Friday, 30 October 2015
Defending Every Cross: Brand Liam Norval
Liam Norval hosting at Cafe de Paris
'You were bought for thirty seven thousand? At what age?'
'Twelve. So it had to be a tribunal case.'
'I should think it would, frankly.'
Colourful cocktail in hand, he walks through the VIP bar at the Cafe de Paris. Loafers, jeans, tweed jacket. Barber wet shave. From the patrician features and dark blue eyes he might be the lovechild of Sir Richard Burton. He is actually Welsh; though these days he's more San Fernando than Rhondda Valley. From the walk you know he played football, from the talk - Twitter - you know that these days he spends more of his time fine-dining than running the park.
He is now directly beneath a light and I can see how immaculate his hair is. Brushed back with, I just know, something Trumpers of Mayfair in it, not a single strand escaping. Like a coiffed lion. When he grins, more Bashful than MGM.
He wishes me luck with the show and we fist-bump. Head on one side looking at me, he reminds me that if potential corporate clients give me their business cards, I must show them to him.
'We need to keep you gigging in the Seychelles for princes, remember, or here for the oligarchs who we have to talk out of knee-capping Galina. Jokes. But I mean glamour. Rather than...' He shakes his head. Still not strand of his hair escapes.
Rather than...I guess what he's referring to. But, thank you, I enjoyed my trip to Port Isaac, invited by the Ladies' Club who had seen me first at Cafe de Paris. I performed for their Homemade Cake Festival, and gleefully let out of the bag during my set how I had witnessed the chairwoman herself arriving in the hall that afternoon with cakes bought at M and S, which she had then frilled with white paper, dotted with almonds and was passing off as self-made.
'I'll show you any cards,' I promise.
He nods and sips his cocktail through a straw, his stance starry, his blue eyes shining. Any time now, I think, his theme tune will be played through the sound system.
He is Liam Norval, PR, the nearest thing to an A-Lister I may ever interview for this blog, Capped for Wales. Leicester City -
'Iestyn!' Ella Boo breaks into my reverie. 'You're nearest the dressing-room door - can you please ask the other Folly Mixtures to come and do their steam-ironing?'
'But thirty seven grand, Liam, isn't that a lot for a child football player?'
'I was bloody good, cheers! Where were we?' He recaps. 'Millwall at age six to twelve, then West Ham bought me in the tribunal case. Cos I was so young, and they have to also look into how much training has already been put into you. Then I get the chance with Leicester and go there. I was also capped for Wales under sixteens, seventeens and eighteens.'
'I was discarded from the Welsh team after yet another big row with Ian Rush.'
'I was always into defending every cross, which worked, but there was Rushy telling me I should have run another way, or whatever. We had a lot of stand up rows, him and me, on the training pitch. I was watching them play recently and noticed that they've decided I was right, and are going with that defending every cross technique.'
He says this without gloating; he's just noticing.
I say, 'I'd have gone on the terraces and led everyone singing "Told you So" to the tune of "Feed the Birds".'
'So, anyway, so now I'm at Leicester. I'm eighteen by this time. Then at nineteen I had the injury to my lower back, damaged all the nerve endings. Couldn't tell anyone, for obvious reasons, but also because I was so homesick at the the time, and if I'd let on I was injured I'd have had to say at the club over the weekend for treatment and not got home to the familys. Basically, with my back the way it was, I was waking up in the morning with pulled quads and hamstrings.'
'Ouch!' I yell. 'Did the backs of your legs look like mashed canaries? Mine did when I tore my hamstring playing the Queen of Hearts in the Asprey's of Bond Street Alice in Wonderland installation.'
'I tend not to spend much of my day checking out the backs of my legs in mirrors.'
'I'm sure not. But, seriously - ouch!'
'It was more the frustration than the agony,' he insists. 'I was in the first team. And I couldn't train and play in first gear. I was too worried about getting more injuries. I kept quiet about my back for six months. They must have thought I'd just got shit. I was also coming to realise that it was the footballer lifestyle I was more into. You can't have that and run around a park effectively anyway. I finally admitted to the manager that I was injured, and Leicester offered me a retirement package. I went into the Conference League, played for Cambridge; and later captained Bromley Town.'
'Yeah, but you only have to train twice a week in the Conference. Semi-pro.' He's silent for a few seconds. 'Only thing I should have done when I was playing at that top level, was take more money off the books. Joe Cole started that. My dad was always being offered bribes for me to go and play here and wherever. And we're talking big bucks. Should have taken it when it was offered.'
During his last season with Leicester City, for the shits and giggles, he had started DJing in clubs.
