Running Alone, with the Famous

Famous-run-ins-1
Keith Evans during the Welsh Castles Relay 2003 (Photo by David Knight).

When you run in a city like London you're bound to rub shoulders with the rich and famous. Keith Evans reminisces about his famous runs ins.

I am a lonely runner. Nothing I can do about it unless you have a spare magic wand. A combination of age and Sod’s law-luck in the health department have made me the slowest runner in town. You need to do a soft shoe shuffle to run with me. In the past few years only three people have, Fliss Berridge, Phil Kelvin, and Emma Cannings, which meant more to me than they realise. When I ran Two Parks with Fliss, hearing jazz music on the last mile home, we even stopped off at a jive club! “The lady is a tramp”.

I have been in permanent running “lock down” for a few years now. I so much miss the sense of personal achievement from running races like the Cabbage Patch, and the group satisfaction of relays like the Welsh Castles and Green Belt, and the fun, stuffed into those mini busses, mingling and meeting friends old and new. I ran the first Green Belt and we won! The only race left for me now is THE Handicap. This works well because the handicapping system together with a course of two laps means I do get to run with the rest of the club. The Handicap team have been brilliant over the years working around me as my times went on a journey into space. They gave me the will to be there every month even though I was always first out – last in. Mind you, I got the last laugh by winning the 2018 November Handicap.

Keith Evans (left, back row) with the Serpie team for the 2000 Green Belt Relay.

Another joy lost forever is just running along with others especially on club runs. I liked the randomness of who you ran with, and sometimes the group you ended up with just clicked and it was as though your endorphins had all kicked in at the same time and run almost morphed into trot, no talking just the sound of feet and breathing in speed and harmony. Magical unless it’s my imagination?? Most of the time, though, I just miss chewing the fat as you run along, as Jan Farmer wrote recently, that skill “to chat without looking at each other”.  Many a time, I’ve run the three parks putting the world to rights. The next time the whole of the three parks discussing relationships. Not mine and no names no pack drill.

Running alone means your thoughts are all over the place. I was running recently in Kensington Gardens the stretch towards Kensington Palace with Buckingham Palace Football Club playing fields on the right, when I remembered Rudi Mahoney. He was one of the original Serpies, a survivor of the very first London Marathon. A lovely calm mannered man and we often ran together sometimes to Tower Bridge, unheard of in those days, even one time getting caught up in Lord Mayor’s show, chased keystone kops style by the police, roared on by the crowd! On another mellow run he talked of his experiences in WW II, that generation seldom opened up about it. He was part of the legendary CHINDITS [named after a mythical half lion eagle] a British Indian guerrilla army that operated behind Japanese lines in the Burmese jungle. He told me he was Irish Indian and grew up in Burma, and at the start of the war joined the Indian army where he trained as a radio operator. He was spotted by American intelligence and with little parachute training in the dead of night he was thrown out of a plane into the jungle, heavy radio transmitter hanging dangerously round his neck, no smart phones in those days. He landed with a painful crunch in the tall trees of the jungle where he fought for hours to disentangle himself from his parachute. He was 17 years old. Swap that for tuition fees.

Rudi Mahoney (second from right, back row) during his time in the CHINDITS (Photo courtesy of Sarah Mahoney).

The real reason I remembered Rudy in that particular stretch of Kensington Gardens is the time he himself was running alone one late summer’s afternoon. Just before you turn left by the palace there is a wooden gate built into the wall. As Rudy approached, it opened and out came an attractive young woman and friend setting off for a run. As he approached them he thought, “Is it her? It looks like her. Well she lives there. But she wouldn’t be out running on her own.” He decided to catch up and investigate. Then as he came alongside he got a beautiful smile and hello from LADY DI, together with a “get lost” smirk from the body guard. This was the eighties, of course, when she was at the height of her fame, but nice to know she could go for an evening jog in the park like the rest of us. This was all happening alongside the hidden garden where 30 years later Harry announced his engagement to Meghan.

The famous gate from which Lady Di emerged for her evening run.

I brought this anecdote up at the Serpentimes editorial meeting on the lines that maybe it would be good to write a piece on famous people Serpies have bumped into, but it was decided as I was the biggest “name dropper” in the business, I should write it on my encounters!

