"So, have you met Norman Foster?" is a question I have been asked many times over my years at the Gherkin. "I've met everyone else" I would say, or I'd tell people how he gave his personal approval for the design of 'The Gherkin Guide' (from Hong Kong) and permission for us to include his photo (from Milan) - but really, it all still boiled down to no, I hadn't met him. Until today.
It came about as I had asked Foster + Partners if Lord Foster would consider signing two prints of 'The Gherkin Guide' as prizes for the NSPCC 2014 Gherkin Challenge's top fundraisers. 'We will see if Lord Foster is willing' they reply. Then later, as it appears he is, they ask me to send the prints in. I ask to be present when he signs but they tell me, while that is a lovely idea, it is sadly not possible. I tell myself I don't mind, the prints for the charity are the main thing. (I do mind of course).
Then everything changes. Foster + Partners send an invite asking me if I would like to meet Lord Foster while he signs the prints. That will be a yes. So now I am at the Hester Road offices, I have been before and looked out for him but I found out later he wasn't even in the country that day. I am sitting with the prints at a table overlooking the river and I can see Lord Foster in a meeting at a large oval table to my right. Last night was the RIBA interview of 'The Brits Who Made the Modern World' - Foster, Rogers, Farrell, Hopkins and Grimshaw and I hear people nearby talking about it. I saw the enthralling BBC programmes and will catch the recording of the sold out interview show later. The speakers are not sure the interviewer made the most of her exalted guests, I'll have to see what I think this evening.
Foster walks over, it's me next. He's utterly charming, apologises for keeping me waiting and is interested in the finished copy of The Gherkin Guide which he has never seen - 'Can we get more of these?' he asks - I tell him Foster + Partners already has some, 'Good' he replies. (I am outwardly calm of course, but inwardly cheering.)
We chat some more, I tell him my friends live in one of the two Camden houses he designed in the 60s and he likes that, then we talk a little about the Gherkin and it's continual appeal and the stair climb for NSPCC, then the prints are signed (two for the fundraisers and one for me - yes, he says he happy to sign an extra one for me) then, taking his copy of The Gherkin Guide with him, he is gone. I roll up the prints, thank everyone and leave. I am going straight to Berwick Street to put them in the hands of Chris at Soho Frames, I arrive safely and hand them over - frames, mounts and non-reflective glass already been decided upon.
"So, have you met Norman Foster?" they ask and "Yes" I reply. "I have."