It’s Not Unusual to Be Awkward When Meeting Tom Jones
A typical year in London provides a smattering of warm, sunny days, as I discovered when I began flying over from the States for a new job. On one unusually sunlit trip, I noticed a large crowd spilling into the street from the door of a quaint pub next to the restaurant where we were having lunch. I asked one of my British colleagues why so many people were drinking at a pub in the middle of a Wednesday. He looked at me as if he had serious reservations about my intellect and told me matter-of-factly it was because the sun was shining.
After relocating to London, I quickly embraced the habit of rushing to terraces, pubs, and parks at the slightest hint of summery conditions, and this is how I got weird with the legendary singer Tom Jones.
There was a charming little pub around the corner from my Kensington flat called The Elephant and Castle, a small Victorian pub with a tiny terrace wrapping around the outside. It became my regular a few months after moving into the neighborhood.
Kensington and Chelsea brim with recently relocated immigrants looking to build their careers in London. The Elephant was a hub of international comradery and where I met one of my closest friends — a brilliant guy from Ghana named Ben. He’s a handsome man with a contagious smile and impeccable style. My Tom Jones adventure began with an invitation from Ben to join him for a few pints on a bright Saturday afternoon.
Ben and our friend Saleh were already waiting for me with a pint of Pilsner Urquell when I ambled up to the crowded terrace. Saleh is from Saudi Arabia, a soft-spoken man whose jokes grow increasingly ribald with each round of drinks. Ben broke into a giant smile when he saw me and handed me a beer-filled glass.
“Brian, my brother. Good to see you, man. Cheers!”
“Thank you, sir,” I said as I accepted my drink, “Cheers, boys.”
Saleh grinned at me as he took a sip of his beer, his dark brown eyes smiling even bigger.
Looking at the guys, I felt underdressed. Ben was wearing a smart pair of dark red trousers with a check shirt and a navy blazer. Saleh was sporting khaki trousers and a black zip collar sweater. I was wearing light blue shorts, Vans, and a blue sweatshirt. My springtime casual needed an upgrade, but no one cared with such a glorious day to be had.
People continued crowding onto the narrow terrace, forcing an overflow onto the quiet street, which was a big no-no. The barkeepers regularly came out on busy days to tell people to stay on the terrace. Soon, we were shoulder to shoulder with other thirsty, sun-starved Londoners.
Ben looked around the expanding crowd and nodded to me, “Let’s finish these beers and head to Windsor Castle and its big rear garden.”
Saleh and I both thought it a good idea. The Windsor Castle was just up the road and had a large outdoor area with tables. It would be crowded as well, but it was spacious enough so we wouldn’t be crammed against strangers.
We walked the ten minutes to The Windsor and entered through the dark wooden door at the front. We picked up a round of drinks at the bar and were winding our way through the pub to the rear garden when Ben noticed Tom Jones sitting in a booth, enjoying a drink with another distinguished-looking gentleman.
We made it outside and found a spot near the edge of the crowded garden before Ben exclaimed, “Did you see him? That was Sir Tom Jones!”
This was the giddiest I’d ever seen Ben. He would get animated sometimes when discussing football, especially his beloved Chelsea, but he was popping out of his loafers with excitement over Tom Jones.
“Yeah, I saw him. Christ, that man still looks good. He must be living his life the right way.”
Ben slapped me on the shoulder, “Brian, we have to go meet him. I cannot die knowing I could have met Tom Jones and didn’t say hello.”
I gave Ben an uneasy smile. I’d spent a decade living in Los Angeles, mostly Venice Beach and Santa Monica. I would often see celebrities but would leave them be. I’d only made two exceptions. Once, I almost hit Orlando Bloom with my car as he was running across the street. He apologized for bolting in front of my car and I answered him saying, “That’s okay, Orlando Bloom.”
The other time was when Maya Angelou walked past me as I was waiting for a table in a restaurant. I said hello and introduced myself. She was kind and generous with her time and words. However, I didn’t feel comfortable invading Tom Jones’s space and interrupting his afternoon.
“I don’t know, Ben. Maybe we give the man his privacy?”
Ben looked shocked. He turned to Saleh, “Saleh, do you want to meet Tom Jones?”
Saleh nodded immediately, “He’s a singer, right?”
I laughed. “Saleh doesn’t even recognize him.”
Saleh turned to me with an indignant smirk, “I recognize Tom Jones!”
Ben seemed satisfied, “That settles it, gents. Let’s go introduce ourselves.”
It took a bit more convincing, but I reluctantly agreed to tag along with the Tom Jones quest.
As we began walking toward him, Ben grabbed my arm, “Brian, man. I am nervous. You have to introduce us.”
I pivoted my head toward Ben, “Dude, no. This is your thing. I still think we should leave him alone.”
“Please, man. Please. You have to do this for me.”
I sighed loudly. I thought this was a bad idea and now I was the leader of the bad idea. I was going to be the asshole who disturbs a musical icon when he was just trying to enjoy an afternoon out. Nausea set in as I began wondering whether I should call him Sir Tom, Sir Tom Jones, or Mr. Jones.
The boys formed a line behind me as I approached his table.
“Excuse me, Mr Jones. I’m so sorry to disturb you but we’re big fans and wanted to meet you.”
