I’ve found myself in a few sticky situations over the years. (See, for example, my ridiculous Tinder date or The Russian Penthouse…) But the Sydney Hilton incident comes near the top of the list. Some people have found this story uncomfortable. I choose to treat it as a funny story, and I promise it’s not because I’m traumatised.
A New Friend
I was nineteen, naïve and spending some time in Sydney on my gap year. A family friend called Tess was hosting me in a studio apartment in Potts Point. This little flat was so well-located that the most convenient free Wi-Fi spot was the waterfront bar beneath the Sydney Opera House.
One Tuesday evening in July, I strolled to the Opera Bar, where I was due to have a Skype call with my girlfriend at 7pm. She was in Italy, so I had to wait for her to wake up before I could call her. I sat on one of the concrete seats overlooking the harbour, catching up on my travel journal. When this was done I still had an hour to kill, so I sat there skimming the internet and waiting for the time to pass.
So I was pleased when a man sitting near me struck up a conversation. “Tell me,” he said in a thick Scottish accent, “what is there for a visitor to do on a Tuesday evening in Sydney?”
His name was Andrew. He was Glaswegian, probably in his mid-thirties, and he looked like Aidan Gillen. In fact, I can’t picture Andrew anymore – when I try, I just see Aidan Gillen’s face instead.
Andrew was on a business trip to Sydney, just for two nights. He said he was excited to be here and wanted to make the most of it. I asked what his job was, and he explained that he was a choreographer who had recently been hired in a management role by Simon Cowell. Apparently Simon Cowell had sent Andrew out here to discuss the possibility of a new talent show in Australia.
I was enjoying our chat, and I liked Andrew’s idea of doing something fun with the evening – after all, I was a tourist too. It was now seven o’clock, so I excused myself to call my girlfriend. But I kept the call fairly short because I felt bad for Andrew, who was fiddling about on his phone and looking bored.
When I finished the call and returned to Andrew, he looked up from his phone with a big grin on his face. The first thing he said was, “I’ve just been texting Simon Cowell.”
I said something along the lines of, “Oh really? What about?”
“I said to him, ‘I’ve got here safely, and my new friend Ollie and I are wondering if you have any tips for fun things to do in Sydney on a Tuesday evening.’ And he’s replied to say ‘You should both definitely go to the Korean Baths in Kings Cross, they’re fantastic.’ Simon knows Sydney pretty well, so I trust his recommendation. How do you feel about the Korean Baths?”
I knew nothing whatsoever about Korean Baths. “Why not!” I said.
We wolfed down some food at the Opera Bar and headed for the Baths. But this part of the evening did not go according to plan. We ended up on a wild goose chase because the baths had just moved premises, and after a complicated hour of backtracking and searching the streets, we got to the Baths five minutes after last entry. Andrew and I were both quite disappointed to miss out on Simon Cowell’s Korean Bath experience.
“Look,” said Andrew. “The evening doesn’t have to be a write-off. It’s five past nine, I’ve got a bottle of wine, so why don’t we just go back to my hotel room and drink it?”
I didn’t want the night to end in failure, so I agreed with his plan. “I can’t stay too late, though,” I said. “My roommate has to get up early tomorrow, so I’ll have to leave early.”
The Hilton Hotel
Andrew took me back to the Hilton Hotel, and he used his card to activate the lift and whizz us to the forty-first floor. Now, I’m not actually a complete idiot. I texted my roommate Tess to say that I was going into Room 4105 of the Hilton Hotel, and I’d be back in a couple of hours.
It was a very swish hotel room, with a huge double bed and a spectacular view across the harbour. We kicked off our shoes and lounged on the comfy armchairs, and Andrew poured us both some wine. We chatted about this and that, and then Andrew started asking odd questions. “So, Ollie, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done? What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?”
For the first time, alarm bells began to ring.
I came up with some answer or other. “Er, what about you?” I said.
“Well,” said Andrew, “one time, I was in a club and I got talking to this really attractive woman and her boyfriend. And this woman, I can’t even describe her to you, she was just so stunning. And I’m there, chatting away to the two of them, and then the girlfriend slips off to go to the loo. And the boyfriend says to me, ‘I think she really fancies you.’ And I didn’t know how to reply to that! But seriously, Ollie, this girl was so, so gorgeous… And the boyfriend says, ‘It’s okay, I’ll let you sleep with her, on one condition.’ And I say, ‘What’s the condition?’ And he said ‘That I can be involved too.’ And like I say, this girl was ridiculously beautiful… So in the end I said yes and went back with them and all three of us were making out with each other and it was great.”
“Oh,” I said. “Um, like I said, my flatmate needs to get up really really early in the morning, and we’re sharing a room, so I should definitely go in a minute…”
The atmosphere had changed, but the conversation struggled on. Somehow – I cannot for the life of me remember how – Andrew managed to slip into the conversation that he’d recently been on a massage course. “The secret to a good massage is pressure points,” he said. “Let me show you – give me your hand.”
It felt too awkward to refuse, so I let Andrew take my hand, and he started demonstrating the hand-massage techniques that he had learned. I sat there rigidly, assessing the situation.
Tess knew where I was. If the worst came to the worst, this was an important safety net. Andrew was very unlikely to murder me if he knew Tess had his hotel room number.
