Let’s call the person I am about to quote ‘Steve’, and the celebrity he used to work for ‘Monica’. Monica is a Hollywood A-lister. Like, ‘name in huge print at the top of the poster’ level star. Steve worked for her for eight years – a role he landed by chance. You can’t, I learn through Steve, send your CV to some governing celebrity HR (although there are agencies like Sorted PA that place more traditional assistant roles within the industry). As I come to understand through the course of our conversation, the role of PA is so specific – so bespoke to the person you are assisting – that creating an advert for such a role would prove impossible. Steve’s role, essentially, in no way resembled, for example, the PA to Idris Elba. Or Daniel Craig. Or Rosalia. Talent PA-ing is, as with every fine marriage of two persons, intricately unique... and, at times, dysfunctional.
‘I’d be managing the renovation of her house, collecting her dry cleaning, manually doing an anal cavity search of all three dogs, organising what she was going to wear to what party (sample trafficking from Dior, Chanel, Tom Ford...), taking calls from her manager (both UK and US) about what she could and could not say at the various parties she would attend, as well as being told which scripts to gently persuade her to read first,’ he says. ‘And, on top of that, working out her international publicity schedule for [redacted franchise movie].’ These were all tasks to juggle within the same hour. He had four phones. Steve admits he was Monica’s first PA, but insists this isn’t why the role quickly lost boundaries. Boundaries just, well, don’t exist. He says he once met the PA to Supermodel. They had to sleep in the same bed, where they’d talk into the early hours about the list of potential megastars Supermodel would like PA to approach for her to date, as well as drafting contracts for her many fake and facilitated relationships. They told each other dark secrets and got (I kid you not) matching tattoos. Never mind having a lunch break; there wasn’t even space, head or literal. This isn’t a job, I thought to myself, it’s a BFF.
‘If you want to be a good PA, you have to be available all the time,’ says Steve. ‘I couldn’t date anyone while I was working with Monica,’ he says. ‘I mean, I tried. One time, I took a girl to a restaurant only to discover that the inside of the building had no phone signal. I had a panic attack at the table. LA and NYC agents wouldn’t have been able to reach me, so I had to leave and sit in a cafe nearby on my own to field the inevitable calls that came non-stop (confirming and reconfirming bookings, changing her schedule last minute, etc).’ And also, inevitably, to console Monica herself. ‘Well, in every way other than conjugal, I suppose you already had a girlfriend,’ I say to Steve. He doesn’t follow. Until he does. ‘Oh yes, I guess you’re right. There was only enough space in my life for one partner, and Monica was it.’ PAs can do many things, but polygamy isn’t one of them. With this high level of demand, I’d have been forgiven for thinking that days off to recoup would be a given. ‘Wrong,’ says Steve. In fact, Monica would call him on Christmas Day morning and ask what presents she’d got for her family. He’d explain to his own relatives that between the hours of 8am and 9am throughout the holiday period, it was ‘Monica’s time’, during which he needed to debrief her on all the aspects of Christmas he’d facilitated.
But, despite the all-encompassing hours, what people don’t realise is that PAs are the ones with the most power in the room. ‘That’s not to say that the cliche of lackey isn’t always true,’ says Steve. I hear of another PA who worked for one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood. His main role – as PA number four in a group of five – was to buy and hand out Rolex watches to the women his boss would sleep with and then duly drop. ‘But, similarly, I’ve known PAs to be brokering huge contracts with brands, signing off all the campaign images and even “doing” the interviews on behalf of their employer,’ says Agatha, a PA for a rising music star who recently won a slew of awards. ‘They’re the one the star turns to for advice, asking, “Should I be doing this? Would you do it if you were me?’”