December 16 2012
The dress and demeanour of Mark Portland (Savile Row/stiff upper lip) gave no clue that in a former life the CEO of Howdenbeath Asset Management had been an enthusiastic air guitarist – a skill that, while it had never been listed in his Who’s Who entry, he had once been immensely proud of. As a schoolboy, many hours had been spent in front of his mirror aping the solo at the end of “We Will Rock You” by Queen’s lead guitarist Brian May.
In those days, his mastery of the phantom instrument – legs akimbo, one hand at his crotch, the other gripping illusory frets – had been his teenage mating call. During his A-levels, gap year and early days at university, whenever plectrum met guitar string, he would adopt this stance on the dance floor expecting, like a male peacock unfurling his feathers, females to flock to him. They didn’t. And this early failure with the fair sex finally led him to hang up his bloodless axe – a decision helped along by his future wife, Rachel, who tearfully complained that the liberal consumption of champagne did not excuse his having pretended to be a rock god at her friend Lucy Romney-Hallet’s society wedding.
Mark subsequently channelled his energies into forging a career in finance. Cavorting to the beat, with or without an air guitar, was, he concluded, as passé as The Smiths and the Bacon Sizzler Pot Noodle. At parties and dances he was careful to stand some distance from the spinning disco ball. There were, of course, exceptions. During his daughter Alicia’s Mexican-themed 11th birthday party, when the mescal toasts clashed with the dinner’s “big oak” Californian Chardonnay, Mark was reluctantly pulled to his feet by a large woman with a red rose between her teeth.
As she began to salsa with all the subtlety of a Mexican jumping bean, Mark attempted his oscillations. He started moving gently from side to side with irregular clapping of the hands, before imagining he was a hitchhiker. After briefly pointing at the ceiling (a move he’d learnt from Saturday Night Fever), he wiggled up to his chubby partner and did what can only be described as a pretend grab and thrust. That was when he lost his balance, grasped at a nearby table, caught hold of the tablecloth and catapulted guacamole across the dance floor.
The incident confirmed his decision to stay away from the boards (and the mescal). Although, on his 40th birthday he could not resist pulling off his Gucci loafers when the opening bars of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” boomed out from the speakers, in order to recreate John Travolta’s routine from the film Pulp Fiction. Twisting each foot as if he were stubbing out a cigarette, while moving his arms as though walking with ski poles, the dance came to a painful, premature end when he picked up a giant splinter in his big toe.
It was at a combined birthday party for Mark’s 50th and Alicia’s 21st when the Howdenbeath CEO stepped onto a dance floor for the very last time. He later put it down to a midlife crisis; Rachel, who was now living with a Newmarket trainer, bluntly attributed it to his having never grown up in the first place – but either way, his daughter’s coming of age proved Mark’s coming of age, too.
He had been flirting with one of Alicia’s university friends, who had persuaded him to try the current cool drink – a shot of 35 per cent Jägermeister dropped into a pint of Red Bull. Several explosive “Jägerbombs” later, Mark demanded some sounds from the 1970s, in particular something by Queen. It was unfortunate that the DJ chose to spin “We Will Rock You”. During the first half of the song Mark, and, it has to be said, some of his contemporaries, managed a passable imitation of David Brent’s infamous dance from The Office.
But then came that guitar solo and Mark, his head swimming with liquor and caffeine, went into Brian-May overload. That was when his back went, leaving him frozen in full air-guitar stance. “What happened?” asked the paramedic, as he loaded Mark onto a stretcher. “Dad-dancing,” said Alicia, with a smirk.