.” He’s asked whether he knows any Romanian players in England. “I should do, shouldn’t I?” he says. “I’m not good with names. Or faces.” The interviewer says two Romanians play for Chelsea and Chris says, “Yeah, well, we all hate Chelsea.” Neil laughs at this and says, “I don’t like football. But I do quite like opera, and we did have the pleasure of meeting, in Milan in July or August, Angela Georgiou, the opera singer, so she is the most famous Romanian we’ve met.”
They’re asked what they want to see in Romania.
“I want to see everything,” says Neil.
The third TV interviewer is a woman who asks why they “came so late” to Romania.
“Well, we came when we were asked,” says Chris.
She asks what they know about Romania. “I’m very curious~” she says.
“Over to our Romanian expert,” says Chris.
“Well,” says Neil, “I know that it was part of the Ottoman Empire until the 1830s. That it used to be a monarchy, that it was a dictatorship in the 1930s, that Russia annexed part of it during the early 1940s, that it became communist after the war, that Ceausescu was got rid of in 1989 and it’s now in the European Union.”
“What do you know,” she asks, “about the image we have abroad. How the British see us?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” says Neil. It sounds like there may be some kind of agenda attached to this question.
“‘The British’,” laughs Chris.
“The British,” repeats Neil.
“We, the British,” says Chris.
“I don’t think in Britain we know that much about Romania,” says Neil, “I think probably because during the Communist period Romania felt very closed from the rest of Europe.”
She asks whether they think of coming back to Romania again.
“Well, I would hope so,” says Neil. “Assuming the concert is popular tomorrow night.”
She says that December 1 is the national day of Romania and asks whether they have a wish for Romania.
“We don’t have a national day in Britain,” says Neil. “I guess it’s not how we do things.”
“What do you do?” asks Chris.
“We make a military parade,” she says.
“Oh, it’s a show of military strength,” says Chris. “I don’t really approve of that.”
“Say something for the Romanian...” she insists.
“But it’s nice for a country to be prosperous and everyone to be happy, isn’t it?” says Chris. “It’s what we all aim for.”
“Well, who writes your songs?” she asks.
“George Michael,” says Chris.
“And do you write for George Michael?” she asks.
“We write our own songs,” says Neil.
“And what inspires you?” she asks.
“Everyday life,” says Neil. “What’s going on in the world, what’s going on in our lives, what’s going on in the lives of our friends, things you see on the street, things you might read about, all those things go into songs.”
“What do you prefer to do before or after concerts?” she asks.
“Before the concert we normally have a little rest,” he says. “A little snooze. A little sleep. After the concert we have a drink. Some wine or Champagne. Sometimes we go clubbing.”
She asks about sightseeing and then says, “What do you think about the Palace of Parliament?”
“Very big, isn’t it?” says Chris. “What are all the rooms for?”
“OK,” she says, not acknowledging Chris’s question, “I would like you to make an ID for Antenna 1.”
The next interviewer, from MTV Romania, decides to start with her ID. Her first question is about Dainton. Chris briefly explains the circumstances. “We miss him immensely,” he says.
Neil explains about the film commemorating Dainton to be shown during “Being boring”. She asks more about tomorrow’s show. “I think we’ll be feeling a bit sad that it’s the end of the tour,” says Neil. “I think that after the show we’re going to have a bit of a party with everyone.
She asks whether people should expect another album soon.
“Maybe the end of next year,” says Chris. “But more likely the beginning of the year after, I’d have thought. But we’ve actually already written a few songs. What we enjoy doing the most is writing songs, so it’s something to look forward to. The great thing about writing songs is that you never know what’s going to happen. You never know. You might set down a list of things that you re trying to do but quite often it just goes off on a life of its won. It’s quite exciting.”
“One last question,” she says. “You have more than 20 years doing this business. How would you describe the Pet Shop Boys today comparing it with the early days.”
