Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ringo Starr in New Zealand

I knew that Ringo had made several commercials for Japan over the years, but I had no idea that one that he made in 1986 was actually recorded in New Zealand!  

This story was written by Wayne Falconer and appeared in the January 1986 issue of "With a little help from my friends."

Ringo Starr Back in New Zealand
By Wayne Falconer
Part one—First Sighting
Out here in New Zealand, our weather is the opposite to what I imagine it’s like for the majority of people reading this.  That is, our Christmas takes place during summer, so that’s when we tend to take our annual holidays (which make it a long hot festive season).

This year I’d just returned from 3 weeks away, to the prospect of another thrilling year at work.  I’d spent the morning in culture-shock, trying to adjust to being cooped up inside again, when, just before lunch, I received a phone call from my friend Mike.  He was calling to ask if I’d seen the clipping in that morning’s paper, saying that Ringo was flying in to Auckland today to shoot an advertisement for a Japanese soft drink firm.

As you can imagine, the news totally stunned me, as Beatles don’t make a point of dropping by here very often (once about every 20 years on average!).  My mind was working overtime trying to figure out a way to get to Auckland as I’d spent all my available cash and payday was 2 weeks away.  I spent that lunchtime in a dream as I wandered about when by pure luck I bumped into Mike in a record shop.  He’d obviously been thinking too as he came up with a kind and extremely generous answer.  He could not go due to work commitments so he would lend me the money to cover the journey and expenses.  I couldn’t believe how kind he could be as this meant there was now a good chance of seeing Ringo.   To cut a long story short, the only available transport was on the overnight bus so that evening I turned up at the bus depot and I was away.  My head was still reeling at the suddenness of it all – that very morning I had turned up at work bleary-eye and now I was off to try and meet Ringo in the same evening.  As Ringo once said, “Time and tide wait for no man, but at least you can move your deck chair up the shore!”

After an uncomfortable sleepless night, the bus finally pulled into Auckland.  I staggered off to the hotel that the paper said Ringo would be staying at and sat down on a bus stop seat across the road from the hotel.  It was 6:30 in the morning and people were starting to file to work.
I stared across the road.  The hotel had a large courtyard with two doormen on duty, who, I thought to myself, would be there to try and keep people like me away.  As it happens, I ended up making good friends with them and they were two of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. In fact one of them, James, happened to be a drummer himself, and although in his early 20’s,was a big admirer of our old pal Ringo!

So by lunchtime I had approached James and Mark (the doormen) and had established a friendly relationship with them.  They told me Ringo had gone out that morning at 6:00 to do some filming but had come back and was spending the whole day inside at the hotel pool.  Apparently the day before, he walked into the reception area and asked, “Have you got a room for me?”  Obviously they did, and James got to carry his bags up to the room with them.  When they got up there Ringo tried the bell which wasn’t working properly, so he called to James to ask if that was how it should have sounded.   “No,” said James, “It should go bzzzz…bzzzz, Mr. Starkey.”  Ringo was in good humor and looked good according to James, so my excitement at the prospect of seeing him was high.  It was invaluable knowing from the doormen if Ringo was in or out, so now that I knew he would be in all day, I tried to arrange a place to stay with the local Beatle “collectors,” a couple of whose phone numbers I had.  Luckily a chap called Ross very kindly had a spare room in his flat so he met up with me after work and we went to his place.  Ross was keen to meet Ringo too so after sharing all my information we decided to be at the hotel at 5:30 the next morning. 

We turned up in the cold light of day and stood at street level in case the car should come out of the basement car park.  I had a word with James and Mark and they said Ringo hadn’t left as yet, so at least we were in time.  The minutes slowly passed, and each time there was a movement at the doors, our hearts would leap, only to be let down a second or two later.  Ross said he would only stay until about 8 as he had to go to work.  I suggested that the work would still be there tomorrow and Ringo isn’t here in New Zealand every day, but he still felt he had to go.

About 20 minutes later, a professional photographer turned up on the footpath as well.  I said hellos and asked if he was waiting to get a picture of Ringo.  He said he was, then about five minutes later a black limo pulled into the courtyard.  We asked if it was for Ringo but the driver said he couldn’t say, “Is it worth waiting around to see?” the photographer asked.  “It could be,” the driver smiled.
Great—I thought, but at that, the photographer left!?!?!  Then there was a movement of people behind the big glass hotel doors and there, without a doubt, I saw Ringo!  In that instant I felt and knew all the waiting was worthwhile.  “It’s him!” I said to myself, and started walking up from the footpath.

Ringo came out with Barbara, and their secretary, and walked the short distance across the courtyard to their waiting car.  He looked excellent and wore a white pattern shirt, black trousers and those ever-present sunglasses.  He looked a little sleepy, and continually fluffed up the back of his hair as he walked.  He still has that casual walk, with his back slanting backwards, and slow measured steps.   I took a couple of distant photos as I walked up, but he had reached the car before I got up to him, so I didn’t push the point by calling out or knocking on the door.  His beard was fully dark black again (obviously tinted and better for it I say, although I still prefer his recent clean-shaven look).   It was so great to see him, and even as he drove away to the filming.  I was hoping that I would see him again.  James told me that he was expected back around five that evening, so I went for a walk and saw “The Goonies”.  I rang Ross and told him about my good fortune, and made sure he came down after work.  I spent the rest of the day in a joyful and contented state at having just seen Ringo after nearly 22 years of waiting.

