They say you should never meet your heroes, something I’m reminded of every time I see athletics legend Michael Johnson and recall the night in Cardiff when he shot me a look of utter boredom in response to my gushing gibberish about his glories on the track.
He’d been giving a speech at a dinner and, as someone who’d been collecting autographs of athletes since my father propelled my six-year-old self in the direction of Mary Peters at Cwmbran track, I was keen to get the former Olympian’s signature.
“Thanks for a great speech and all the pleasure you gave us as an athlete,” I beamed breathlessly.
Michael scribbled on my dinner menu without a word or a smile.
I felt like Kathy Bates’ character in Misery (without the psychopathic tendencies, obvs).
Now when he’s in the punditry box I speak to him, via the telly, in rather less reverent tones: “Yeah you can be all charming with Gabby, Michael, but what about we normal people, the fans who put you where you are today, eh Mr Grumpy?”
But the awkward celebrity encounter can happen to anyone… even those who go on to be pretty big names themselves.
A new film called The Tail of the Curious Mouse explores that theme, recreating the moment when a six-year-old Roald Dahl met his icon Beatrix Potter.
The Cardiff-born writer persuaded his mother to take him to the Lake District in search of the creator of Peter Rabbit.
The nervous little boy first saw her farmyard, recognising it as the inspiration for the location of Jemima Puddleduck.
Then imagine his excitement when he spied the 80-year-old children’s author herself, in her garden.
But although Potter wrote for small people, it appears she didn’t actually like them very much.
“What do you want?” she asked him.
“I’ve come to meet Beatrix Potter,” replied the young Dahl.
“Well, you’ve seen her. Now buzz off!”
Though neither would have realised it at the time, there was a certain delicious irony to this uncomfortable meeting. Beatrix Potter could never have known she’d just crushed a young fan who would grow up to emulate and even supersede her success as one of the most-loved children’s authors in history.
Sometimes getting a rude response is part of the celeb’s appeal.
At least that’s what my ex-boyfriend tried to convince himself after John McEnroe told him to eff off when he was a starstruck student court coverer attempting to initiate a conversation at Wimbledon.
But ultimately when we enter the orbit of those we have admired, worshipped, even loved in that slightly disturbing “I’m your biggest fan” way, all we hope for is for the object of our celebrity affection to live up to expectation.
And for there to be a small moment of connection, perhaps, in a way that will distinguish us from all the other nutters telling them they’re their biggest fan.
Yet let us pause for a moment to consider how the celeb might feel during this exchange.
Fame brings a familiarity to that momentary bond that is utterly one-sided.
You know exactly who they are.
They have no idea who you are other than the terrifying possibility that you might be a deranged stalker.
So, the unexpected celeb encounter can bring that toe-curling moment when you greet a famous person as if they’re your oldest mate just because you recognise them.
(As long as you really do recognise them, mind you. A friend and I once followed Iris Murdoch around Oxford until “Iris” entered a café, put a pinny on and started serving afternoon tea behind the counter.)
But bumping into random famous people happens to me on a fairly regular basis as the office beneath mine belongs to a sound company that dubs a lot of well-known dramas and programmes.
I’ve tripped over several Doctor Whos on the stairs, clocked Luke Evans en route to the gents and once warned my colleagues to beware of a strange scruffy man in the car park, who, very embarrassingly, turned out to be Phil Tufnell on a fag break.
And a few months back Bradley Walsh held the door open for me. “Oh hiya!” I squealed at him with industrial strength enthusiasm.
To his credit he smiled back. “Love The Chase, Brad!” I said as if we’d been friends for life.
Well we had met once before but I wasn’t sure he’d recall our selfie at Celtic Manor Celebrity Golf in 2006.
Because that’s another thing about the celeb-fan dynamic.
Chances are, you will remember things they’ve done more than they will.
I discovered this at a book signing by actor Richard E Grant.
When I finally got to the head of the queue, copy of With Nails – The Film Diaries of Richard E Grant in hand, I had a specific inscription in mind.
“Can you put ‘You look FAB!’ on it, like when you put the sock on the baby’s head?”
The actor was charming but completely bemused. “I’m sorry,” he said quizzically, as my friend backed away in embarrassment and the rest of the queue started to shuffle impatiently.
“You know, when you’re in Jack and Sarah and you can’t find any proper clothes for the baby because you’ve been so grief-stricken and haven’t been coping and you put a stripy man’s sock on her head like a little bonnet and it looks really cute and you say ‘You look FAB!’’
“Ah yes,” said Richard E Grant, hurriedly inscribing as I kept babbling on about my love for the bittersweet 90s rom-com that had evidently lodged in my memory more than his.
But at least he warmed to the gushing.
And it’s not much to ask from our heroes is it, that they take a compliment in the spirit in which it was intended. Because when they do it’s a memory to cherish forever.
Mick Jagger told me never to name-drop but here’s a random roll-call of celebs I’ve met who’ve been absolutely lovely: Bill Nighy; Terry Wogan; Ruth Madoc; Chris Evans; Eamonn Holmes; Bill Clinton; Sebastian Faulks; Elvis Costello; Maureen Lipman; Maeve Binchey; Sian Phillips; Bobby Charlton. And one who wasn’t: John Humphrys. Don’t ask.
And after last weekend in Dublin, a number of rugby fans can add a rock star to the celebrity good egg list.
After the match, in a restaurant called Matt the Thresher we spied a familiar face across the room.
“Don’t look now,” said my mate Dubliner Dave, “but I think The Edge is on that table over there.” Cue less than subtle swivelling of heads to spy U2’s Welsh-rooted lead guitarist.
“That’s him alright,” confirmed a passing waitress.
Dave’s best friend just happens to describe himself as “The Edge’s Biggest Fan”.
Within minutes Dave was on the phone to him in California and presented him with a lifetime highlight by passing the mobile to The Edge who kindly had a quick chat.
(I think we, and assorted members of Caernarfon Male Voice Choir, had warmed him up with a few verses of I Bob Un Sydd Ffyddlon. The Edge’s parents are from Llanelli, after all).
Then it was selfie time.
Among those getting snapped with the U2 legend was Elin Jones, Presiding Officer of the National Assembly for Wales. Just as Elin was shaking his hand, a gentleman called Gwyn Ffostrasol approached. But he wanted a selfie with Y Llwydd not The Edge. Fame is relative in Wales.
And sometimes you really should meet your heroes.
They could tell you to buzz off… but they could also leave you buzzing.