“Well, in the early days we didn’t use to tour,” Neil points out. “The Pet Shop Boys in 2007 are a group constantly on the road, and when we started we were just two songwriters working in a little studio, so the whole thing has changed considerably really because of that. That’s something we didn’t start doing until the very end of the Eighties, and really not properly until the end of the Nineties. So we’ve got much more used to being on a stage than I ever thought we’d become used to. And also we have an interest in theatre and we try to make our show a kind of music theatre, which I think makes it quite unusual. And quite entertaining.”
“Thank you very much,” she says, getting up. “Twenty years older,” Neil sighs.
The print writer comes in. He is recording the interview on his mobile phone. “When you started singing,” he begins, “did you think that you would make history in music?”
“No,” says Neil, “but when you start doing something like this you don’t really look that far ahead. Just writing a song at the beginning... I remember the first song we wrote, which we recorded many years later, was a song called ‘Jealousy’.., the first song that we wrote that I thought was worth something... I always thought when we released our first album 21 years ago, I wondered whether we’d be able to write another album of songs, because it’s a lot of work writing an album.”
“Were you as political always,” he asks, “or is it just a recent hobby?” he asks.
“No,” says Neil, and explains how parts of Actually were inspired by Thatcherism. The writer asked whether Tony Blair reacted to “I’m not Stupid” (“No, he didn’t,”) and whether they like Britain’s new prime minister, Gordon Brown. “Or are you going to write a song about him?”
“The Supreme Leader, as we call him,” says Neil. “I don’t think he’s very good, but who knows? He’s a control freak and I think that’s the problem with the government these days.”
He asks about the dedication on Fundamental to the gay couples killed in Africa. “In Romania gay couples are not actually killed,” he says, “but they don’t have an easy life...”
“Not actually killed,” repeats Chris. “Have you any comment on that?” he asks. “Well, if that’s the case,” says Neil. “I think
people have to be tolerant... we all have to be tolerant of everyone’s choices in life, and we all have to respect the dignity of choices that people make in their lives and their right to make those choices, and also we shouldn’t judge people because they have ideas about how to live their life different than you or I might have. I think everyone has the right to live the kind of life that they want to live.”
He nods. “Do you have a favourite concert memory?” he asks.
“No,” says Chris, and they laugh. Neil talks about the Mexican fans who spelt out M-I-N-I-MA-L on individual sheets of paper, holding them up in time to Neil’s vocal. “When you’re on the stage sometimes you can start to laugh, and it was making me laugh so I had to stop looking.”
“And now my last question,” he says. “You play electric music. Did you ever feel that you are not taken seriously because of the kind of music you play? That you’re not making a difference?”
“I don’t think that we look at things like that,” says Neil. “I think if your music has had some kind of impact then people take you sort of seriously. It’s never been our style to be ‘serious’. You know, like Radio head are ‘serious’. And therefore music journalists tend to respond to that, because that’s the signal you give. The Pet Shop Boys give out very contradictory signals — sometimes we’re apparently serious and sometimes we’re funny. We like to do humour in songs. But a humorous song, like comedy... comedy can be very serious. And that’s what the Pet Shop Boys are like. We’re more like comedians, really.”
The interviews are finished.
“Well,” says Chris, “that was the more efficient...
Chris is told the media are still outside and will film them again.
“But they’ve got us on the way in,” he complains. “We can’t be any different on the way out. We won’t have changed.”
“Right,” says Neil, “this bloody telethon...”
Andy explains that they will have to answer some questions.
“Oh, it’s an interview,” says Neil, sounding relieved. “That’s alright.” And then there will be an exhortation to ring in with money.
“It’s like doing Pudsey,” says Chris. “It’s Children In Need.”
The man from the Romanian record company explains that this is the biggest such event ever on Romanian TV, and that it is has been sparked by the story that a very young girl was dying of cancer and that the appropriate medical facilities were
not available here. (She was sent to Vienna, but the nation now feels passionate that other such children should be able to find treatment in their own country.)
