Mr Smith goes to . . .a starf*ck

Three minutes and it's over

The starf*ck: behind the spangled G-string of its asterisk lurks an expression that takes us back to the shameless priapism of the Eighties. It described what happened when stars - we didn't call them "celebrities" in those days - left the impregnable Winnebago of fame for an orgy of interviews designed to promote their latest film/record/rehab.

You don't hear the term much today, perhaps because the starf*ck is so ubiquitous in some circles that nobody involved notices any more. In all my years in front of the mast of the Channel 4 News boom-mike, I had never experienced this phenomenon in the flesh, until the release of a film featuring a knight of the British performing arts. His starf*ck was arranged for a weekday afternoon in a hotel on Park Lane. This address is to journalistic gangbangs what the nearby Shepherd Market is to the real thing.

At 4.30pm, a bellhop was approaching the star's suite propelling a Caesar salad on a linen-draped gurney. It looked like a wreath on a bier. Following the bellhop through the actor's door seemed the thing to do. But this was vetoed by a young woman, a brunette, who directed me to the other entrance to the suite. The titled thesp and party were put up in rooms that occupied an entire corner of the hotel. Sure enough, I was welcomed at a matching door, by an almost identical brunette. The two women were like figures in a weather vane.

Across the threshold, the outlook was unsettled. Sir himself was on top form, but a few naughty people had taken advantage of his good nature, so Channel 4 News would be rationed to three minutes. The ennobled performer enjoys a reputation for having - how to say it? - an outgoing disposition. Far from being able to shoot an entire interview in the space of three minutes, he would be hard-pressed to shoot his cuffs. In a distant bathroom, make-up was being reapplied, following his most recent conversational tryst.

You don't take your own camera crew to a starf*ck. One is provided by the promoters of the star's new vehicle, for the purposes of quality control. To put it another way, they like to make sure there's a poster of the product in shot. It is also important to reassure the talent that he'll come out of his interviews looking wonderful. To make the ermined mummer feel at home, his hotel drawing room was hung with as many spotlights and mikes as a film set. The TV director helped himself to an anchovy from the plate on the trolley and said: "That's the thing about being a great man - you can order a Caesar salad at this hotel, but everyone takes a bite."

At length, the star took his seat, directly beneath a lighting rig as toasty as a hairdryer. My tactic was to interrupt his lordship, in an effort to rattle through our Q&As. But this unsettled him, and our starf*ck was as good as over well before an assistant made hand signals in my direction that any madam might have understood: time's up.