Each time I speak to journalism students or millennial up-and-coming writers, I’m always asked the same questions: Who has been your favorite celebrity to interview? And who has been your least favorite?
My favorite celebrity interview is easy: Mariah Carey. In February 2005, I interviewed her over the course of two days in her NYC triplex penthouse. (The one she made famous in an episode of MTV Cribs.) Stay tuned for that. Tupac is involved.
But my least favorite celebrity? That’s tough. Honestly, there are so many celebrities I’ve met that could qualify as the absolute worst.
But if I’m being honest, there is one person who tops all when it comes to the ranking of OMG-please-get-me-out-of-here interviews.
Sean “Puff Daddy-Puffy-P. Diddy-Diddy-” Combs takes the award for Most Exasperating Person I Have Ever Had To Interview Ever.
There are three (yes, THREE) times that this man has made me want to pull my hair out. (Or better yet, his.)
Part One: That time I damn near went into labor in his trailer. And then got chased by the paparazzi.
2007. Los Angeles, California. I was pregnant with my now 8 year-old. I kept my pregnancy very hush-hush. I was a full time freelancer for Vibe, The Source and XXL. Rap magazines don’t give assignments to wobbly pregnant women no matter how much time they’ve got in the game. So I made all kinds of excuses not to meet with any of my editors in person.
I got an assignment for GIANT magazine, a cover story on Sean “Puff Daddy-Puffy-Puff-P.Diddy-Diddy-Combs. (My generation calls him Puff.)
I sighed when I got the call. I still hadn’t forgiven him for…well. I’ll tell you that next week. Anyway, I hopped on the plane to LA. The plan was to interview him a few times over the course of a few days. LA was hotter than usual and I was grumpy and cranky and pregnant.
Day one came and went: no Puffy interview.
Day two came and went: no Puffy interview.
Day three came and went: no Puffy interview.
I called my editor and told him: I’m out. Flight’s tomorrow back to Jersey. Sorry this didn't work out.
My editor asked me to stay an extra two days. Puff would be ready. Did I mention I was grumpy, cranky and pregnant? But I agreed. The next morning, Puff’s people sent a car to my hotel to bring me to the set of the music video he was shooting. (I’m pretty sure it was a song with Christina Aguilera from his Press Play album.)
I got to the set early. I was scheduled to interview Puff at 11 am, during a break in shooting and then once more during his lunch break.
11am came and went. No Puff.
Lunchtime came and went. Still no Puff.
I’m getting more and more pissed by the minute. The only place to sit was far away from where the action was. And out-of-sight meant out-of-mind so I stood up to make sure his people could see me waiting. Did I mention I was very pregnant?
FOUR PM AND NO PUFF.
FIVE PM AND NO PUFF.
SIX PM AND NO PUFF.
I called for my car to return, grabbed my stuff and left. I got in the back seat when the car pulled up and put my head back to rest.
I texted my editor: I’m out. I waited for ten hours. No Puff.
My editor called and begged me to go back. He said he had just spoken to Puff and he swore up and down he was ready.
“No,” I said firmly. “That’s just straight up disrespectful to keep me waiting that long.” You need to find another writer to do this story. I’m going home.”
At a red light, the driver’s cell phone rang. He answered it.
“No not yet,” he said.
“About 15 minutes,” he said.
“Okay, I will,” he said.
Then, when the light turned green, he hit a sharp U-turn.
“Is there traffic ahead?” I asked.
“Then why are you turning around?”
“Mr. Combs has instructed me to bring you back.”
I sat up, tears springing to my eyes.
“NO,” I said. “Take me to my hotel!!”
The driver held up his phone.
“Ma’am, Mr. Combs said I have to—
“I don’t give a fuck WHAT he said. Take me to my hotel, now!”
No response. He sped back to the studio and pulled over to let me out.
“He’s waiting for you ma’am.”
I stayed in the car and called my editor. He asked me to please go back. I took a deep breath and wobbled back inside. Puff’s rep met me in the lobby and walked me out to Puffy’s trailer on the sound stage. She walked up the steps, knocked and then slowly opened the door. She asked someone if he was ready and then she stepped back and urged me to go inside.
Now, at this point in my career, I had perfected my First Few Seconds Of Meeting A Celebrity You Are About To Interview.
Here’s what you do.