Neil heads outside with Literally and we cross the street to look for a bar, but all we can find is a rather grim chicken fast food restaurant and when we head down a side street the atmosphere seems a little forbidding, so we return to the hotel.
At the bar, Andy asks Neil whether they’ll be performing “I’m with Stupid” tomorrow night.
“No,” says Neil.
“So you’re not doing every song...?” Andy confirms.
“Well, actually, Chris just made that up...” says Neil. He was rather surprised to hear it.
At 8.15 they rendezvous in reception to leave for the TV studio. They’re told the TV company can t show part of the DVD, and they don’t have a photo here both with Neil in the hat and Chris in the yellow hoodie. (The clothes themselves are still packed in a truck.) Neil suggests that it’d be simpler to cancel the competition. Or maybe just give away the sweatshirt.
Bogdan, the Romanian promoter, asks Neil where they’d like to visit during the day tomorrow.
“I’ve got a list of must-see things in Bucharest,” Neil tells him. “From condenasttraveller.com.”
“What does it include?” asks Andy.
“I didn’t really read it,” Neil answers. “I’d like to see a bit of old Bucharest. Chris and I don’t mind just driving around, looking.”
Bogdan said they should have come earlier; they could have seen more.
“We would have done,” Neil tells him, “but I had to get this root canal done.” He was at the dentist yesterday. “I’m quite happy just to get a feel of Bucharest.” And then perhaps he’ll return. “I’ve always planned to do a Black Sea cruise one day,” he says. For now, he details the kind of things that would interest him. “We want memories of time’s past,” he says. “We want to see the balcony of the Ceausescu’s.”
“You can see his tomb,” Bogdan suggests.
“He’s got a tomb?” says Neil, perking up. “I thought he was buried in an unmarked grave.” Bogdan confirms that he does, and that people visit it in some numbers. “He’s got some kind of popularity?” Neil wonders.
As they leave, Andy hands them their per diems — the cash that all members of touring parties receive for daily expenses. It’s £60.
“I don’t want that now,” Chris objects.
“I don’t mind having it now,” says Neil. “I never say no to money. Sometimes it’s good to have some to be robbed.”
They get into the car. The plan is to go to the TV studio then straight on to dinner.
“I’m looking forward to a beer,” says Chris. “Romanian cuisine. Sausages. Spicy sausages.” He says tat he has just had a text to confirm that the club Heaven is closing. There has been some suggestion that they might play the closing party, and they discuss whether this seems feasible, concluding that it probably doesn’t.
The outside night air is murky.
“What would you call this?” Chris wonders.
“Fog? I would see it as ‘mist as seen by Qatar airways...
“Oh, don’t,” sighs Neil. At the TV studio, arrived at through an industrial estate so deserted tat there is brief concern as to where they may have been taken, they are led straight up to the make-up room.
“Are we going orange?” Chris asks Neil. “I’m going native,” Neil says. “I don’t want tat,” says Chris. “It’s only my forehead,” Neil replies.
“For me, just powder,” Chris asks the make-up woman.
They walk back downstairs. “What song are we doing?” Chris asks Neil. “We’re not,” Neil reminds him.
They wait in the darkened area just outside the TV set.
“This is all to prove we’re here;’ sighs Chris.
On the TV monitor a black-haired presenter is relating what, from her series of expressions, are probably heartbreaking wallet-loosening tales.
Bogdan mentions that under communism one of the songs they were permitted to listen to was the Pet Shop Boys’ version of “Always on my mind”. “We danced two hours to it when I graduated in 1988;’ he says.
Neil asks to be reminded what the Romanian word is for “thank you”. (It is “mult’umesc”.)
Chris spots a poster for George Michael’s “Freak” on one of the backstage wardrobes. “Do you remember his fabulous campaign?” he says.
“It was really creative,” says Neil, deadpan.
“It’s great when artists get it wrong, isn’t it?” says Chris.