I was cringing on the inside as I attempted to look as non-stalker, non-assholey as possible. Tom gave me a kind look and a cordial smile. He didn’t seem annoyed, but he wasn’t effusive. He was a man accustomed to fans approaching him. He was affably cool when he extended his hand and asked me my name.
“My name is Brian and my friends Ben and Saleh and I just wanted to meet you.”
Ben suddenly popped up from behind me, “And get a photo with you!”
I cranked my head at Ben and narrowed my eyes before quickly turning back to Sir Tom. “Uh, yes. And get a photo with you, if that’s okay.”
Again, Tom was unperturbed. He was expecting this.
“Crowd in here lads, and I’ll have my friend take a picture.”
As Tom’s friend stood up, Ben spoke again, “Can we each get a photo with you by ourselves?”
Sir Tom and I both shot Ben the same ‘Oh-for-fucks-sake’ look. We even looked at each other afterwards, agreeing Ben’s request was a bit much. Then, my disapproval slunk into an apologetic shrug.
Tom regained his gracious guise in a nanosecond and nodded, motioning me to have a seat next to him. I sat down and he put his arm over my shoulder. Only one time in my life do I remember thinking about the way another man smelled, which was in an elevator in Dubai with a dapper sheikh, but Tom Jones smelled amazing. I don’t know if it was his aftershave or just his Tom Jones-ness, but he was a pleasantly fragrant fellow.
As his friend took my phone and fiddled with my camera app, Tom made small talk.
“Where you from, Brian?”
“Uh, Texas, sir, originally, but I live here now.”
Tom’s baritone perked a bit, “I love Texas. I was just in Houston a few weeks ago.”
“Ah, Houston. Yes, it’s hot.”
I was unaware I was starstruck while explaining to Tom Jones that Houston is hot. I didn’t think I was capable of being starstruck. I’d been to red carpet events and met very famous people before, but sitting in a cozy booth with Tom Jones’s arm around me turned me into an idiot. I suddenly felt the need to tell him how much I liked his music, which was a tiny exaggeration.
I like Tom Jones and had several of his songs on my phone. Before that meeting though, I wouldn’t have called myself a big fan. But he was being so nice and so friendly. He was good-natured about the interruption and even about our requesting three separate photos. He made a little joke as his friend took several photos of us and I decided to give him a compliment.
“Mr Jones — your music has meant a lot to me over the years. I went through some dark times at uni, and I listened to your music a lot. It helped me get through it all.”
This was a complete fabrication stemming from my pathetic need to please people.
Tom’s face softened, “That makes me happy. I love hearing things like this from fans. Was there any song in particular?”
The elation I felt from his sincere appreciation of my compliment faded into a panic. A song. I needed a Tom Jones song, stat! My mind rifled through what I remembered of his musical catalog and only one title came to mind.
Tom’s ‘oh-for-fucks-sake’ look returned to his face and hovered there.
“Yeah, that’s the one. I listened to it a lot during that time.” My smile sheepishly fell flat.
He stared at me for a moment. Perhaps he was wondering whether he should inquire as to what kind of troubles Sexbomb would help a person overcome.
He decided it wasn’t worth it and returned to his cool smile, “I’m glad I could help.”
I thanked him, shook his hand once more, and stood awkwardly off to the side. He was as generous with the boys as he had been with me, but they didn’t say much to him. He looked at me dubiously a couple of times as he took photos with Ben and Saleh.
After we were done, we thanked him and his friend and turned to go. Two attractive young women sitting at an adjacent table told him how nice he was to take photos with fans.
I could hear him chatting them up as we walked off, “Did you hear what he said about Sexbomb?”
We returned to our original spot on the terrace, the boys excitedly looking at the photos of themselves while I replayed the interaction in my head. Why had I felt the need to say that to Tom Jones? Why the hell couldn’t I have thought of another song besides Sexbomb? Even What’s New Pussycat would have been less weird.
Ben looked at me, his eyes sparkling with joy, “That was amazing, man!”
“Yeah, it was. Did you hear what I said?”
Ben’s smile disappeared, “About Sexbomb? Yeah? What the fuck, man?”
“I don’t know. I panicked. I couldn’t think of any other song.”
Ben’s eyebrows knitted and he cocked his head, “So, you didn’t listen to Sexbomb over and over when you were sad?”
I shook my head with shame, “No. I like the song but I didn’t have it on repeat when I was depressed.”
Saleh and Ben gave me quizzical looks, but they shrugged it off. The high of meeting Tom Jones trumped whatever weirdness I’d put on display.
We spent the afternoon enjoying pints in the London sunshine and I got over my Sexbomb misstep. When we left the pub, I looked over to where Tom had been sitting, but he was gone. Not that I wanted another interaction with the singer. I was just curious whether he might give me another funny look.
Although I am positive he doesn’t remember our exchange, I like to think sometimes he’ll be hanging out with one of his famous pals and tell the story of the seemingly normal guy who used Sexbomb as emotional therapy. Maybe they speculate about the life-changing merits of Sexbomb for people with unspeakable problems.
To be fair, there are worse mantras than Sexbomb, sexbomb you’re my sexbomb, And baby you can turn me on.
Maybe try it out the next time you’re feeling blue.