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Chauffeur to the stars Phil Luderman on his life driving A-listers such as Brad Pitt, Elton John, Wayne Rooney and The Drifters


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Brad Pitt, Wayne Rooney, Abbey Clancy, Alesha Dixon, Jools Holland – just a few of a long string of names granddad Phil Luderman has transported in the back seat of his car.

He's mingled with royalty at Buckingham Palace, been on first name terms with a former US president at the White House and a guest of Sir Elton John at a book launch at his beloved Watford FC.

Phil with Sir Cliff Richard decades after their first chance encounter
Phil with Sir Cliff Richard decades after their first chance encounter

And who put him on the road to celebrity success? None other than Sir Cliff Richard.

You could be forgiven for thinking the Rochester pensioner was a bit of a name-dropper.

But his remarkable roller-coaster journey started as a roadie for up-and-coming bands, rising to be a tour manager for some of the biggest names in the Motown soul era.

From there it was into chauffeuring Premier League football stars and ferrying actors and producers to and from film set locations.

As a teenager growing up in south east London in the 1960s, Phil was inspired by Buddy Holly and dreamt of getting a job in the music industry.

Phil and his treasured Mini
Phil and his treasured Mini

But with no sense of rhythm, unable to play a single instrument and having two left feet, he knew he faced a few hurdles.

So after leaving school he settled for a series of mundane jobs, including selling Hoovers, being a motorbike courier and working in a flour mill.

Then one day he was sent to Cecil Gee – an upmarket men's outfitters in London's West End to be a lift boy.

As he gazed out of the window he noticed an American convertible cruising along followed by a gaggle of screaming girls.

The occupant then got out and took refuge in the top tailors.

On tour with Lee Dorsey
On tour with Lee Dorsey

Phil said: "It was Cliff Richard who was really big at that time.

"I was under strict instruction not to talk to the customers. But when he got in the lift I thought, what have I got to lose?

"I just blurted out 'I'd like to get into the entertainment business'.

"He was very kind and gave me the name of his agent."

Phil was referred to another agency which gave him a job as a roadie – his first job taking a band to Manchester for a gig the following Friday.

At home with his jukebox
At home with his jukebox

The 77-year-old said: "I'd never left London and had no idea where I was going and didn't have a clue how to put up a drum kit or anything about lights and stage."

Growing up in the "epicentre of the Mod scene", American music was gradually making a bigger impression on the British record-buying public.

But few musicians ventured across the Atlantic to perform. With the pop chart TV programme Ready, Steady, Go as a platform, his agency lured legends like Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and The Temptations to play venues across the UK.

In 1966 he was asked to accompany US R&B singer Lee Dorsey on a tour of the southern states of America, where black segregation and the Ku Klux Klan were prominent.

Phil (far right) with Bill and Hillary Clinton and The Drifters at the White House
Phil (far right) with Bill and Hillary Clinton and The Drifters at the White House

He was stopped by police who wanted to know a why a white man was driving a black man and after getting in argument, he narrowly escaped being arrested.

Six months later he was picked up for not having a work permit and ordered to return to the UK where he got a job as a blue coat at Butlin's in Minehead, Somerset.

It was there he met his first wife Dorothy, the mother of two of his three children.

His first "big break" was when he was asked to be tour manager for The Drifters – travelling the world with the band including a stopover at the White House when Bill Clinton was in office.

The 42nd president of the United States and wife Hillary were big fans and sang along with the hits at a glitzy gala do.

At the White House with The Drifters and Chuck Berry (centre)
At the White House with The Drifters and Chuck Berry (centre)

Phil, of Valley View Road, said: "I asked Clinton for his autograph which embarrassed everyone and was chuffed when he thanked me for the performance and called me Phil."

Other high-profile gigs with The Drifters included Buckingham Palace in front of Princess Anne and the Duke of Gloucester.

After 25 years working with the group he left the entertainment world in 2010 after an acrimonious row with their American management company.

He decided to get work closer to home and started his own chauffeur company based at The Knowle in Higham near where he was living at the time.

On one occasion he was called on Christmas Eve by Jools Holland, who lives at Cooling Castle, asking him to do a favour, the following day.

Phil with singer Brenda Lee
Phil with singer Brenda Lee

He said: "He wanted me to take his mother-in-law's Christmas dinner to her flat in London as she was too unwell to travel.

"My wife at the time was not too impressed."

Phil struck up a rapport with Holland as they are both "petrol heads" and was impressed with the musician's collection of cars.

He drove him around, ran errands and went on tour with him – driving guest artistes Damon Albarn and Alesha Dixon to various venues.

He added: "By that time I had a Mini with the number plate XLP 59 in recognition of The Drifters' excellent LP in 1959.

Phil with Odyssey
Phil with Odyssey

"When I picked up Jools in it, I'm sure that some felt 'he's not doing very well being picked up in a Mini'."

In between, Phil was head hunted by the Football Association to drive Premier League footballers from stadiums to their homes after matches.

Among these were Wayne Rooney, John Terry and Peter Crouch.

He also took Crouch's wife Abbey Clancy to meet Katie Price for lunch and was asked to walk behind her to conceal her baby bump from being snapped by Paparazzi.

However, he disliked working for the FA, wasn't interested in football and didn't even know what a yellow card was.

Phil with Nile Rodgers from Chic
Phil with Nile Rodgers from Chic

He said: "The people who drive footballers are football fans and were jealous when I said I had so-and-so in the car, but it didn't mean a thing to me."

When he was later offered work taking actors, producers and other film crew from studios to their hotel, he quit.

He dined at the same table as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and got on well with Guy Ritchie.

He said: "The food was fantastic and I put on weight. We once had a chef flown in from New Orleans to prepare dinner."

He partially blames the break-up of his two marriages on his five decades of "very abnormal life".

Phil with The Chi-Lites
Phil with The Chi-Lites
Medway-based Jools Holland
Medway-based Jools Holland

But he prides himself that he was never tempted to indulge in the readily available drugs and alcohol.

He added: "I saw first hand what it did to people, saw people die from heroin.

"I had no real talent, but I did have a driving licence which gave me access to a job I loved. I couldn't risk losing that."

Phil now spends time gardening and walking his dog.

But he admits: "I still miss the phone ringing."

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