They seem a little apprehensive. While this telethon is clearly for a very good cause, to appear on it is a very un-Pet Shop Boys thing to do, and to walk onto a live TV show in a country where you don’t speak the language and you are not
manly there to perform or speak about what you do may be a little daunting, potentially embarrassing and worryingly unpredictable.
They are told to stand by.
Neil asks whether they will be standing during the interview. (They will.)
“Thirty seconds,” they’re told.
Neil lets out a strange kind of gasp.
Chris fiddles with the top of his hood. The latest money total — 145,000 Euros — comes up on the TV monitor, then the presenter introduces them and there is quite remarkably loud applause and whooping. The English parts of the interview go like this:
Presenter: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for being here wit us. I have to explain them a little bit. [She breaks off to speak in Romanian, as she will many times during this conversation. The video from “Go West” begins playing behind them.] I just explained to tem that you came here just from your heart, you didn’t ask for anything, and you just want to help us because we want to have a nice hospital in Romania. How are the hospitals in United...?
Neil: . . .Kingdom.
Presenter: . . .Kingdom. United Kingdom. In London. I guess you live in London.
Neil: Well, in London we have a very famous children’s hospital called Great Ormond Street. Which has been going since Victorian times. But, you know, I hope we have good hospitals everywhere. Health is always a big issue in Britain. And it’s something that is very important to people.
Presenter: It not so important to us. We still wait for the government, or for the Ministry of Health, to help us but it didn’t so we decided to do our self.
Neil: Well, it’s a good initiative.
Presenter: I heard something and I just want to check if it’s true. Is it true that one of you — I don’t know which one — was last Sunday at a Romanian movie called Howl Spent The End Of The World.
Neil: [laughs] How did you know tat? Me.
Presenter: Is it true?
Neil: Yes, it is. [The audience applaud]
Presenter: In London?
Neil: In London they have had a festival of new Romanian films.
Presenter: Yes, it’s called How I Spent...
Neil: Yes, this film is called Howl Spent The End Of The World.
Presenter: . . .The End Of The World. It was a bet between two Romanian friends, a film director
and the critic film. They were there and they saw you, and they find out that you would be here tonight, so they said you have to ask him this because we want to know who’s going to win. So, and you know what? Whatever who win this, they will give us the prize here for our hospital. [More applause]
Neil: It was a beautiful film, by the way.
Presenter: It was. So there are different ways to make money for such a cause and I am so happy that you came here because when you have an artist here everybody’s watching. Everybody want to see your concert tomorrow. People are fighting for the concert tomorrow. It’s the last one in your tour.
Neil: Yeah, we’ve been doing a world tour since June last year. And tomorrow night is the last one.
Presenter: [turns to Chris] Are you going to sing once tomorrow? Tell me some songs? Are you going to sing the famous one?
Chris: Yeah, we’re doing all the hits. So, you know...
Neil: “Always on my mind”. “West End girls”. “Go West”.
Presenter: Can I ask you something? Can I ask you to make a statement in front of the people asking.., just asking them to be very generous for our cause? Can you do this?
Neil: Yes. This is our first day ever in Romania. But it’s very nice to be invited to come to this event. And also, as we were saying, it’s a wonderful cause, a children’s hospital. And the health of children is so important. So, if you can, give generously.
Presenter: Thank you so very much.
Presenter: I have the last favour I’m going to ask you. One of my colleague want so much to meet you and I promise him I would keep you here until he comes. So look, here it is.
Male presenter: [To Chris] Nice to meet you. [To Neil] Hello, nice to meet you.
Presenter: I promise him. I couldn’t let him... Now I am going off the stage. I’m going to let you here.
Male presenter: Thank you.
Presenter: [A new total of 160,000 Euros shows on the screen behind] It’s what we can done till now.
Neil: Let’s keep going.
Presenter: Tomorrow night, 8.30. Sale Palatalise. Pet Shop Boys...
Male Presenter: Pet Shop Boys!
“That’s something for You Tube, isn’t it?” comments Chris as he walks backstage, a little bemused. “Bloody hell.”
