A first-hand account of meeting Charlie Watts: 'Keep on rocking'

It's strange who you meet in the unlikeliest places: tales of a series of random celebrity encounters from a summer in Europe

It's strange who you meet in the unlikeliest places. My summer was a series of random but interesting encounters with celebs of differing magnitude, none of them planned but each with its own little bit of excitement.

By far the biggest star I bumped into was Charlie Watts, drummer of The Rolling Stones. Sitting outside the Bibendum cafe in London's swanky South Kensington on a warm summer's afternoon with wife and child, I looked up from my plate of charcuterie to see a little old man strolling casually down the road, incongruously dressed in a raincoat done up to the neck despite the fine weather. It took about two seconds for the face to register.

"Charlie Watts," I shouted to the surprise of other lunchers, and couldn't stop myself from running across to him and grabbing his hand. "Charlie, I'm a great fan. I saw you last week in Hyde Park, you were fantastic. Keep on rocking."

I realised it must have looked slightly ridiculous, one elderly man (myself) enthusiastically shaking the hand of an obvious stranger in the street, but Charlie was nonplussed. "Thanks man," he replied with just the faintest smile before shuffling off down the Brompton Road. It made my day.

Then, a few days later, in a sleepy provincial town in south-west France, we were enjoying an open-air communal lunch by the banks of the river Vincou when I started up a conversation with the chap seated to my left. Chatting about the weather, food and livelihoods, it turned out he was Giles Darby, one of the "NatWest Three" investment bankers who got caught up in the Enron scandal a decade ago and ended up doing time in prison in Texas.

I've covered plenty of financial scandals in my time, and met many of the perpetrators of frauds big and small, and they all have an air of obsession with their case. Giles was rather less obsessive, although we did spend a while talking about the high-profile circumstances of his arrest, extradition and eventual imprisonment for crimes of which he still protests innocence.

But it was obvious he was happy just getting on with life, back in business as an investor in the leisure industry, and having just bought a property in the beautiful medieval town of Bellac in the Haute-Vienne region of France, where we were.

"I haven't told my side of the story yet. Maybe I will one day, and there is explosive stuff there, right at the heart of the British business and political establishment," he said. I look forward to reading that, Giles.

At the same enjoyable gathering I was introduced to the mayor of Bellac, Jean-Michel Doumeix. He has been running the little conurbation (population about 5,000) since 2008, and seen it through some pretty dark days.

In my faltering schoolboy French, I asked how the global financial crisis had affected Bellac. He explained that the main business of the place was agriculture, which was not so badly hit by the recession. Bellac had in days gone by been one of the leading leather processing centres of France, though that had died out many years back.

"But we suffered from the English disease. Property prices fell when the English stopped buying second homes here. It's getting better now though," he said.

I asked if he had a political allegiance, and he beckoned me closer conspiratorially. "I am socialist, like Francois Hollande [the former-French president] but I do not tell anybody that. The town would never have voted for me if they knew."

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