The morning I spent in a broom cupboard with Mick Jagger

It’s 1963, the Grand Hotel in Sheffield, and a scruffy young singer walks in on a 21-year-old telephone switchboard operator

When I think about it now, I suppose there are a lot of women who would pay good money to spend 10 minutes in a broom-cupboard with Mick Jagger. They probably wouldn’t have told him, like I did, that he looked in need of a bath. But I was younger back then. I was an impertinent little thing, I suppose.

I was 15 when I started working at the Grand Hotel in Sheffield. It was a five-star place and all the visiting celebrities stayed there: the Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Pelé, you name them.

I worked on the telephone switchboard connecting calls from the rooms to the outside world and so I’d end up speaking to a lot of these people down the wires. I remember singing 24 Hours from Tulsa to Gene Pitney while connecting him. And David Bowie: he wanted to send a telex message to a friend in Germany, and I had to write it down while he dictated. Well, I was mortified. It was about what he’d been up to on tour and didn’t spare any intimate details.

It was one morning in 1963 – I would have been 21 – when there was a knock at the office door. I say office, but it was really just a converted broom-cupboard. It was so cramped they’d put on a sliding door because there was no room for a normal one to swing open once the exchange desk was in.

I remember looking up and Mick Jagger was standing there. He wasn’t a megastar then. To me, he was just another boy in a band staying with us. My first thought, actually, was how scruffy he looked.

He asked if he could use the phone. I think he didn’t want to call from his room because he thought we might listen in – although he was only calling his dad! I got the impression he was homesick.

I was about to have a cup of tea and, when he hung up, I asked if he fancied one. He asked if there were biscuits. “Arrowroot,” I said, which were like Rich Tea. “Lovely,” he said and perched himself on the corner of the desk.

I’m often asked what we spoke about and I don’t really recall. How the tour was going I suppose. I was still having to put calls through to rooms so it was disjointed, but I do remember looking at his tattered clothes and long hair, and asking: “Do you ever take a bath?”

He said: “Of course I do,” sort of mock-shocked and posh. And I said: “You don’t look like you do.” I think he laughed and shook his head. I wasn’t flirting, I don’t think. He wasn’t my type. I was just cheeky.

We never said bye that day. I took another call and he sort of waved himself out. But I suppose my bath question didn’t offend him too much. He came in the same time the next day to make another call – and stayed for another brew and biscuit.

Carol Leader

The GuardianTramp

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