Terribly sad to hear the news about Pele yesterday. It goes without saying that he was the original GOAT and arguably the GOAT, but he also struck me as being warm, charming and truly gracious. You see, back in 2015 I had the wonderfully surreal privilege of spending 45 mins with him in a hotel room, pretty much just me and him.
I was doing some freelance sound recording work at the time for 5Live. If a high profile interviewee can’t make it to the radio studio, I go to them and they’re interviewed remotely with me controlling the kit at their end. I met a lot of very high profile people from the world of sport and politics in that time, often going to their homes.
Then one Friday afternoon I had a phone call.
“Can you make it into central London in two hours?”
“Yes, love to – who am I meeting?”
So there I was two hours later, in the lobby of a very smart five star hotel in Holborn where I was met by a man who introduced himself as Pele’s ‘personal assistant’. Pele appeared to have quite a few ‘personal assistants’. This particular one had the appearance of a ‘personal assistant’ who’d spent time with the Secret Service but I wouldn’t imagine it was anywhere near the typing pool. Let’s just say he was quite a serious individual.
We went up to a suite and I set up my recording kit to start the interview where there were a number of his other entourage. In the room next door I could hear the faint sound of a phone conversation taking place. It was Pele.
A few moments later, the bedroom door opened and there appeared a man instantly recognisable to a sizeable chunk of the planet’s seven billion occupants, with the most wonderfully warm, welcoming smile. To me he had the aura of being almost presidential, ambassadorial if you like; a man with absolutely nothing to prove to the world. He knew who he was – he was Pele.
We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and got started. I soon became subconsciously aware that the room appeared to have otherwise emptied, with the exception of just one of his PAs messaging on her phone over on the other side of the room taking absolutely no interest in what we were doing.
Over the next thirty minutes or so he was asked about the Banks save, his incredible goal scoring tally, winning a record three World Cups and England’s chances for the Euros among others, except the interviewer’s in a studio several miles away so he needs a facial point of reference to react to and that’s me sitting right next to him. Pele is telling me about the legendary Banks save! He actually pointed out, with a hint of irony and much good humour, that he scored 1283 career goals yet people always want to know about the one that didn’t go in.
Eventually our time was up. We parted company. I checked my audio had recorded OK. Please let it be OK. Pele’s quite a busy man – I can’t imagine you get another go if you mess up. Thankfully it was spot on – I still have it today, room atmos, off air dialogue and all.
The ‘assistant’ appeared, to escort me out.
Now I know I’m probably not really supposed to do this but I then produced a Brazil top and marker pen.
“I carry this with me everywhere just in case I ever bump into Pele – do you think he’d mind please?” A wry smile was returned. “I’ll see what I can do”.
90 seconds later he appeared with the signed top. Yes, I realise Pele played no 10 and mine’s a Ronaldo Nazario 9 but I could hardly ask him to hold on while I nip out and get a new one now could I?
On the tube home I was so excited I wanted to take it out of my bag and show it to everyone. “I just met Pele!” I didn’t. Obviously. It’s been on my son’s bedroom wall ever since.
Some time later I heard a story that once upon a time a car that Pele was travelling in in Brazil was held up at gunpoint by armed men. As soon as they realised who the occupant was they apologised and left. I’ve no idea if it’s true or not but having met him, I’m happy to believe that it was.
RIP Pele. That brief yet unforgettable window that I was given into your world truly was an absolute privilege.