Neil follows him.
“You did very well up there, Neil,” says Chris.
“There was a moment where I didn’t know what she was talking about,” Neil confesses.
“It was very good,” Bogdan tells him.
A woman approaches Chris. “I want to ask you about your clothes,” she says.
Later, it turns out that she has probably heard about the planned competition prize and is asking about that, but to Chris it quite reasonably seems as though she is trying to begin a rather strange, and unarranged, interview.
“I’m not really here to do fashion,” he tells her. “I’m doing charity.”
In the car, the Pet Shop Boys consider this surreal episode.
“It could have been worse,” Neil says.
“Could it?” Chris wonders. “I’m not really about sincerity. I never have been.”
Until recently, something like this could at least be left in the past, fading in the memories of those who saw it, but no longer.
“Thanks to You Tube,” sighs Neil. “It’s going to get a lot of hits,” predicts Chris. “No, it’s not that interesting,” argues Neil. “I’d quite like to see it back,” says Chris. “I won’t:’ says Neil.
“I’m going to start quoting you,” Chris announces~ perhaps slightly unfairly given his slender contribution. “You turn into Mrs Thatcher:
‘because children’s charities are so important...
“What are you meant to say?” asks Neil. “No, I know,” says Chris. “I believe the children are our future. Treat them well...”
Chris says that he had to fight the impulse to look at his watch while they were on TV. “It seemed to go on for a long time,” he says.
We head back towards the city.
“I can’t believe you saw a Romanian movie last weekend,” says Chris.
“I can’t believe they knew that,” says Neil.
We are supposedly heading for a restaurant. The traffic is awful, and it seems to take forever, but Neil and Chris only begin to get impatient when it becomes clear that we are circling in the same long loop around the centre of the city for the second time. Phone calls are made, but little is clarified. Eventually we stop at a kind of beer hall which is riled out for the noise and the performance with a bullfighting cape that has just started.
Back in the car.
“Shall we put on the radio?” Chris suggests. “We could be here for a long time.”
The original mix of The Killers’ “Read My Mind” comes on. After much more driving, they are told that the new destination is still ten further minutes out of the city, away from the hotel. Chris has had enough.
“No!” he says. “Turn around! We’re going to the hotel.”
Neil gets on the phone to arrange a table at the hotel’s highly-recommended Italian restaurant. He says his fear was that, at the end of the drive, they might have found themselves at the EMI artist’s birthday party they’d declined to attend.
We go round the same loop for the third time. Earlier Chris had mentioned how many Pet Shop Boys concert fly-posters were up in the city; now he wonders whether it’s just the same ones, over and over and over again.
The Bee Gees’ “Night Fever” starts.
“It’s hard to hear this as a dance record now, isn’t it?” says Chris. “I mean, the bass isn’t doing much, is it?” The chorus arrives. “Oh,” he says, correcting himself, “it is now.”
Rather than give in to how truly annoyed they may be at being stuck in a Romanian car going in circles, Neil and Chris instead, in a very Pet Shop Boys way, decide to discuss exactly what stage and level of being annoyed they are at.
“If we’d arrived at that party,” Neil says, “there would have been that rare thing — a full Neil Tennant tantrum.”
In the restaurant some Prosecco is immediately ordered. Neil is asked to taste it and mentions that it is a little warm. To the Pet Shop Boys’ horror the waiter then tries to take the bottle away to cool it before pouring any. No.
“We need a drink now,” Neil explains.
“We’ve committed shameless acts on national television,” Chris adds, as though it is a common reason for needing alcohol immediately.
“We’ve committed career suicide,” says Neil, and they laugh.
“All those things we said we’d never do:’ says Chris melodramatically, “we’ve done”.
“As we speak,” Neil sighs, “the PSB forum will be buzzing with people bitching about us. Luckily Literally is here to set things straight and explain how it was actually two remarkable look alkies.”
