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As part of a new series, we’re asking journalists to share the stories behind their most memorable interviews – from caustic rockstars to demure artistes.FL editor SARAH SMITH kicks things off with a cautionary tale about meeting your idol.And funnily enough two years on from the interview I look back on it with fondness. – I can hear Polly Jean Harvey’s lilting voice bouncing around the cavernous shed; the distinctive tremolo of Four Lads’ ‘Istanbul’ sample wobbling through the air. Will I regale her with questions never asked and sly observations about her life’s work that I am almost certain no-one has ever made? I dwell on this last thought – the worst possible outcome – and a mild panic grips at my guts, swiftly moving up my esophagus like a glass of lumpy milk.My ear is pressed up against a giant steel door and arctic winds are burning my face. The band don’t stop, or miss a beat – just once through and then silence. “Look, they appear to be driving away now.” The security guard prods me with a gloved hand and I break away from my rabbit hole. As a white Tarrago swings by loaded with bodies, I see PJ tucked in the back staring cat-like out the window.All I need to do is act confident, and convince a 5-star hotel to let me use one of their rooms to interview PJ Harvey. “Helloooooo,” a concierge called Adam purrs as I place my note pad, with great authority, on the hotel desk.
The security guard, who sidled his huge girth alongside me not long after I started peering through cracks, doesn’t believe me. I stare at my driver for a moment, his eye twinkling below its lazy skin, “That’ll be .80.” I pull out .I can’t see them as I am locked outside, rubbing my iced ears and waiting for PJ’s manager to call me. Following his gaze I see a dark stick-like figure climb into the back of a van. Right past me, over my shoulder, through the burly security guard, to the sea. There has been a mixup (a “miscommunication”) but I can still conduct the interview if I meet them at their hotel in 20 minutes. I can feel the security guard’s smug grin burning into my back as I dash off to a nearby taxi rank.After a confusing back-and-forth between her Australian label and the UK it has been decided I will meet PJ, or Polly – I’m still unsure what to call her when the time comes – backstage, three hours before she is due to headline MONA FOMA. My leg twitches urgently, propelled by a mix of nerves and frustration. As I ask the cabbie to take me to the hotel I’ve scrawled on my hand, he smiles.She had finally released and was relaxed and buoyant; gushing about this great piece of work she had produced. I can see she has let the album go, she has said everything there is to be said about it and is already thinking about what comes next. Every movement she makes is very deliberate and paced.Her pale skin blushes and I touch my own cheeks, which I am certain have turned scarlet in the heat.