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The day Lauren Bacall sat me down on her lap

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Its the late 90s, Manahattan, Christmas time and Sweetpea Slight, a Lauren Bacall superfan, feels a tingle of magic

When I was 14 my copy of Lauren Bacall by Myself was confiscated during a physics class. Discovering how much Bacall liked a cream cheese bagel for breakfast seemed more important than how fast marbles travelled down a drainpipe. She was saturated in Hollywood, the old Hollywood that was a fairytale playground of the imagination for dreamers like me.

Ten years later, aged 24, I was working for theatre legend Thelma Holt. Thelma was the executive producer for Peter Halls production of The Merchant of Venice, starring Dustin Hoffman. It was a huge success, transferring to Broadway after the London run, and Thelma managed to get me and a colleague to New York for the opening night. A limousine was laid on to take us from the airport to Manhattan, and I had the distinct feeling of being like a character in one of the many noir movies I watched as a teenager.

I had never met any of my idols in the flesh, but came close on a trip to London with Mum, who had a business appointment at Harrods. She told me to wait at the cheese counter in the food hall. Right here by the stilton, she said strictly, pointing at it through the glass. At the appointed hour I saw, coming towards me on the opposite side, Lauren Bacall. By the time Mum arrived she had gone. Mum! Lauren Bacall was here buying cheese! Dont be silly, she said. Come on or we will miss our train.

Now here I was in New York at the opening the week before Christmas. The after-show party was a grand, starry event. There were many famous people in that room, but I noticed only her, sitting at a table, the centre of attention. Crikey, theres Lauren Bacall, I said nervously to one of the people who worked for the New York producers. Ah, well you must come and meet Betty I knew only close friends called her Betty. Moments later I was standing before her as she fixed me with a smoky stare and spoke in a growling, familiar tone, Whats a nice kid like you doing in a shit city like this at Christmas? And with that Lauren Bacall patted her knees, offering me a seat on her lap.

She was 65 then, beautifully handsome in a black dress, gravel voiced with hooded eyes and she smelled expensive. Gabbling nervously about my role working on the production I was all aglow on this legendary lap. The combination of an empty stomach, champagne and nerves have ruined my memory of anything more than a sensation of that fleeting moment, 28 years ago, cloaked in a sprinkling of stardom for the rest of the evening.

Later in life I discovered that the magic passing from one person to another, when one is still young and foolish enough to believe in such things, is rarely experienced again.

Get Me The Urgent Biscuits by Sweetpea Slight is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (14.99). Order it for 12.74 at bookshop.theguardian.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jul/30/the-night-lauren-bacall-sat-me-down-on-her-lap

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