Neil says that he was struggling so much when asked about British children’s hospitals that he
nearly started talking about how Great Ormond Street hospital was partly financed by the royalties from Peter Pan. “I thought, ‘I can’t do that’ ,“ he says. “I don’t have much in my head about children’s hospitals. We have a very good children’s hospital in Newcastle, the Fleming Memorial Hospital, where I had my tonsils out.”
Soon the fizzy wine is flowing, the anti-pasta has arrived and they are talking of other things: the mystery of why they have never recorded a high energy version of “Nessun Donna” with Patsy Kensit, and whether they should themselves do a version of “Stairway to Heaven” to play at Heaven’s closing (“Too exhausting,” Neil decides). During the meal, Chris goes to change his top, because he wants to go out later and it would be shameful to go out in the clothes in which one has just appeared on television. He asks whether Neil wants to come clubbing.
“No, I can’t;’ Neil says, needing to save his voice for tomorrow.
Chris deliberately misinterprets him. “You’re a national treasure now,” he teases.
“I’m generally regarded as the voice of children,” says Neil, naturally playing along.
“You’re the new Bono,” says Chris.
“I’m the new Diana,” corrects Neil.
At the hotel bar, the promoter hands Neil his mobile phone. It is Angela Gheorgiu who is in San Francisco. Neil tells her they have mentioned her in all their interviews. Afterwards Neil asks the promoter whether there is a museum of communism here and is disappointed to hear that there isn’t. Bogdan says that many people want to visit Dracula-related sites. “You know,” says Neil, “unlike every other British visitor I’m not remotely interested in Dracula. What you need is a museum of communism.”
A while later, Bogdan announces that apparently one in three Romanians watched tonight’s telethon.
“If only we could be a bit more professional,” Chris sighs. “If only we could be a bit more like Bono and have something to say.”
“I take no responsibility for it,” says Neil.
“We were forced into it,” Chris agrees.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Neil says, before adding, as an aside to the people in the touring party who didn’t see it, “it went down quite well at the time.”
“You were thinking all the time: we shouldn’t be doing this,” Chris points out.
“I know;’ says Neil.
Chris says he just heard about a friend’s forty
eth birthday party. It was so good that most of the people who attended didn’t make it back to work until Thursday. The party was on Saturday.
They meet at 11.30 the next morning in the hotel lobby to go sightseeing.
“It’s a glorious day,” Neil announces, “apart from the pollution.”
We begin by visiting Ceausescu’s giant folly nearby — for this and the nearby avenues and apartment buildings much of old Bucharest was destroyed, something widely considered an act of ghastly cultural and human vandalism.
“No one criticised Paris for destroying it and rebuilding it,” says Chris, road-testing a contrary viewpoint.
“They certainly did, Chris,” says Neil, in a tone of voice that makes quite clear he knows what he is talking about.
“I would have been opposed to any change, of course,” says Chris.
“It’s interesting,” says Neil, “because Napoleon III is considered the first modern dictator.”
Chris looks out the window.
“You get a lot of dogs here, don’t you?” he says.
We pull up in the parking lot and Neil surveys the building from distance. “They should demolish it,” he says.
“It just wasn’t big enough,” says Chris.
Neil notes that Hitler was planning to have a hall built so big that there would have been rain inside it because of the condensation.
It turns out that we are going to be shown around some of the rooms here on a group tour.
“I’ll probably get the giggles,” Neil predicts. “I always get the giggles on group tours.”
He asks whether we can leave the tour halfway if we get bored. “Because that’s very likely to happen,” he says.
Bogdan says yes. “We’re not signed on for life?” confirms Chris.
Afterwards, the plan is to see Ceausescu’s grave.
“Do you want to see the tomb before or after lunch?” asks Bogdan.
“Oooh, I think before,” says Neil. “Work up an appetite.”
To enter the palace we have to be screened one at a time through airport-style security.
“Are we doing shoes?” asks Chris. “If we’re doing shoes I’m not doing it. It’s going to take
“Just regard it as comedy,” Neil suggests. (Shoes are allowed to remain on.)
