I’ve done a lot of live television in the past two years, but the scene on the flat-screen monitor was the most incredible, intimate and jaw-dropping footage I’ve ever watched. It was a live broadcast from deep inside my own body.
I treated it as an experiment in focusing the mental energy of the biggest nation on Earth upon a single goal. Staring straight into the camera, I repeated simple phrases, like a mantra: “Win, Russia! I see gold medals!”
The ads began screening, not just in Russia but in China too, in the Russian quarter of the Olympic village. RTR’s boss, Iskander, is convinced that I’m directly responsible for boosting his country from 16th place in the medals table, just behind China and the US… and ahead of Great Britain.
The experiment was hailed as such a success that I’ve been asked to channel all of Russia’s mindpower into boosting the Zenit St Petersburg soccer team. They’ve got a great manager in Dutchman Dick Advocaat, but their star striker Andrei Arshavin is rumoured to be on his way to Spurs as I write.
Hanna says I should stay away from the volatile mix of Russians and football. At least three Premiership clubs are owned by billionaires from this vast country — and Americans own at least three more. I could be caught up in a soccer-mad Cold War.
Iskander’s excitement levels rose another few notches after Friday’s first show. The build-up had been immense, with wall-to-wall advertising, posters, interviews and a documentary on my life which screened on prime-time TV two days before Phenomenon launched. If the Russian Bear didn’t know who I was before, it does now.
RTR was gambling everything on a dramatic success. This was the first time that a show had been completely live, without any recorded material, from the opening moments to the final credits.
The ratings outstripped everyone’s best predictions: we took 27.5 per cent of the Moscow audience, compared to the average chart-topper’s score of 17.3 per cent, and collected 4.25m viewers nationally.
“My dreams have been fulfilled!” Iskander emailed me. “Everything was perfect. Even my mother told me that the spoons fell off her TV!”
That kind of success doesn’t happen without a great deal of hard work. The contestants were outstanding, and the blend of lights, stage set and music was highly professional.
And I have a great deal more to do than simply learn my catchphrases — “Stzena vacha,” which means, “The stage is yours,” and “Raz Dva Tree!” which of course is “One Two Three!”
I have to mentally rehearse my reactions to every possible permutation of success and disaster — the acts I expect to love are sometimes the very ones which collapse, through nerves or bad luck, and the ones which seem unexciting can be the same ones that suddenly grip the audience’s imagination. I carry about 20 different scripts in my mind, shuffling between them at lightning speed.
The young women in the call centre perform a juggling act that’s just as complex, with thousands of phone calls flooding in every minute throughout the broadcast. Katya (pictured) and her colleagues showed me how they log every caller. The switchboards went into meltdown during the show, but everyone in the communications room stayed cool — quite a feat.
When I’m not filming commercials or rehearsing, I’ve been exploring Moscow with Hanna and Shipi. Our suite looks over the Moskva river, and at night the bridges glitter with the headlights of tens of thousands of cars. We were concerned that it might be difficult to find vegetarian food, but we needn’t have worried — Moscow is a city of fine culture, with a gourmet menu for every taste.
One of our favourite eateries is at a Mall called Gum, where we found homemade mashed potato and peas. We nearly had a disaster when I asked for water, though — the waiter thought I said “wodka!”
Another haunt we love is the cafe owned by Roman Abramovitch, a rococo palace of chandeliers, mirrors, gold leaf and polished walnut. Just to sit and sip a capuccino in such elegant surroundings made us feel like characters from War And Peace.
I’m told Roman has a habit of buying the cafes he likes — in Rome earlier this year, he and his fiancee Daria Zhukova shared a plate of pasta at the chic Julian Cafe, and he settled the bill by buying the premises, for 3.5m euros.
Moscow prices are much like Rome or London — we’re paying about £30 a head for a meal. Of course, we don’t usually buy the restaurant afterwards… we just have coffee.
I got so carried away with my War And Peace fantasy that in the bar at the top of the Ritz Carlton I borrowed their Napoleonic uniform. This sumptuous costume, featuring the Russian double-headed eagle on its shako (or soldier’s hat), is worn by the wine waiter who serves the champagne.
It’s a good job no one ordered Moet while I was parading in my gold-braided finery — I would probably have opened the bottle with a flick of my sabre.
Motivational Inspirational Speaker
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“There is no spoon!”
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