The night I gave Richard Branson a blow job

The night I gave Richard Branson a blow job

Right, now that I have your attention…

There are few people that have had an impact on my life the way Oprah Winfrey has. I consider her to be one of my greatest teachers of all time, and someone who has helped to shape my path enormously. For that one hour a day you couldn’t tear me away from the TV set. I would use her show as a classroom, absorbing every bit of advice, wisdom or truth she served up.

I became that annoying person who was always asking, ‘did you watch Oprah yesterday? I cried and cried and cried…’ Friends would just roll their eyes at me while I preached the word of Oprah and wonder why I enjoyed crying so much (the ugly cry too). I know for a fact that if Oprah had asked me to drink the Kool-Aid I would have offered to make the first batch.

Now that you understand my obsession with O, you will appreciate that when my colleague H walked into the office one day (the TV production office where I worked) and announced that she had received a call to work with Harpo Productions I F-R-E-AK-E-D OUT!!! (H, if you’re reading this, you may recall how I dropped to my knees and begged you to find me a job on the production – anything at all to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine to work for the big O).

But H explained that they’d called her directly because she was the most qualified person for the job, and there were no other available positions. (H, if you’re reading this, I want you to know that when I said I was happy for you I really really wanted to be but I really really wasn’t. I’m sorry I’m such a mean girl). I sulked over my rotten luck for days. Life wasn’t fair. How could something I wanted soooo badly be so close yet so beyond reach? I think the suckiest feeling in the world is having the desire for something that feels totally beyond your control…

That’s why, as I mentioned in my previous story, eventually you just have to let the desire go, make peace with it, and watch as the magic unfolds (but not expecting it to happen – I don’t mean to confuse you but I hope you know what I mean – of course you do, we’re all magic-makers). About a week later, H walked in with the hugest grin on her face: ‘The Oprah show just called. They need a chaperone for Oprah’s guests during her Book Club tour. Would you like the job?’

Three weeks later

H and I are on a plane, heading to Cape Town. We will meet the Harpo team there and assist with the Oprah Book Club shoot at the Grace hotel, as well as attend the 46664 concert that same night. I’ve been tasked with the job of ‘chaperone,’ which means I need to ensure that the three American women who won the trip to attend Oprah’s Book Club are fed and watered. That’s it. The problem is I was so star-struck that, to this day, I still don’t remember any of their names, nor if any of them went hungry or thirsty. I really don’t. They may actually not have existed. Or they may still be there.

Let me sum up a few facts in bullet points now or this story could drag on for days:

  • I never got to meet Oprah in person, but I got to watch her film her Book Club show in the library of the Grace hotel – such fun!
  • I did get to meet Gail, however, when she offered me a toasted cheese from the platter of sandwiches – of course I took one!
  • There were a few minor (ok, major) hiccups during filming that caused a wee bit of chaos to erupt – that’s inside info so I’ll leave it there.
  • One of my favourite memories of the weekend was the 46664 concert – all the big names performing on stage while Mandela, Oprah and Branson sat just a few feet away. (I probably should have been making sure my chaperonees had eaten instead of partying away like it was 1995).
  • After the concert we all went to the whisky bar below the Grace hotel for the wrap party, and that’s when Richard Branson walked in and…

Nowadays when people ask me why I’m not a big drinker, all I have to do is reach into my memory bank and recall this very night (either that or let me get a whiff of neat vodka). I’m not sure whose idea it was to order rounds of neat vodka – did I mention neat vodka? (M, I suspect this has your name written all over it). Round after round kept coming, and the atmosphere in the bar was buzzing with excitement because a lot of the performers were coming in – the members of Queen sauntered in looking ultra-rockstarry-cool (it was a kind of magic) – and with each drink I felt my confidence growing.

Which is why, when Richard Branson walked in (a longtime hero of mine back then – has anyone else noticed how much I love parentheses?), I thought nothing of calling the waitress over and ordering a drink for him. I stood up while the whole Harpo crowd watched on and said, ‘I’d like to buy Richard Branson a blow job.’ Everybody cheered me on, and the waitress wandered off while we downed a few more vodka shots. It never occurred to me that the waitress would actually fulfill this drunkard’s wishes, but a few minutes later I felt someone trying to get my attention from across the room.

There stood Richard Branson grinning away at me with that signature smile of his. He raised his shot glass (with said blow job), downed it and shouted: “Was that as good for you as it was for me, darlin’?” Then he made his way over to our table, kissed me on the cheek, thanked me for the drink, and then personally shook everybody’s hands. Holy shite, what a bloody great weekend that was.

PS I must leave the story there. I recoil at the thought of describing my epic hangover to you in detail. I think my teeth marks may still be etched into the side table where I bit down hard to avoid the pain and frustration of moving…and breathing…and facing the reality of living.

PPS H will tell you, the first thing I said when I woke up with epic hangover was, ‘Did I really give Richard Branson a blow job last night?’

Thanks to the wonderful M of Harpo Productions I got to fulfill yet another big fat dream of mine: in 2006 I flew to Chicago and attended a taping of the Oprah Show featuring the delicious Denzel Washington.

Thank you thank you thank you H and M for being such fabulous magic-makers!!!

And thank you O for teaching me how to live my best life!!!

Kelley Thorrington
natalie@thecreativelab.co.za