Armed with a 24-hour Golden Ticket, Warren Pole treads the red carpet, chats to Karl Lagerfeld and has breakfast on a powerboat

Photos: Mike Marsland

(The Times)

I WAS STANDING next to Penelope Cruz when I caught the eye of the bloke behind her who looked eerily familiar. And he was because he was Javier Bardem and for a split second I was staring right into the eyes of Anton Chigurh, the terrifyingly cold-hearted killer who made No Country for Old Men his own. A fraction later and Chigurh had evaporated leaving a genial and somewhat unshaven Bardem in his place and me wondering if I was imagining all of this.

Proving I wasn’t, a tap arrived on my shoulder from a large security guard who, with no more than a wry smile and a wag of his finger, indicated I should be leaving. Now. I considered arguing but as he was twice my size decided against it.

This was my second Cannes and was in stark contrast to my first. That inaugural experience saw me camping 15 miles from the festival to save money while surviving on leftovers in a bid to take a short film called April to a wider world. It was a wild baptism into the madness of Cannes and a rude awakening to just how invisible the celebrities are on the normal side of the red carpet – in four days I didn’t see one superstar.

This time however I had landed the Cannes equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket – a 24-hour pass to the festival’s inner A-list sanctum complete with helicopter transfers, limos on tap, a room at the stars’ favoured Martinez hotel and a red carpet walk to a major premiere courtesy of festival sponsors Chivas Regal. Plum tickets don’t come better.

Swanning from the Martinez as the flashes of a raft of mobiles popped on the other side the fence I hopped into a limo and headed for the carpet. It was only a few hundred metres away, but in Cannes just as in LA, the chosen ones don’t do walking.

Rolling up to the carpet there was the sensation of being inside a goldfish bowl as hundreds of people goggled the tinted windows in the hope I was famous. Their collective disappointment as I got out was palpable.

This pattern repeated itself on the carpet because while it was genuinely very cool to be walking down it, as a regular person you don’t get the sense of occasion. It’s rather like standing on a Formula One podium without having driven the car – you look like Button and co, but without having done any racing you’re just a bloke on a box. So there I was, a bloke on a carpet.

Man in cheap suit meets Cannes carpet. Paps and onlookers unimpressed

But as I walked, a clamour erupted from the massed paps who began yelling at me. I paused, and smiled. The yelling continued and when I turned I could see why – Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were behind me and I was blocking the shot. As the pair swooshed past in supreme confidence I got a whiff of what the carpet really meant when you’d earned your place on it. That whiff became even stronger as Juliette Binoche, star of the premiere in question – Certified Copy – and the film’s director, Iranian legend Abbas Kiarostami, followed on in quick succession.

The film was slow and I spent much of it asleep, fortunate as it turned out because the night would be a long one. Things really began to hot up as the titles came to an end and I was woken from my slumbers by rapturous applause. Wondering if everyone else had been watching the same movie, I got to my feet and saw Binoche and co heading my way as they made for the doors. I lunged for the aisle and fell into the back of their group, trying to walk like I was meant to be there which is how I found myself in the post-screening celebrity pen face to face with Kiarostami. Seizing the moment to learn from a master I shook his surprisingly soft hand and asked how he found funding for his movies as my wife has a feature in the wings if only she could rustle up a few million.

“You must simply be very lucky,” was the sage like reply from the softly spoken director as his eyes registered mild confusion behind the trademark shades. I pressed on, asking how he made that luck but he’d rumbled me and had already melted out of reach.

I called the wife (who was piggybacking the trip, if not the red carpet pass) to see if she was ready for a party. The banging music in the background suggested she was already at one. “I’m at the Chanel party,” she yelled in my ear, “Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are here”. It was a mile away and I covered it as fast as a man in an ill-fitting dinner jacket and too-tight shoes can.

Burton and Depp had vanished by the time I arrived sweaty and sore-footed but I could see party host Karl Lagerfeld. Having always wondered if he was actually real, I walked over and found him between conversations so made a hasty introduction and shook one of those famously gloved hands. 

His own directorial debut had just finished screening to the assembled party, so I asked him the same finance question I had put to Kiarostami.

“Well it’s easy for me, I have all the money I need”, he quipped back, a smile spreading across his face. He turned out to be a true gent and over the next five minutes we covered cars, having discovered a shared love of Rolls Royces, and the tricky subject of how a man can dress to stand out in the presence of stunning women. “You must find your own look,” he advised, “that’s why I always have the black and white”.

Karl Lagerfeld – a genial host of the highest order

Leaving him to his guests, we headed back to the Martinez which is where this story began because it was there, as night began creeping to dawn, that I found myself next to Cruz and Bardem by the hotel’s pool.

It seems the main difference in perspective shifting from the pauper’s side of the rope to the rarefied atmosphere of the stars is in opportunity. Simply being there won’t miraculously transform a nobody into a somebody – only a string of hard-earned blockbusters can do that – but it does lift the pedigree of the people you meet stratospherically.

Which is why breakfast the next morning was spent with a pair of Argentinean film producers and a Palestinian wine merchant, and is also how we found ourselves on a £650,000 classic wooden powerboat cruising the bay. Bobbing through the waters as the huge twin engines thrummed gently at tickover behind us I surveyed the gently passing Croisette waterfront and turned to look at the heliport we’d be leaving from in a few hours. I then wondered how the hell I was going to top this one next year.


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