London, and specifically Central London, can produce some interesting sights in the fame stakes. One Saturday afternoon I visited a favourite haunt, a cafe-patisserie named Maison Bertaux where legend has it they had been baking 'gateaux' on the premises since the end of the 19th century. After much laughter with the chatelaine, Mme Michelle Wade and her retinue of chefs and waiters from far-flung parts of the world, a walk was required so that the extra weight from 'les éclairs' didn't add too much to that of 'les macarons ' from the earlier weekday visits I'd indulged in.
Maison Bertaux always had its share of famous clients - be they actors, politicians, musicians or composers - squeezed into tight spaces between tables and chairs and producing a creative hothouse effect ... as if at any moment a volcano were about to explode. I observed all this from my secure outpost, a small table and chair jammed against a piano in a corner. Michelle would acknowledge me with a solicitous, 'How are you, dear?' and before I'd finished my reply she would have signalled to a waiter, 'Coffee and eclair for Wilfred!'
I still had with me the snug warmth of those words as I headed out into the crisp winter air and decided, on a whim, to walk down to Piccadilly. As I trudged those familiar streets, a tall stranger who seemed to be in disguise with his flat cap pulled tight over his head and his winter coat flaps obscuring his neck, passed very close to me. I caught just a quick glimpse of his face, and a second or two later came recognition. It was the future Sir Michael Caine who'd just walked past me!
What was a bonafide working-class hero hailing from Cockney South-east London doing in swanky Piccadilly, such a long way from his film set for Alfie?
Alfie (1966). Photo credit independent.com.uk