Beyond this, though, my options were limited. I had put down my travel journal, with seven months’ worth of memories in it; and, in a different corner of the room, were my shoes. I calculated that if I made a run for it, I could grab either the journal or the shoes but not both. And Andrew had used his key-card to operate the lift – it was possible that I needed the key-card to get out of the building again. There were probably stairs, but running down forty-one flights seemed like a bad option. And anyway, I was too awkward and polite to demand that Andrew let me leave. I didn’t want a confrontation.
Andrew was still rubbing my hand. “Now I’ll give you a proper back massage,” he said. “Take your shirt off.”
“That’s okay,” I said, withdrawing my hand from his. “No thanks.”
“Go on, it’ll be fine,” said Andrew,
“No,” I said, “I’m sorry, I’d rather not.”
“It’s okay. Take off your top.”
And somehow, he said it with such confidence and certainty, with no room for refusal, that I took my shirt off and lay face-down on the double bed. There was no way of arguing with his calm insistence, so my willpower crumbled and, as though in a dream, I did as he told me.
Andrew squirted some oil onto his hands and lathered them up while I lay on the bed, staring out at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As Andrew began to massage my shoulder blades, my first thought was, This isn’t a dream, this is a real situation and I need a real escape plan. My second thought was, My friends are going to laugh so hard when they hear about this.
I have no idea whether it was a good massage. I was not in a position to enjoy it. The whole time, I was just desperate for Andrew to stop pressing his warm hands into my skin.
“Take your trousers off,” said Andrew at a certain point.
“Can I keep them on?” I managed to ask.
“No, take them off,” said Andrew.
I was in a daze. A treacherous voice in my head said, Oh well – in for a penny, in for a pound. I unbuckled my belt and let him pull my trousers off.
I lay there in nothing but my boxers. My mind was blank, and my only thought was Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God…
“Now roll over onto your back,” said Andrew. But by now I’d had some time to gather my willpower, and this time I firmly refused. I sat up, pulling on my shirt and my trousers as fast as humanly possible, ignoring the way the massage oil clung to the clothes.
“Thank you for the massage,” I said, into the excruciating awkwardness. “Now I really should be going in a minute…”
Andrew slowly leaned over to me and tried to kiss me.
I dodged the kiss. Andrew leaned closer, and I kept dodging.
“Why not?” he breathed.
“Because I’m straight, and because I have a girlfriend,” I said. Two convincing arguments, I thought. Andrew wasn’t so sure.
“How can you know you’re straight if you’ve never tried it?” he protested. “And who cares about the girlfriend – she’ll never find out. And she’s probably cheating on you right now, anyway.”
He argued both of these points at great length, and I sat there unhappily shaking my head, until at last he had to accept that I wasn’t going to change my mind. So he let me pull my shoes on, and we had an awkward bro-hug in the doorway, and he let me go.
In the lift, I realised that my heart was hammering. I pulled out my phone. There was a notification on the screen: “Message sending failed.” My text to Tess hadn’t gone through. I hadn’t had a safety net in Andrew’s hotel room after all.
The Final Mystery
For the next two days, I gave a wide berth to the Opera Bar and the Hilton Hotel. But something was nagging at me. There were two ways of explaining what had happened to me that evening. The first was that a predatory man had made up some story about Simon Cowell in an attempt to impress me and had lured me back to his hotel room. The other was that a nice bisexual bloke called Andrew had taken a shine to me and we’d both misread the situation. As a friend of mine said a long time later, “You were so cruel to him, Ollie – you really led him on! He had you lying on his bed in your boxers as he rubbed massage oil into your back – he must have been so sure you were up for it!” (Incidentally, this was the same friend with whom I overheard The Badger Story.)
I wanted to see if Andrew’s story checked out. He had said that he was staying for two nights and was flying back to the UK on Thursday. I waited until Friday, and then I ventured back to the Hilton Hotel. “Excuse me,” I said to a receptionist in the lobby, “I was meant to deliver a message yesterday morning to Andrew in Room 4105, but I forgot. Am I too late? I think he was staying here between Tuesday and Thursday.”
The receptionist typed something into his computer and looked up at me. “The room was booked in that time period, but not for anybody called Andrew.”
So it had been a fake name. “Oh, okay,” I said. “What name was it booked under?”
“We can’t tell you that, I’m afraid,” said the receptionist.
“Fair enough,” I said. “Thanks anyway.”
“But…” the receptionist looked at me. “The room was booked under the name of a woman.”
I stared at him.
The receptionist saw the shock on my face, and said simultaneously the most and the least helpful thing he could have said. “She could have had a partner with her?”
Could she? Was it possible? Had Andrew’s wife or girlfriend been somewhere out in Sydney, about to walk in on us at any moment? It had been a very big bed…
For a second time, I left the hotel in a daze. The trail had gone cold. I may never understand the deal with Andrew and his hotel room. Possibly it had been booked by a PA, but that wasn’t how the receptionist made it sound. There is only one way that I will ever be able to shed some light on the mystery of Andrew. Only one person can confirm or deny Andrew’s story.
So if anyone has a way of contacting Simon Cowell, please could they let me know…?
For more misadventures abroad, read about my accident-prone travels in South America!