We are told that this is the biggest private house in the world and that its architect, who also designed the hotel the Pet Shop Boys are staying in, is still alive. (She tried to run for mayor after the revolution, unsuccessfully.) It was started in 1984 and was 90% finished when the revolution came five years later, it has an area of 365,000 square metres, and has 15 floors, five of them underground.
“What was the building built for?” Neil asks the guide.
“He never intended to stay here,” she says. “He wanted to work here.”
We trail from room to room, most of them introduced un-enticingly: “This is a medium-sized conference room...
“Well,” Neil decides early on, “it’s hideous.” What is depressing is how humdrum it is — inside it you don’t even feel the pointless grandiosity and ambition of its size.
“It’s fascinating that it has no relationship with modem architecture,” says Neil. Chris suggests that Ceausescu would have done better if someone had slipped him a few copies of the trendy architecture magazine, Domus, beforehand.
The tour goes on and on.
“What a waste of money,” says Chris.
“And they knocked down two thousand homes,” says Neil. “Just abject megalomania and stupidity.”
The guide is now describing the height and weight of some curtains.
“That is one of the least interesting facts I’ve ever heard,” mutters Neil.
Chris, meanwhile, has a suggestion: “Neil, I think you should have a guided tour of your home.”
We are told that we have seen 4% of the building.
“It probably all started when Ceausescu stayed in Buckingham Palace for two days,” says Neil.
“It’s our fault,” Chris sighs.
This tour has taken so long that, back in the van, it is decided that food must come before tombs.
Again, like last night, we seem to drive for ages and ages. Eventually we arrive, but then there seems to be a problem getting served. Both Pet Shop Boys are getting agitated. Chris is worried that he won’t have time to get back to the hotel for a bath and a lie down before sound check.
The man from the record company arrives. “Have we had a good day?” he asks.
“A bit depressed by the palace,” Neil tells him.
“I felt sorry for the girl doing the guided tour,” says Chris. “Imagine doing that for a job.”
The food — traditional Romanian — arrives. Neil declares its successful juxtaposition of sour cabbage and polestar to be “a real dialectic”. Once he has eaten Chris heads back to the hotel; Neil, meanwhile, decides there’s still time to see Ceausescu’s tomb.
“I do like a good cemetery,” says Neil, strolling through it in the beautiful winter afternoon sunshine. When we are finally pointed to Ceausescu’s tomb by a man wearing a badge which says “Protector Guard”, it is very normal and underwhelming, and there is no sign that any of the other visitors here today are paying it any attention. Neil characterises it as “a bit bloody two-bob
— I thought it was going to be a big monument”. A short distance the other side of the main pathway is his wife’s grave. There are some flowers on it, in a beer bottle.
Neil and Chris leave the hotel for the sound check at 4.30. In the car they discuss which songs they will be adding to the regular set. Neil suggests “Dreaming of the Queen” and “Home and dry” as well as a final encore of “Being boring”. Chris asks what else they have played but now dropped over the last 18 months. The others are ‘Psychological”, “I’m with stupid” and “Before”.
To their slight annoyance, they arrive at the venue to find that sound check has been delayed. (If someone had called to let them know they would have been very happy to stay a while longer in their hotel rooms.) They go to the dressing room to wait, where Chris is horrified to discover that the camp bed which has travelled around the world for him to nap on before shows has not been made up. Normally it is done by Jeffrey, and Frank is clearly unaware of this slightly unusual wardrobe duty, and looks bemused when it is mentioned to him.
“It’s for the laziest man in show business,” says Neil. “Surely you know that.”
Because it is not made, before this final show Chris gets to see its uncovered mattress for the very first time. He is slightly horrified. “Is that really what I sleep on?” he says. “It’s disgusting. It’s rancid.”
Neil sits down. “This is one of those chairs that
give you an instant bad back,” he says. The silence is broken by the sound — a
remarkably loud one — of ice shifting in the champagne bucket as it slowly melts.
