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Opera House

At some point, everyone needs to bluff it to make it. To prove our point, we ask celebrities about their biggest bluffs. Approach the bench…Keith Hann

Who is Keith Hann? As well as being the author of The Bluffer’s Guide to Opera, I am an overweight, unqualified and incompetent PR consultant specialising in damage limitation for gaffe-prone clients. My continued employment after 30 years of consistent failure surely demonstrates bluffing capabilities of truly stratospheric proportions. Although I shall soon be an old age pensioner, I am also the father of two sons under the age of five, having convinced an attractive younger woman that I would make a capable, hands-on parent. This triumph of outright deception makes my pitiful achievements in PR fade into total insignificance.

Have you ever gotten something for nothing?

My real speciality is in acquiring things for large amounts of money that turn out to be worth virtually nothing at all, in evidence of which I cite my collections of model railways, coins, prints and books – plus every car and house I have ever owned. Latterly, however, I have become adept at receiving small items free of charge from embarrassed shopkeepers who have asked my sons, understandably enough, ‘Is Grandpa going to buy you something nice?’

To whom, or what, do you owe your big break?

I owe everything to autobiographer, comedian and part-time retailer Malcolm Walker, founder of Iceland Foods. Not only is he my longest-standing client, he also turned my life upside down by liking one of my newspaper columns so much that he was moved to post it on his company website. There it was spotted by a clearly under-employed lady in his management accounting team who eventually made the fatal mistake of following a link to my own website with its spoof advertisement for a ‘wife, girlfriend or carer’. Admittedly her aim was to set me up with one of her friends, but it all went horribly wrong for her when I bluffed that she would be far better off meeting me herself.

Where and when was the last time you felt out of place?

It would be easier to list the places where I do not feel entirely out of place: in a first class compartment on a steam-hauled train; behind the wheel of a trolleybus; in an English country pub; on a gondola in Venice; in the better class of seat in an opera house; lying on a sofa unsuccessfully battling the urge to fall asleep while reading a good book; in front of a roaring fire with a glass of good red Burgundy; eating oysters in a suitably old-fashioned London restaurant; in a well-stocked bookshop; dining on the high table of an Oxford or Cambridge college so long as all the particularly bright dons are having a night off.

Keith Hann explains…

  1. Opera buffs: The sort of sad obsessives for whom opera directors devise hideously inappropriate productions designed to ‘shed new light’ on well-loved classics.
  2. The stock market: A mechanism driven by greed and fear for making rich people poorer. Much the same role as the National Lottery fulfills for the poor.
  3. Northerners: We likes to speak us minds, ideally in completely incomprehensible phrases like ‘Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs!’
  4. Best opera: Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. Though Handel’s Semele is sexier, and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly more likely to move you to tears.
  5. Public relations: Sweeping up the dung after the grand procession, using it to fertilize the roses and then arranging them artfully to create a ‘wow’ factor. But mainly sweeping up the dung.

Have you ever bluffed your way into an event you weren’t officially invited to?

My loathing of almost all social events means that my energies are chiefly devoted to bluffing my way out of them, by pleading unlikely prior engagements or implausible injuries or illnesses. I once explained to an irate client that I would be unable to attend a vital rehearsal of his make-or-break City presentation because I was having dinner with the Queen, a claim he clearly did not believe. I shall never forget his astonishment when someone told him the next day that he had met me the previous evening at … dinner with the Queen of Denmark. The fact that the company in question was ultimately owned by Danes gave the whole experience a considerable dash of added piquancy.

When would you advocate bluffing it?

Whenever you are completely out of your depth, as I am every day of my working life, it is surely better to bluff that you know roughly what you are talking about than to admit that you have not got a clue. ‘If in doubt, say nowt’ is a maxim that will get you a very long way indeed in the field of public relations, at least until a client starts questioning why he is paying you a fee to do nothing. At which point, tap your nose and assert that keeping people out of the newspapers is a far more rarefied and valuable skill than getting them onto their pages. This also has the incidental virtue of being absolutely true.

Have you ever bluffed your way into getting a date?

I have never obtained a date with anyone in my life other than by bluffing, or permitting others to bluff on my behalf. I recall an early disappointment when a very pretty girl called Cecilia refused to give me a kiss at a party (after she had snogged every other male present under the age of 70), telling her friend ‘When you said he had film star looks, I didn’t think you meant Orson Welles!’ Nearly 40 years on I had my first date with my current wife, whose initial sighting of me across a hotel bar apparently occasioned the thought, ‘Please God, don’t let it be him. He looks like someone’s Dad!’

What’s the best lie you ever told?

I try never to lie, which makes me most unusual in the world of PR, though I am perfectly happy to be economical with the truth. The most profitable non-lie I ever told was simply agreeing with a series of journalists who rang me one weekend to tell me that the bidder was claiming victory in a takeover bid I was supposedly contesting. I agreed that the bidder was probably right. In so doing, I relieved the pressure on shareholders who wanted the bid to succeed, but did not want to commit the disloyal act of voting against the incumbent management. Assuming they would get their money anyway, they sat on their hands and the bid failed. I collected a large success fee – and the company that got away has gone on to great success.

And, what is the best lie you never told?

‘I am an eccentric multi-millionaire with a large country estate, a luxury yacht, a string of racehorses, and an astonishingly moderate sexual appetite when one takes into account the amazingly large size of my penis.’ Actually, to be honest, I did try telling that lie many times in Newcastle, Cambridge and London, but I never got further than ‘eccentric’ before the woman I was addressing asked the nursing staff to let her out of the ward as there were limits to what any visitor should be expected to put up with.

Have you ever committed, or witnessed, a major bluffing fail?

Daily, as my wife pretends that she knows how to drive a car, my four-year-old son pretends that he knows the answer to every question under the sun, and I strive to convince a doubting world that I have the slightest clue what I am doing to enhance the reputation of my clients.

Follow Keith Hann on Twitter here

Watch Keith Hann in action on BBC1’s Life In The Freezer Cabinet below

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