1. You smile, not too big.
2. You look around at the entourage and give an apologetic sorry-to-interrupt wave to the room.
3. You keep your head down.
4. Sit where instructed.
5. Take out your stuff and get ready.
6. You don’t ask for anything or accept anything offered. Blend into the scenery and sit quietly until spoken to.
7. When the celebrity approaches, you stick out your hand and give a firm businesslike shake and you say Hey, I’m Aliya. Nice to meet you. Are you ready?
I didn’t do any of that shit when I walked in.
I pushed open the door and looked around the trailer.
“Is he ready?” I asked. Someone pointed to a back bedroom and said he would be out soon. I looked and saw Puff there, on the phone. I walked into the doorway and just stood there, glaring at him. Puff looked up and his eyes widened. He looked at my bulging belly and quickly got off the phone.
“Oh shit,” he said. “I ain’t know you was um—Shit. Sit down!”
He quickly pulled out a chair and eased me into it.
“So, you’ve been here since—
“Since 9 this morning,” I said, kicking off my shoes.
“I am so sorry,” Puff said.
An assistant brought in a tray of fresh fruit, Champagne and two flutes. He poured a glass and started to hand it to me.
“Oh. Wait. So no Champagne, right?” he asked.
I just looked at him.
“Right, right!” he said, moving the drinks and leaving the fruit.
I turned on my recorder, got out my questions and started the interview.
20 minutes later, the music video director sent someone to pick him up.
“Don’t move,” Puff said. “I’ll be back.”
90 minutes later, the video was wrapping up and Puff returned.
“Come with me,” he said. “We can finish up the interview at my spot.”
We went outside and his personal driver jumped out and held open the backdoor of Puff’s Bentley and we climbed inside. I noticed he had customized plates that said Puff (or was it Diddy? Or Puffy? Or P. Diddy? I don’t remember. )
“You aiight?” he asked.
We pulled up to the Chateau Marmont and walked back to his private bungalow. I got comfortable in the kitchen and we finished the interview. By the time we were done, it was 2 in the morning. (He made me listen to the entire album.) I was utterly exhausted.
As I started packing up, I picked up my phone to get a car service to pick me up.
“I got you,” said Puff. “My driver is gonna take you back to your hotel.”
I went outside, got in the backseat of the Bentley and promptly fell asleep. I woke up when I felt my body sliding across the seat and I bumped into the car door.
“What’s happening!?” I asked the driver.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “Paparazzi behind me. They drive crazy on purpose.”
“Why are they following us?! There’s no one in here!”
“They don't know that,” said the driver. “Usually Mr. Combs is in the car.”
I remembered the personalized plates and shook my head. Who does that? The driver continued speeding. There were cars on either side of us, trying to keep up.
This is some fucking bullshit.
I dropped my head into my lap and grabbed the just-in-case-I-vomit plastic bag I took everywhere and tried not to throw up. I stayed still until I could feel the car slowing down. I looked up and we were on a residential street near my hotel.
“Are they gone?” I asked.
“Thank God,” I whispered as I started to gather my stuff.
“Well, ma’am. They stopped following us so they can be at the hotel entrance when you get out.”
I didn’t even have time to try and figure out what the hell he was talking about. I could hear loud voices yelling out Diddy! Over here!
I pushed open the curtain on the window of the Bentley and there was a face right in front of me, pushing against the car door.
“I can’t get out!” I said to the driver.
The driver got out of the car and I heard him yelling at the photographers huddled near the car door.
“Mr. Combs is not here!” he shouted. “This is not Mr. Combs.”
The driver opened my door and I could see camera lenses and flashing bulbs. There was also a small crowd gathered outside the hotel, waiting to see who would get out of the car.
I got out, belly first. My hair was all over the place. I was barefoot because my feet had swollen up after standing all day and they wouldn’t fit back in my shoes. So I carried them in my hand. I was holding my plastic just-in-case-I-throw-up bag in one hand and my laptop bag in the other. My hair was everywhere from my brief nap in the backseat and my eyes had raccoon-style mascara smudges.
Finally, I was standing upright and facing the photographers.
And all of the action stopped. The photographers put their cameras down and looked me up and down.
“Who are you?” one of the photographers asked.
“I’m nobody,” I said.
The photographers grumbled and started walking away. I heard one whisper fuck to himself. A few of them gave me disgusted looks. Two or three got up in my face and took a few shots, just in case I was lying I guess.
I climbed the steps of the hotel lobby, walking through a small crowd of people who were also very disappointed that instead of seeing Sean “Puffy-Diddy-P.Diddy” Combs, all they got was a bedraggled, exhausted, pregnant woman who looked a hot ass mess.