“That’s a classic dressing-room sound,” Neil notes, “when you’re having a snooze.”
They agree that this is far from the worst dressing room of the tour, nonetheless.
“Where was that really grim one?” Chris asks. “Very low ceilings and no windows~ do you remember?”
“Oh God, that was Valencia,” says Neil. “I stepped in it but I couldn’t stay long.”
They discuss, conversely, where the tour’s best clubbing was.
“That club in Mexico,” Chris suggests. “That big tin shack.”
“That was memorable,” Neil agrees.
There have been various suggestions as to where tonight’s final end-of tour party will be. Neil tells Chris that the most recent suggestion, and the one he favours, is that they just gather in the hotel bar. “Oh, very good idea,” Chris agrees. “That’s a great idea.”
Eventually they are called to the stage.
“I’m the only person on stage through he whole show,” Chris says, taking his place behind the keyboard. “I don’t know how that happened.”
He starts fiddling around with some semi familiar chords. “I don’t know if I can remember ‘Home and dry’ ,“ he tells Neil.
“That’s why we’re having a sound check,” Pete Gleadall reminds him.
“Yeah,” says Chris, “but if I can’t we’re not doing it.” He tries a bit more. “No, i can’t;’ he declares. “This might be a disaster. It’s like sight-reading — it’s like doing it for the first time.”
The film edited together of images of Dainton is being projected behind them over and over.
“A lot of people are going to wonder who this person is,” Chris says. As it repeats, one part showing Dainton serving afternoon tea backstage at the Savoy Theatre, Chris confesses that it is making him hungry for a ham sandwich and a cup of tea.
They run through “Dreaming of the Queen”, then, without problems, “Home and dry”, then, with the film, “Being boring”, then the show’s opening.
Soon they are doing it in front of the audience and Neil is introducing this Pet Shop Boys show for the final time: “. . .the last of the Fundamental tour, which is, as ever, an evening of electronic entertainment”. Everything goes smoothly, though
there are occasional end-of tour hi-jinks — one of the backing singers has their trousers pulled down when they are behind the giant Pet Shop Boys heads (which has happened before) but then the road crew move aside the head so that the audience can see him in his underwear (which has not happened before). The final song, “Being boring”, with the film of Dainton, is beautiful and poignant. In the crowd someone is holding up a banner saying DAINTON LIVES.
“Well,” says Chris, walking back into the dressing room, “it’s over with.” He looks for some water. “Which is the still?” He peels a banana and refuses champagne. “I don’t really fancy any alcohol right now.”
“‘What I really fancy is a banana... ‘,“ says Neil.
“What time is it?” Chris asks, and looks at his watch. “We got through it pretty quick.”
“Sentimental to the last second,” says Neil.
“I think Dainton would have been very pleased with that,” Chris says, now suddenly utterly sincere.
Neil shuts the dressing room door.
“Well,” says Chris, “that is it.”
“Well... is it?” wonders Neil.
“Unless a good offer comes in from Chile,” says Chris. “Or a good corporate.” (They recently met Bryan Adams at an airport and remain fascinated, though perhaps also a little horrified, by his tales of corporate concerts.)
Pete Gleadall comes in and congratulates them.
“They were a good crowd, weren’t they,” Neil says.
“Yeah, we didn’t end on a disaster,” says Chris.
“They weren’t too noisy, weren’t too quiet,” says Sylvia, joining them.
“Didn’t get in the way,” says Neil. Nathan, one of the dancers, comes in, pretending to cry.
“For Nathan,” Neil commentates, “the gravy train has just crashed.”
Andy gives Chris his £60 per diem.
“Not bad for doing nothing,” Chris says.
“Chris gets 60 quid a show, you know,” says Neil.
Back at the hotel bar there is drinking and a team photo.
“Cheers, everyone,” says Neil. “You’ve been a fabulous entourage. Thank you for making us feel.., relatively talented.”
“So,” asks Chris, “are we going to Chile?”