'My best mate at the time was at Loughborough University. He decided he'd put on a night, and I wanted a go on the decks. We bought stuff at - wait for it - Maplins, had a mix-up. Pushed on and got a gig at the Box Bar in Beckenham. Hit the ground running; four hundred people in a two hundred capacity venue.'
Jammy bastard. At my first post-Edinburgh show the Rothes Hall's chief executive met me at the stage door and said that due to the intimate impact content of my show, he had made the artistic decision to take me out of the barn of the main space, where I might get lost, and put me in the studio. Actually, he hadn't done that so much as put me in the work in progress space. No, come again, the cafe bar. The corridor...oh, listen, 'We've put three chairs in your dressing-room, okay?'
Laughing, Liam says, 'Well if it's any consolation, even though we packed them into the Box Bar, that Beckenham gig was the worst night of my life. The Maplins stuff had worked fine when we had the mix-up in my mate's garage, but it didn't work in a hot place. The vinyl wouldn't play. I was panicking and telling my mate I was never doing this shit again. Just wanted to walk away from it. But we pushed on, got a gig at Twisted Glam. Residency at Red Velvet. Pacha, Ministry of Sound. Did a season out in Ibiza, Marbella. My love of clubs was always about putting on the night. Twisted Glam got into the west end - house music didn't usually touch the west end - then we did Umbaba. I was more at home in the west end than anywhere else. More classy and aspirational clientele.'
He came to the attention of Nick House, who owned Mahiki and now owns Steam and Rye and DSTRKT.
(See, now, I get the 521 BS over to SXMNDHM to shop at WTRS and ...)
'Hang on a minute, Liam. I gig at Steam and Rye. Kelly Brook owns it.'
'Name above the door.'
'Really?' I think for a moment. 'Please tell me Elliot from TOWIE really owns that club in Marbella? I've tried to go out and gig there.'
'Talk to me beforehand, how many more times?'
'You mean Kelly Brooke and Elliot Wright "own" the places, don't you, in the same way that the Banana Splits own the shack on Coney Island with the Dilly Sisters in the cubby hole singing "Taraboomdeay" if Snorky the Elephant opens the correct door?'
'Possibly. Listen, Elliot's a good friend of mine. I'll talk to him about his real place in Lanzarote if you want. So. We've established that Kelly Brooke doesn't own Steam and Rye, but Nick House does...'
Liam stopped playing football altogether when Nick House asked him to head up his west end team.
'Twelve clubs, so I was doing two to three venues a night, seven days a week. Each club had a different guild.'
Cafe de Paris was one of Liam's clients originally, were enormously impressed by the work he did for them and offered him a job full-time in their marketing and PR department, alongside Keith Moore.
'And six years later, here we are.'
With the modern day equivalent of the Bright Young Things packed into the VIP area or out on the dance floor, with Liam ever solicitous in his hosting. He would never put Natalia Richardson at a table directly behind the DJ, in the way that his nineteen twenties Cafe counterpart once seated Nancy Mitford behind the band.
'Behind the band, darling. The ghastly drear of him, darling. We left straight away and went to the Ritz!'
I ask Liam about MO for promoting.
'I've created - this'll sound jokes - a brand around myself. Brand Liam. Imagine Brand Galina!'
We both know that would be too silly and go back to discussing Brand Liam.
'It's an image I want to put out there of being surrounded by the best dressed. Fashion, music. What I like to do is offer myself - '
'Do you?!' I have a moment of blind hope. Oh, as you were, that isn't what he means.
'I like to offer myself in terms of people wanting to be seen with me. Buying into the Liam brand. Mini-mes are rolling around. Lots of guys have bought into the brand.'
I met two Liam Mini-Mes in Gloucestershire, when I gigged at a private party for a Camilla something-or-other, who seemed to own all but a few of the horses in Ireland. I remarked on how similar to Liam's were their clothes, hair and shoes.
'How do you know Liam Norval?' one asked in the gushing tones of a brownie thanking Brown Owl awarding her maximum points for sausage cooking.
And then there's TOWIE's Bobby Norris. He's a Liam Mini-Me, definitely.
Liam sums up by saying, 'I've melded it all into Brand Cafe de Paris these days.'
'We rarely have trouble. We're loyal to people. We're a safe club. Look good, drink good, go home safe.'
Talking of which, I'm leaving after the Stage at Cafe de Paris show. Awash with adrenaline I stop by the bar to show Liam, as promised, the card I've been given by a potential future corporate client. He looks briefly at the card, then says he'll deal with it for me.
'As I'm closest to the bin...'