WRIT LARGE: Ch 5, Part 1
The Sun Tzu of Luxury
Previously: In Chapter 4, Lucas meets Leann at the Raffles Hotel for a lunch appointment, and she arrives with a guest, billionaire Bernard Arnault. She says, immediately, that Bernard would like Lucas to write his biography. As Lucas gets to know the billionaire, he begins to see under his shell, learning his greatest fear and his most reckless exploits. Lucas goes swimming with the grandchildren, then Bernard takes him and the group to his Louis Vuitton Store at Marina Bay Sands Resort. The grandchildren ask Lucas to join them on their visit to Sentosa and Universal Studios, and he is convinced to stay in Singapore another day on the condition that they get Bernard onto a rollercoaster.
In this chapter, Lucas, Bernard and the boys arrive at Universal Studios in Sentosa and Lucas is introduced to Olivia, Bernard’s British PA. Instead of getting to know Bernard better, Lucas ends up riding the rides with his grandchildren and Olivia, so resorts to learning more about the man second-hand.
There are no queues outside the Universal Studios theme park in Sentosa when I arrive ahead of Bernard Arnault. I allow the spray from the fountains surrounding the giant globe to cool my arms and face; the day’s heat has diminished little with the sinking sun and I am grateful for the lateness of our visit.
When Bernard climbs from the chauffeur-driven car with his two grandsons, a cast of characters appear from nowhere to greet them: minions from the Despicable Me franchise, animals from the Madagascar movies, Shrek, and even a Transformer. I am enjoying watching the two boys as they shake hands with, and hug the characters, and fail to notice the young woman wearing the tailored navy and white suit dress until she is standing beside me and offering her hand to shake.
“Olivia Sheffield,” she smiles. “I’m Bernard’s PA. You must be Lucas.”
I shake her hand and inform her that she is correct and that her accent is very … British.
She laughs, an easy sound that I would have associated more with a travel representative about to offer a guided tour of the park, than with Monsieur Arnault’s PA. It is light, conspiratorial almost. “I’m from Surrey,” she says. “Initially anyway. I spent some time in London working in Canary Wharf before I joined Bernard’s team last year.” I ask her how she finds her role. “It can be challenging,” she says, “and it keeps me busy, long hours, no lunch breaks, but I am enjoying it very much.”
My first impression is that Olivia probably enjoys talking as much as she enjoys working, and I am about to ask how she spends her leisure time when the boys run over to join us, accompanied by Bernard.
“Cool T-shirt,” says the eldest.
I am wearing my Guardians of the Galaxy T-shirt with the image of Groot on the front. His brother points out that I’m also wearing the sunglasses from their grandfather’s Louis Vuitton store at Marina Bay Sands. I wave my disposable camera at them and confirm that I intend to finish the film tonight and will be disappointed if they ride any attractions without me.
Bernard gestures to the overnight bag at my feet. My hotel booking was for one night only, and Bernard has generously confirmed that I may take a room at The Barracks Hotel – a two-minute ride from the park – where he has the entire east wing at his disposal. “Olivia,” he says, “Lucas’s bag can be left in the car.”
While she is depositing my luggage with the chauffeur for safekeeping, he says, “Olivia will run through the timeline for the biography with you.”
I had hoped to spend the informal occasion getting to know him a little better, but he informs me that he has other business to attend to with guests arriving shortly.
“Please,” he says, “stay as long as you like at The Barracks. Our booking is until the end of the week. And boys,” he addresses his grandsons, “no teasing Olivia tonight.”
The boys study their gleaming trainers and I ask Bernard to elaborate.
“Olivia is a wonderful PA,” he says, “but she tends to be somewhat … awkward at times, and I am afraid the boys tend to take advantage of her.”
Olivia appears beside Bernard, eager-eyed and with an iPad in her hand. “Shall we?” she says. Bernard gestures for us to proceed without him as a Mercedes pulls up, and Olivia and I enter the park with the boys. I stop to purchase a map which I am told I do not need to pay for, and the children pore over it eagerly. There are no queues for the rides either. The park is illuminated with fairy lights and the Far, Far Away Castle glows magically pink in the distance. The attractions are all running with the visitors evenly spaced, which, when I look around, I realise is reflected in the people meandering along the avenues connecting the various areas: families with two children, a boy and a girl, couples strolling arm-in-arm, groups of teenagers with backpacks and wireless earbuds; all just a little too perfect.
Olivia must have followed my gaze. “Extras,” she says. “Bernard has exclusive use of the park tonight, but he wanted it to be an authentic experience for the children.”
