When I turned 16, my parents told me I had to get a job. I protested but, after my mum pretty much wrote a job application for me and took me to the interview, I decided that there was no way out. I totally wasted the time of those poor people at Sainsbury’s that day but decided then and there that, if I had to get a job, it would be somewhere I actually wanted to work. After that, I ended up with a shelf-stacking/till trainee job at WH Smith and a rather nice 25% staff discount. I tell you, my CD and video collection rather spiralled out of control over the next few years.
I stayed in that job throughout many years of further and higher education, and learned how to do pretty much every task in the store. I have many fond memories of the place and the people I met there. The uniform may have been crappy, but fun times were had and I obtained some interesting tales to tell. Some stories stand out more than others though, and my encounter with a minor celebrity one day has stayed with me ever since.
It was the early 1990s. I forget which year, but I was probably doing an art foundation course, or back home for the holidays during my first year at university. Either way, I was working upstairs in the stationery department in WH Smith on a quiet weekday morning when, all of a sudden, the assistant manager rushed up to me and said there was something urgent he needed my help with. We raced down the stairs and he kept far enough ahead of me that I was unable to ask what this was all about. Covering for someone on the front tills who needed a break perhaps? Why would it be this urgent?
We reached the front doors of the shop and then he hit me with it: “This is Peter Duncan. He needs to throw you over his shoulder for a photo”. Er, what? In front of me stood the ex-Blue Peter presenter, dressed as a Viking, looking just as perturbed by the situation as I was. Duncan is not a tall chap and, despite being short myself, I am (and was) not the lightest of women. How on earth was this going to work and, more to the point, why? I didn’t get a chance to ask questions, and the rest of the incident is now a bit of a blur to me. Suffice to say that it went as badly as both of us feared it would.
Afterwards I found out that Duncan was appearing in Erik The Viking at the local theatre. I also found out that I was the only young female member of staff in the store that morning, hence my selection for the task. After the shame subsided, I told my friends about what happened and shared the story of meeting someone who I’d watched on television nearly every week in the early 1980s. Sadly, they didn’t believe me as the local rag never printed the photograph. I always wondered just how bad it was.