The weird world of the celebrity PA
London - Two former celebrity personal assistants, who lived at the 24-hour, seven days a week, beck and call of their A-list employers, have revealed the inner workings of a job that knows no boundaries, but pays incredibly well.
Rebecca White and Jennifer O’Neill, who have worked for the likes of Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell and Claire Danes, opened up to the New York Post’s Jane Ridely to give a candid behind-the-scenes look into the world of a celebrity aide.
O’Neill, 39, said: “There’s no such thing as overtime or having your own life. You are married to these people. You are literally in a relationship with them.”
O’Neill is embroiled in a bitter lawsuit with her former employer, Lady Gaga, suing for $390 000 (R3.7 million) in unpaid overtime plus damages.
For an annual salary of $75 000, O’Neill claimed she was “required”to sleep in Gaga’s bed “because she didn’t sleep alone” and was expected “to be working and available 24/7”.
Meanwhile the star, who described herself as “queen of the universe, every day” in court papers, alleges that O’Neill did not want to be her “slave”, making the 26-year-old diva carry her own suitcases, and failing simple tasks like laying out her toothbrush and soap.
Gaga also insisted that O’Neill lived a lavish life at her cost, wearing her clothes and getting the best bed on her private jet.
White, who worked for the famously short-tempered Naomi Campbell for almost five years, admitted: “She would intimidate and yell and gain her power by making people cry. I was never afraid of her.”
The personal assistant revealed that when she travelled with the supermodel, she would arrive at the hotel early to call housekeeping to unpack, steam and press the clothes, take out the alcohol from the minibar, and put 25 lily-scented candles around her suite.
“God forbid they weren’t (the luxury brand) Diptyque,” said White, who now lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. “There always had to be five candles in the bathroom, 10 in the bedroom and 10 in the living room.”
She also explained that the mini-bar alcohol would be stashed in White’s own room.
“She wanted to pretend to the world that she wasn’t drinking. Every hotel we set foot in, I would move (the bottles) so that anyone, a manager, a maid, could say that she doesn’t drink.”
The model would then “grab her two phones, grab me and go into my room to start drinking”, she claimed.
She stopped working for Campbell after the pair had an argument at the Hotel du Cap on the French Riviera in 2004.
“I got on the train the following morning to go back to England. Then I had to hide – with her American Express credit card, thank God – in a small boutique hotel in downtown London until I could go back into her apartment and get my stuff.”
White was also a personal assistant to Claire Danes in 1996, just after her role with Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo And Juliet.
She recalls how she dropped off the Homeland star at college when she began studying at Yale, and made up her bed in the dorm.
“I hugged her, and she was scared, and I gave her the kiss goodbye,” said White, who was apparently paid $2 000 a week plus expenses to live in Danes’ $5 million loft in SoHo rent-free while she was in school.
“There are different levels of PAs – there’s the person back in the office who does the faxing and e-mailing – but my job was to be their best friend. It’s sad, but true,” said White.
“On the outside, these celebrities seem to have everything you can imagine – money, fame, friends – but they don’t. Fame is a very lonely thing. It’s actually very depressing. You’re sequestered, in a way.
“I’ve seen a lot of celebrities cling on to their personal assistant, but it’s really just (wanting) somebody to love them unconditionally.’
Bonnie Low-Kramen, co-founder of the support organisation New York Celebrity Assistants, and author of Be the Ultimate Assistant, said a star’s over-dependency on their assistants was unhealthy.
“It’s really important for celebrity assistants to have a clear line between being a friend and an employee,” she said, emphasising the need for boundaries. “It needs to be a business relationship.”
She revealed that salaries in New York ranged from $50 000 to six figures for a top assistant – Oprah Winfrey reportedly offered her personal assistant $1 million to stay on.
Low-Kramen said she recently counselled a 20-something personal assistant whose A-list employer continued to greet her at the door naked.
“She didn’t feel confident enough to say to him that it bothered her. She quit after a few months.”
And one actor awoke his New York-based personal assistant at 4am with an “urgent” phone call.
“He was five hours ahead in London, and he was asking her to call the hotel because his bathroom was running out of toilet paper,” said Low-Kramen.
Some personal assistants can be publicly vocal about their charges, after they have had enough of their outrageous demands and diva attitude.
After Lindsay Lohan was arrested in November for an incident at a New York nightclub, her personal assistant, Gavin Doyle, tweeted: “After bailing you out last night I HOPE and PRAY you get the help you so desperately need.”
And though she never worked for Heath Ledger or Michael Jackson, White publicly spoke out after their deaths, revealing sometimes incriminating information she had learned while under the employment of Campbell – who sometimes partied with Ledger, for example.
Despite the fact White was successfully sued by Jackson’s ex-wife Debbie Rowe for $27 000, she is still writing a memoir, Pandora’s Box, which she said included her experiences with Campbell. – Daily Mail