Part Two – Second meeting
I arrived back at the hotel at 3 that afternoon, just to be sure.  The guys at the door told me that I could wait outside the actual hotel foyer if I could keep it relatively “cool’ and not attract the attention of their superiors.  Boy was I pleased.  All that standing around outside is more tiring than I could have imagined, and I tip my hat to those who have lasted for days.  I sat down in the gust chairs and settled in for the duration.  By chance, a couple I knew from Wellington had booked in the hotel for a short holiday, so when an “official” eventually came and asked me what I was doing there, I could say I knew someone in the hotel and was waiting for them.  This actually saved the situation for me, and I was allowed to say, although with occasional wary glances from the officials.  Being inside was essential.  I had decided, as Ringo moved so quickly from the car to the hotel that any chance to stop him outside would be lost.

A couple of hours passed, till Ross eventually showed up after work with a young Beatles “collector” (this is what they now want to call themselves – I still think of myself as a “fan.”  I am more interested in the Beatles as people and their careers than in things for the 60’s or spinoffs; still I’ve collected a lot of stuff as well.  What’s in a name?)  Having 3 of us there was making things a bit more difficult, especially as the younger guy was attracting a bit of attention through being a bit loud.  By 6:30 we were starting to think that perhaps Ringo had gone straight on to dinner, and we decided that if he wasn’t here by 7, we would have to call it a day and leave.  Then, at around 6:45, a black limo pulled up right outside the doors, and with my heart in my mouth, there again was Ringo getting out.  The other two had albums to be autographed, whilst I decided to concentrate on getting photos of the occasion.  He came through the doors and I took a picture.  He was wearing the same gear as in the morning, with the addition of a magnificent Japanese rising sun hat (this must have been given to him by the firm during the day).

The other two presently their albums which he signed nicely, without comment.  As no one was saying anything, I asked him, “How did the filming go today Ringo, all right?”  He replied in a really heavy drawl, “It went just great.”  I managed to get a couple more photos and then he sauntered off to the lifts.  He had a handkerchief in his hand was snuffling into it as he walked away.  I was ecstatic at getting to talk to him and seeing him up close again!  His walk was so familiar, yet I was seeing it for the first time in real life.  He is just so laid back.

Overnight his cold worsened, and James at the door said a doctor had been called.  Apparently Ringo had a high fever and was ordered to stay in bed for at least a day and a half.  I was due to go home the next day, so I was really lucky at seeing him twice the day before.  I went downtown to get my photos developed, and as I looked at them, I looked up and there right before me was Barbara!  What a shock to see her!  I asked if I could take a photo.  She was extremely nice, and didn’t’ mind a quick one.  I waited for the flash to charge, I said that I heard Ringo wasn’t too well today.  She said, “No, he isn’t.”  Then she gave a little wave said “Hi” for the picture, so I thanked her and let her go on her way.  She’s really a nice person, and seems very friendly.

I had to leave the next day with Ringo still in bed sick but here are some more bits of information I was able to get about his visit.  He arrived here at Auckland on Monday, January 13, 1986 and left Tuesday the 21st.  his breakfast habits are still reassuringly down to earth – from James I found out that for the first 2 days he had bacon and eggs, tea and toast one morning, and scrambled eggs, 6 croissants and tea the other.  You couldn’t get much more homey, really.   One day at 4:00 he ordered 3 gins, sandwiches, smoked salmon, vegetable salad, lamb, mineral water and soup. Apparently he did most of the filming for the ad on a yacht.  The sun was scorching during his stay, so perhaps the rapid change in temperature from England to NZ accounted for his illness, especially being exposed to the heat for most the day on a boat.  James also had an excellent bit of luck, as set out in this extract from a letter he sent me, “Did you know I actually to meet Ringo on the day he left?  The chauffeurs were waiting to leave at 9:25a.m., yet Ringo didn’t ever get out of bed until 9:45a.m.!  I met him while he was eating breakfast, but it was ridiculous to ask to get a photo, he’d just about crawled out of bed.  Anyway, I gave them a carnation and showed him a photo of my drums.   He said, “Ahh.. the old Loooodwigs!”  When he came down, a  freelance photographer was taking photos.  I managed to get in one.  An even better coup was this.  The other porters, for a surprise, got my drum autographed.  It said, ‘To James B. drumming is my madness, yours, Ringo Starr.”  I was totally shocked!  I heard through the grapevine that he’s planning a new solo album, and he’s still friendly with Paul and George.  The morning after he had signed my drum, as they got in the car, his secretary pointed out that I was the drummer.  Ringo looked out the window, pointed at me, and waved thumbs up!  God, I don’t know when I came back down to earth!”

In finishing, I’d just add that Ringo may be a granddad now, but he looks like he hasn’t aged in ten years.  He looked like he does in his photos, and despite a bit more grey in his “grey streak”, he still has a full dark head of hair and looks terrific!  So look out for that soft drink advertisement on TV, particularly in Japan!

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