The boys are oblivious. The youngest lad’s cheeks are pink with excitement and his T-shirt has already come untucked. I ask them where they would like to go first, and Olivia steps in, scrolling through her iPad.
“I have an itinerary.” I wink at the older boy as we await our instructions. “I’ve done some research,” she says staring at the screen, “blogs, vlogs, you know, and the best advice is to start gently and work our way up to fast.” She raises her eyes then, realisation dawning on her, and her face grows hot and pink.
“I mean … the rides …”
I interrupt and tell her that I know exactly what she means. The boys have already chosen the Shrek 4-D Adventure and are heading towards the castle.
“I don’t …” says Olivia, “oh wait … Shrek … yes that will be okay.” She falls into step beside me despite her high heels and the iPad held in front of her. “I’ve arranged for food to be served at 8pm followed by the firework display at 8.30.” She nods to no one in particular.
Outside the castle, she ushers the boys towards the entrance and turns to me.
“We can discuss the timeline for Bernard’s biography, while the boys are inside.” Their expressions fade and instantly brighten when I suggest that if she wishes to discuss timelines, she must be prepared to enjoy the Shrek experience. She glances up at the towering castle and back to me as if gauging whether I am serious or not, before putting her head down and joining us.
We are handed 3-D spectacles as we enter. While we pass through various rooms with screens showing movie clips, Olivia says in a low voice, “I’ve prepared a spreadsheet.”
I don’t glance at the iPad aimed my way.
“I’ve done some research and I think the biography should be adapted into a Netflix biopic. Have you seen Halston?”
I shake my head.
“Ewan McGregor. He’s fantastic. I really think Bernard’s story would transfer to the screen in the same way.”
We are ushered through to the auditorium then where we don our plastic spectacles, and the show begins. I’m grateful for the distraction provided by the audience interaction and 4D effects. Neither Bernard nor Leann had mentioned that the biography was potentially to be adapted for the screen, and I wonder if accepting the project was the right thing for me to do.
Outside, Olivia tries to resume the conversation in the same vein. I politely interrupt and ask her where on the timeline she thinks the biography should start.
“At the start,” she says, confused. “With Bernard’s early years.”
I suggest that the start is rarely where a biography begins and that I was tempted to open with the ‘ugly monkey’. She blinks furiously and scrolls back and forth through the timeline on her iPad.
“I – I don’t seem to have the ugly monkey on here. I shall have to clarify this with Bernard; we will need his confirmation for it to be used, of course.”
I tell her there is no need, that Bernard and I have already discussed this during our initial meeting at the Raffles Hotel. She seems taken aback but quickly recovers.
“I’ll add it to the timeline immediately,” she says, “before I forget.”
Relenting, I admit that given the choice I will not be writing the book in chronological order and ask her to choose something from the timeline that sums up her boss’s character, a topic that would hook the reader and reel them in.
“How about this?” she says, glancing up from the screen. “Inspiration to set up a unique French fashion brand struck Bernard during a cab ride in New York. He asked the driver if he knew the name of the French president, and the driver replied, ‘No, but I know Christian Dior.’”
I tell her that’s exactly the kind of information I’m looking for, an insight into the man behind the businessman persona, and she smiles as if relieved to have made a useful suggestion.
“I can picture the scene in a Netflix Original,” she says. “A yellow cab, a busy street, smoke curling from the sidewalk.”
The youngest boy chooses that moment to point out the rollercoaster: Battlestar Galactica, a duelling attraction on an epic scale. She tips her head back, open-mouthed. I tell her that we need her help convincing Bernard to ride it with me, purely as research for the book. She checks her iPad and types the word, ‘Rollercoaster’ with a question mark.
“I don’t know …” she begins.
We watch Bernard entering the park with a group of people, all dressed casually as is the man himself, yet still appearing to have sailed in on a private yacht.
The boys are too impatient to wait because the Lost World beckons. “This isn’t next on the itinerary,” says Olivia, her heels tip-tapping behind us.
I suggest this might be the kind of occasion when an itinerary can be waived and childish enthusiasm allowed to reign, and she blinks at me uncertainly, but follows us anyway.
I love the quirky character of Olivia. I felt her character development is perfect even down to her dialogue and movement. The last note about her made me chuckle: "This isn't next on the itinerary"...as "her heels tip-tapping behind us." I can visualize her mini-panic attack as heaven forbid they go away from her schedule.
I love the way the story is unfolding. It's so pacy and engaging, and I really enjoy receiving a manageable chunk of novel to read each day. High recommend others sign up to your newsletter if they haven't already. Suspect this book could be a blockbuster from what I've read so far. Also has film/TV potential - is so easy to picture the scenes. Love the summary too. Thanks so much for sharing for free.