Saturday, August 18, 2012


Why Tom & Katie REALLY broke it off / my strangest job yet

She strode gracefully out of 1949*, her long black dress flowing in slow motion behind her, gliding across the pavement toward the car where I stood waiting. A voice in my ear informed me, several seconds too late, that the “package is approaching,” but the voice only partially registered as I concentrated, my hand gripping the door handle. As she came around the corner of the car I checked every direction to make sure there were no paparazzi descending on her, then swung the door open smoothly, uttering a slow, calculated, “how did you enjoy your dinner, mam?” She swung her long, slender leg into the car, smiled and answered “fine, thank you.” Just like Rachael in Batman Begins, she projected an air of confidence and grace, combined with the slight hint of an innocent young girl. It would not be the last time her sweet voice gave me chills.


About a week earlier (sometime in mid June) I had received a text message from a friend, telling me that her friend had a short-term job available that I might be interested in. As I was unemployed at the time and waiting to start my new full time job two weeks later, the timing was perfect. I inquired what the job was, and in response was told that an international company based in Beijing needed someone to act as a tour guide of sorts for an important foreign “ambassador” who was coming to Beijing. “Ok,” I thought to myself, “this sounds like it could be fun.” Like everything in China though, I should have known (and did know on some level) that all was not as it seems.

I was put in contact with my friend’s friend, Alice (a Chinese girl), and she told me to come meet her at a cafĂ© where we would discuss more of the details of the job. She also asked me if I knew any other foreign, white guys (yes, she was very specific about this) who might also be interested, as they actually needed three people. So I grabbed my friend Peter (“hey Pete, want to act as a tour guide for some foreign diplomat for a few days…? I know, sweet, right?”), and off we went to meet Alice.

We were about to see just how deep the rabbit hole really went.

When we arrived, Alice informed us that in fact they needed two white guys to act as security guards (and when I say act, I mean in the dramatic sense) for a famous American “artist” who was to be coming through Beijing for four days the following week. Trying to keep a straight face, I turned to Peter and projected what I think he was also thinking: “Did she really just ask us to act as security guards for an American celebrity… based solely on the qualification that we’re white men?”

Once again, I should have expected nothing less from China.

Alice assured us that the job would be quite simple. We would be escorting this celebrity around to a number of promotional events and at least one “performance” of some sort. There would be other security guards (real ones, I hoped) with us as well – our job would be mainly just to keep over-zealous fans and paparazzi at bay. If this were any other mega-city on earth I would have been afraid for my own safety acting as a security guard, not to mention the safety of the celebrity I was protecting. But Beijing is in all likelihood the most crime-free mega-city in the world. What could go wrong? So Peter and I decided to take a leap of faith and told Alice we would do it.

There was just one more step: Alice was not in fact the one hiring us for the job. She was acting as an agent for another company, and we would need to go for an interview with that company the following day. No sweat, Alice said, you just have to come up with a story to tell them about your “experience” as a security guard. Again, anywhere else I would have been nervous, but I learned a long time ago that these kinds of interviews in China are 90-100% about face. In other words, the people at this company probably didn’t really care that Alice was hiring two random white dudes off the street… but they had to at least pretend to care.

What happened at the interview blew my mind once again. It ended up being me and two other white guys who were both about 6’6’’ (a good head taller than me), and as it turned out the company only needed one person, so they decided to take one of the tall guys, because he “looked tough.” It was the first time I’d ever been hired for a job solely because I am a white male, and the first time I’ve ever been rejected for being too short. I was pissed, mainly cause they had wasted my time. But then I got a call back from Alice a day later. “Well, I felt bad about you not getting the job, since, you know, you’re a friend of my good friend (read: everything in China is about connections), so I talked to the company, and they actually decided the other guy will stand out too much because of his height, so they want you instead.” I was taken aback that Alice would go out of her way to secure the job for me, as we barely knew each other, but at the same time excited that I would get to escort this celebrity after all. Then Alice dropped the bombshell. “I just found out who the celebrity is that you’re going to be escorting. Her name is Katie Holmes.”

It turns out Katie Holmes was coming to Beijing as an “ambassador”  (hence the original confusion) for the women’s cosmetics company Artistry, which is making a big advertising push into China. The main event of Katie’s trip would be “Artistry on Ice,” a figure skating show that included world famous figure skaters from both China and other countries. She would also be going to a few other photo shoots and publicity events while in Beijing, and then spending the rest of her time seeing the sites.
Katie posing at one of the Artistry events

Fast-forward four days. I arrive at the hotel where I am to be staying for the next three nights with my fellow security guards. I walk into my room and find my roommate: a tall, hulky Australian dude wearing a muscle shirt, with tattoos running the length of both his arms. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed, casually picking the logo off a shirt with his switchblade.

I was thinking to myself, “what have I gotten myself into this time?”

We were required to dress in back suits, and were given earpieces to communicate with each other. All I needed was a bulletproof vest and I’d feel just like the secret service. It turned out that, in addition to this ex-military Australian guy (who had just returned from protecting diplomats in Afghanistan), it was me, and two marketing representatives who worked full time for my employer. So between the four of us, only one had anything that even remotely resembled security experience. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we all piled into a black van and headed to the airport to meet Katie’s plane.

Katie traveled with an entourage that included her publicist, manager, personal body guard (whew), hair stylist, make-up stylist, and a few other people who’s roles were somewhat unclear. We went everywhere in Beijing in a caravan of four vehicles, three of which were BMWs marked with the Artistry On Ice logo, and then our security van. Over the three days we spent escorting Katie and her party around Beijing, I often was in charge of opening Katie’s car door, had some brief conversations with her, and had one experience where I had to physically restrain a cameraman from getting too close to her. The job was actually not that difficult, and anyone with a little common sense could have done it. As a bonus, I got to watch the Artistry On Ice show, which was pretty awesome. There was also a very cute Korean TV star who also came to promote the event and was staying in the VIP room next to Katie’s. There were a few occasions where she came within a few centimeters of me as she walked by. Being a bodyguard certainly has its advantages.

The only disappointment from the experience is that the company let us go early on the last day, because they said they didn’t need us to return to the airport, so I had no opportunity to ask Katie for a picture. But it was quite an amazing experience nonetheless.

So did this experience give me some secret insights into why, a week later, Katie and Tom Cruise announced that they would be getting a divorce? Well, not really; that just seemed like a good tagline for this post. Maybe the breath of fresh air that comes with traveling to another part of the world made her start to think some things over. Maybe the splendor of China and all its ancient history made her decided to convert from Scientology to Buddhism. Or maybe when she looked at the young man opening her door, she was reminded of the once young, energetic Tom Cruise of the Top Gun years and realized what an old loony he’d become. We’ll probably never know. But I can tell you one thing: Katie Holmes is definitely even more beautiful in person than she looks in her pictures.

*1949 is the name of one of Beijing’s most upscale restaurants


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