THE BLOG
02/11/2011 04:26 GMT | Updated 01/01/2012 05:12 GMT

One of Life's Little Success Stories

The first bit of this happened in the 60s when I managed the Yardbirds and lived in a posh flat behind Buckingham Palace. It started with a phone call. "Is that Simon Napier-Bell, the rock manager?" "That's me." It was 8.30 in the morning and I was eating my Shredded Wheat. "Who's that?" "I'm a freelancer. I've been paid to do a job on you. I've been trying to contact you for days."

The first bit of this happened in the 60s when I managed the Yardbirds and lived in a posh flat behind Buckingham Palace. It started with a phone call.

"Is that Simon Napier-Bell, the rock manager?"

"That's me." It was 8.30 in the morning and I was eating my Shredded Wheat. "Who's that?"

"I'm a freelancer. I've been paid to do a job on you. I've been trying to contact you for days." The voice sounded reproachful.

Was it a journalist? I wasn't sure. He was quite rough spoken. "What d'you mean - 'paid to do a job?'"

"I've been told to rough you up, but I thought we might reach a compromise. Can you give me your address."

A practical joke, perhaps? I wasn't sure. "I suppose you'll want me to make coffee and toast?" I said sarcastically."

The voice sounded hurt. "There's no need to take that sort of tone, mate. We've all got our jobs to do."

I hung up. But later in the day when I was coming out of my office in Dean Street a man jumped out of nowhere and shoved me into an empty doorway. "Gotcha!"

I was staring into a podgy, busted face on top of a large untidy body. And I was shivering with fright.

"Let's get down to business," the thug said. "Someone's paid me 25 quid to bust your kneecaps. Give me 50 and I'll leave you alone."

I managed to steady myself. Normally, I don't believe in buying people off - they just come back for more - but buying time is another matter. "OK, 50 quid," I told him. "Come and have a coffee and I'll write you a cheque." (This was in the days before cash machines.)

We sat in Valerie's in Old Compton Street and I bought him a slice of chocolate mousse gateau. He had good table manners, used a fork to eat the cake, and ate with his mouth shut. "Who sent you?" I asked.

He smiled - a busted-nose, chipped-tooth smile (actually quite endearing). "No-one sent me. I pick a name out of a directory then go round and find the bloke and offer not to beat him up if he gives me double what I'm being paid, which I tell him is 25 quid. It's a good trick. A mate of mine told me about it. At the moment I'm doing the music industry - Kemp's White Book. Me mate's doing the Real Estate Directory."

"That's extortion!" I said. "You'll end up in jail. Anyway, I don't believe you ever hit anyone in your life. You're just an uneducated fraud."

His eyes flashed indignantly. "You don't need to be rude, mate. I took 'O' levels."

"Did you get one? What was it? Metalwork?"

"Cookery."

I couldn't help it; I burst out laughing. "So I'm right - you're not a thug at all."

He looked a bit forlorn.

"Anyway," I said, "why cookery?"

"Me and me brothers was bought up by an auntie. There was five of us and she put me in charge of the kitchen. I got good at it."

"How did your face get bashed up?"

"I was working as a chef and a shelf fell on me."

"And doing this is better than being a chef?"

"Not really. I miss cooking, but I've not been able to find a job."

I had a friend, Hillary James, a psychologist who was also a restaurateur. He owned two of my favourite restaurants - the Elizabethan and Le Matelot - both in Elizabeth Street in Belgravia. I called him from the phone box opposite Valerie's. He thought the story was a hoot and told me to bring the guy over.

The thug was called Hector and turned out to be quite a good cook. The other staff liked him and he fitted in well - so well, in fact, that a few months later he eloped to Spain with the cashier.

This next bit happened when I was in London a few weeks ago...

There was Hector, walking along Shaftesbury Avenue, a lot older but still much the same; burly, untidy, busted-face, endearing smile. He stopped to say hello and gave me a quick resumé of his life. The thing with the cashier hadn't worked out; he'd married a girl from Hull and worked for 30 years in a works canteen. He's now a grandfather with three married children, one of whom is a pilot.

He insisted on taking me to Valerie's where he treated me to a chocolate mousse gateau.

One of life's little success stories.