Now, LADY DI is a hard act to follow, so it would need to be somebody of the stature of Nelson Mandela. The two big causes of my young days were the anti-apartheid movement and nuclear disarmament. Nelson Mandela was a hero since the famous South African sabotage trial of the 1960s, and I still have an LP of his politically historic defence speech WHY I AM PREPARED TO DIE. Hard for people not to be moved by the long lens TV image of him emerging in a sunlit haze on release through the prison gates. It was almost biblical! Shortly after his release he came to the UK to say thank you for our support. He was due to appear on the balcony of South Africa House in Trafalgar Square, scene of anti-apartheid demonstrations, and I was determined to be there, except I got delayed at work so it was too late by the time I made it. However, there was still a small crowd who were waiting in expectation of him leaving to go for lunch with the Queen. No, I can’t name drop her! Suddenly, the crowd was getting restless, his limo was sliding out of the side of the embassy. I thought, “Too far away. I can’t get over there.” Then I suddenly remembered I was a runner. Only problem was I had been in court that morning so I was booted and suited and weighed down with legal files. But with a Clark Kent flourish – it was not S for Superman, but S for SERPIE! – somehow boots, files and me swept across the square, Nelson’s column in the background and skidded to a halt as his limousine braked at Admiralty Arch. There was just the car window between myself and the beautiful beaming Nelson Mandela and then he slowly raised, bud like, the clenched fist of solidarity. What an image to remember!

Keith Evan's coveted Nelson Mandela LP.

They say if you remember the swinging sixties you weren’t there, and there is an element of truth in that. It just happened to be when I was young. However, when I was interviewed recently for the Serpentimes we went into that period when I worked at the fledgling GRANADA ITV in Manchester. It really brought back memories of my young days in TV. I jotted some down at the time. So, I give you…

THE SINGER

One of the shows I worked on was SCENE AT 6:30, a nightly live show and attempt by the upstart ITV to compete with BBC’s hugely prestigious TONIGHT, albeit on a shoestring budget in a shoebox studio. One secret weapon we had was an ex Tin Pan Alley producer who seemed to get great Sixties names of rock on roll on to our show every night usually to try out new material. Some of the groups could be on the unruly side and getting the show on the air was a bit like herding Serpies. I well remember our blunt north-country floor manager Bill shouting

“Number one lurcher stand there!”

“What me, why?” said Mick Jagger

“So, we can get the light on yer pretty/ugly face.”

One morning I picked up the blower (phone).

“Bernard from reception. There’s a singer here says she’s on your show and was supposed to meet Wally (our drunken director) here.”

“Ask her what her name is.” and in the background I hear,

“What’s yer name luv?”

“Petula Clark.”

Then loud in my ear “PETULA CLARK.”

Bloody hell! Better find Wally. Of course, no WhatsApp or emails in those days and all we had were well thumbed address books with all the well-known watering holes on the front page. I eventually found him in the New Theatre Inn.

“Bring her to the pub.”

I go to meet her knees knocking and nervous, as I had been in love with her since I was a boy!!
There she was, a pleasant ordinary person, as stars often are, wearing a not-too-new raincoat. She was a bit non-pulsed when I told her I was taking her to the pub. I then walked with her for 15 mins through the back streets of Manchester and I haven’t a clue what we talked about. As an adult I’m a bit disappointed in my younger self, feeling a tad disillusioned.
Anyway, we get to the pub and Wally is in full swing. No sooner is he introduced then he’s off to the bar for another pint (and one for me, of course). This man is going to direct a live show in a couple of hours. I am left in a quiet corner with PETULA. Then she leans right over to me (PETULA CLARK is about to whisper in my ear!), but unfortunately nothing flirtatious just “Is it always like this?”.  Well, it was nice to have that intimate moment. I don’t remember what happened then, but I can’t believe she had to walk back.

A couple of hours later I walked down to the studio as they were about to go on air. There she was, beautiful make-up and hair, and head to toe shimmering silver sequins. Stunning. The complete star. Then “cue the singer”. Bill’s lanky arm, more used to delivering cricket balls in the Lancashire league than cueing superstars, swings across her. A moment of silence, a small smile across the studio. Do I hear a collective “In your dreams”?

Then softly, “When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go DOWNTOWN.” Wow! I’m in love again. The first ever performance of Downtown. Pure show business magic. I shall never forget it. Even now in her 80’s she still gives me goose pimples when she sings, especially in French and I don’t understand a word!

ANNIE HALL and DIANE KEATON I’ll leave for another time.

Keith Evans is a club fixture. He has been a Serpie for 30 years and has run over 200 handicaps. This year he was honoured to be the recipient of the John Stonham Farewell Cup. When not running he can be found skiing the Alps or catching a film at the BFI.