It was a normal slightly sleepy Wednesday afternoon in the office, when my editor got a call from one of the PRs we work with.
‘Rooney?’ he said. ‘Tomorrow! Well yes, we’ll be there.’
As soon as he got off the phone he looked round the office. ‘We can interview Wayne Rooney tomorrow evening!’
‘Really?’ everyone replied.
‘Yeah, who’s free and wants to go?’ The tumbleweed rolled. And then the excuses began. ‘I would love to but…’ Strangely the chance to interview one of the most famous men in the world was greeted with resounding reluctance.
‘Who can we send, who can we send?’ chunnered my editor. He made a couple of calls to freelancers but no one was free at such short notice.
Then he turned round to me.
‘Um… are you free tomorrow evening?’
‘Yeeeees…’ I replied.
‘Because I think you’d be perfect for this kind of job.’
Where ‘perfect’ must mean knows nothing about football, has never done a press conference style interview before, and is not a Man Utd fan. Flattery will get you everywhere. So I agreed and it was decided I was going to Bristol to interview Wayne Rooney.
To save me from my own crushing ignorance, the thrust of the story was going to be the oddness of fame. That someone as well-known as Rooney should find himself at the official opening of a car dealership on the outskirts of Bristol, well it’s hardly rock and roll, is it? What was the reaction of the other guests? Did he look nervous? Does he enjoy his fame?
Given that he was in the middle of a two-match ban for swearing at the cameras, I was a little apprehensive about whether he’d be an easy or genial interviewee.
Still I sent my questions to the club’s relationship manager for approval – no questions about football or upcoming matches please – and began to mentally prep myself.
The next day, in the car on the way over, the photographer and I were pooling our collectively poor knowledge of football, when my phone rang. It was the PR who had set up the event.
‘Man United have had your questions and they’re fine, but they wanted you to alter them so that they apply to the other guys too.’
‘What other guys?’
‘Jonny Evans and Denis Irwin will be there, and you’ll be interviewing all three of them together. The other journalists will just be sitting in and using the answers from your questions.’
Suddenly I felt the ante had been dramatically upped. First, I had no clue who the other two guys were or why they were notable. Second, I didn’t want to fail journalists from the Press Association and the papers by asking questions that were not going to get them good enough answers for their editors.
Fortunately, the photographer had brought an assistant who was a huge Man United fan. ‘Jonny Evans played for their youth team and has recently started playing with the first team, and Denis Irwin is a legend! Part of the 1999 team who won the treble.’
Armed with that information, I rewrote my questions and resubmitted them for final approval…