Arts & Culture

OPINION: The day I met Harvey Weinstein…and regretted it

“Seeing this steady stream of alleged putridity emanating from Weinstein’s past comes as no surprise to me at all.”

Silence, they say, is the most powerful noise in cinema. We know now that there has been an awful lot of silence behind the cameras when it comes to Harvey Weinstein.

Today, he’s been ditched by his wife, Georgina Chapman, following allegations of sexual harassment from a string of actresses.

Some actors are still buttoning their lips in spite of a steady stream of alleged turgid details oozing out of Hollywood’s backside.

Nonetheless, stars including Rosanna Arquette, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie have come forward with their own deeply concerning accounts of meetings with Mr Weinstein.

Meanwhile, Matt Damon has denied claims he assisted in an alleged cover-up for Weinstein and George Clooney has called the alleged ‘misdemeanors’ “indefensible”.

Now I cannot claim to have had my privates touched by Weinstein, nor can I say I was taken for one of his alleged ‘private tours’ of the office and his underpants.

But I did meet Harvey Weinstein during my time as producer of the BBC Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman. I won’t offer Claudia’s private reflections on the man but I found him repulsive and I didn’t need to hear these horrible sexual assault stories to know it.

Aside from the fact he presents himself like something you’d find in a forgotten bin at the back of a kebab shop, his personality on that day at least was thoroughly foul.

As I’m sure you know, radio studios are split into two by a pane of sound-proof glass and on this particular day, I was busily munching the home-made cookies Claudia had baked us all for that day’s show when the runner told me Harvey had arrived. She was quite a-flutter, after all this was a movie giant in the room and who wouldn’t be thrilled? Daniel Radcliffe had caused similar excitement the previous week and was – to coin the luvvy term – an absolute darling. But Harvey Weinstein isn’t Daniel Radcliffe.

In came Weinstein as we were finishing off a previous interview with a famous author who was speaking beautifully about their latest novel. Their soft voice could be heard through the speakers on our side of the glass as Claudia did her gloriously hyperbolic thing with encouraging ‘brilliants’ and ‘amazings’. She was gripped. We all were. Almost all.

Harvey slumped behind me as though someone had accidentally dolloped him onto the chair from a spoon.

Looking back to that image I cannot imagine the repulsion those young actresses might have felt when he allegedly made his advances.

It’s standard in radio shows, to make small-talk with upcoming guests about what you’re listening to. I turned to Harvey and enthused about the author’s way with words. His agent nodded encouragingly and looked over to Weinstein.

Weinstein was engrossed in his phone, peering over the fat in his neck. I repeated what I had said, more chipper and insistent than before. It’s helpful for a producer to share a few words with a guest, to ascertain their mood and make sure they’re cogent and alive. It’s also pleasant. Again, Weinstein did not react.

This was a very busy guy of course, but I’ve interviewed and produced huge Hollywood stars, Prime Ministers and ‘everyday’ people who are all rather stressed and they always managed to be polite.

I decided to ask him something else in the hope he might respond and all would be well.

No. Instead, he raised his eyes to me as though they were made of lead and gave me a disdainful grimace and batting away gesture. His mouth made a kind of dismissive fart noise and he went back to his phone. I had been shooed away like an urban fox by a human bin.

The desk engineer and I exchanged looks and smiled as Claudia finished her interview.

Harvey went in and gave us a very standard interview. Claudia’s movie-knowledge and sheer energy grabbed his personality and pulled it out of his throat from his stomach. He also knew how to turn on a little charm in front of the mic, though there wasn’t much of it.

And then he left, still staring at his phone, not taking any time to thank the programme for helping him to promote his latest flick or to offer the star-struck runner a friendly word of thanks for his admittedly foul cup of coffee.

It’s tempting to give him the benefit of the doubt and I shan’t pretend I thought any more than ‘what an arsehole’ before getting back to my job.

But Joanna Lumley was always extremely warm and engaging. As was the late, fabulous George Michael. Lady Gaga was eccentric but sweet and grateful for her turgid coffee. Gordon Brown and David Cameron were distracted but respectful.

Harvey Weinstein fits into a very small file I keep in my head of famous people who put the noxious into obnoxious. The others I may have to keep to myself.

Seeing this steady stream of alleged putridity emanating from Weinstein’s past comes as no surprise to me at all. The women speaking out are showing great bravery. Having met the man I feel huge sympathy for anyone who had to work with him at all, let alone (apparently) feel his body pressed into theirs.

He is now, we are told, ‘pursuing a better path’ and has ‘begun counselling’. Good luck with that.

Weinstein’s spokeswoman Sallie Hofmeister issued a statement in response to the allegations.

“Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr Weinstein,” she said. “Mr Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.

“Mr Weinstein obviously can’t speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual. Mr Weinstein has begun counselling, has listened to the community and is pursuing a better path.”

 

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