Charlie Prendergast was a junior sales negotiator with lofty ambitions. Though he’d only been with Dalrymple & Hickerbottom in Chelsea for a year, his drive was a good deal bigger than his convertible Smart car adorned with the D&H logo. But in the meantime, at least he was guaranteed to find a space outside Zuma at lunchtime.
When his boss Dickie Dalrymple came in early one morning and asked Charlie to join him for a pow-wow in his office, Charlie imagined it could only mean one of two things – the buyers of The Little Boltons townhouse had discovered the taps were, in fact, gold plate, or he was in for a pay rise. What Charlie hadn’t expected was for Dickie to ask him to become the poster boy for D&H’s next marketing campaign.
Charlie was well aware that “humanising” the estate agent was all the rage in rival offices, but he never dreamt it could be his face plastered on billboards around town, emblazoned across the pages of property magazines and dropping onto doormats the length and breadth of the Royal Borough. And in less time than it took to gazump a four-bedroom house in a Free School catchment area, Charlie had willingly acceded to Dickie’s plan.
Before long Charlie was a local celebrity. His rosy-cheeked face swung in the breeze on the pavement sign outside the offices, inviting passing trade to “Come in and meet Charlie”. Each morning the pretty barista in Megan’s gave him a free Americano and he’d stride into the office, his phone humming with texts from old university friends who’d just seen his “ugly mug” on the wall at their local Tube station.
Within a month, footfall at D&H had increased threefold, particularly once the campaign video was picked up by Mashable. It featured approachable and trustworthy Charlie playing Saturday football, meeting friends at the cinema and roughhousing with his young nephews to the soundtrack of M People’s Moving On Up. Charlie revelled in his hero status, swaggering around in dark glasses and blagging a string of dates with an out-of-his-league honey who thought he was on Made in Chelsea.
But just as Charlie’s Christmas bonus looked like a week in Turks and Caicos, his fortunes took a dip. Having shown an Eaton Square townhouse, he returned to the office to find the reception area overrun with women d’un certain âge. They’d spotted his adorable face in The Resident and wanted him to help invest their divorce settlements in something bijou close to Harrods. As they sipped complimentary Badoit and soothed their sniping Cavapoos, they refused to deal with anyone but Charlie, whose iCal was suddenly as busy as Prince Harry’s.
Charlie relished the new business but found the “extras” hard work – the after-dark appointments in riverside penthouses; the lingering hands on his bottom during over-crowded open houses; the rafts of kissy-face emojis that littered routine emails; the house valuations for properties that would never go on the market. And then there was the growing tide of bilious resentment from his colleagues who hadn’t made a sale in months.
Matters came to a head one Saturday morning when Charlie finished a viewing to find two burly gentlemen in black suits leaning against his Smart car. With a well-trained fist, one delivered a deft blow to Charlie’s button nose and followed it up with a right hook to his left baby-blue eye. Left spluttering and bloody on the pavement, Charlie couldn’t even recall what Anastasia, their boss’s wife, looked like. He certainly wasn’t aware that he was the love of her life and about to be cited in her divorce.
Dickie Dalrymple took one look at Charlie’s unsightly face and rapidly agreed to relocate him to the Knightsbridge office with a promotion and an upgrade to the company BMW for his pains – and discretion. It was Christmas in Turks and Caicos after all, thought Charlie, thumbing through his BlackBerry. But why waste a double room?
“Anastasia? Charlie at Dalrymple & Hickerbottom. Long time no speak. Listen, we’ve got a marvellous one-bedroom duplex overlooking the park. Perhaps I can show you the particulars over lunch?”