Some months ago, after waging a shameless and one-sided year-long campaign, I received a cake from Tom Cruise. The legend goes that he does this to hundreds of people every Christmas: his crews, his castmates, obnoxious journalists without any basic dignity, they all receive a large white chocolate bundt (and Christmas tree decoration) in a box.
It was a lovely gift. But something about it nagged away at me. Was it really from Tom Cruise? Did Cruise one day sprint into his manager’s office, slam down a rolled-up copy of the Guardian and yell: “This kid wrote about me eating some curry. Send him a cake! Send him two!”? Or did Tom Cruise have absolutely nothing to do with it? Did all my hard work simply trigger a Google alert in a publicist’s office somewhere?
This week, the London premiere of Top Gun: Maverick took place in Leicester Square. It was a vast event, complete with what appeared to be several dozen red carpets, the most important of which led to the centrepiece of the event; a full-blown fighter jet. The place was crowded beyond all comprehension, both with screaming Tom Cruise fans and tourists irritated that they had to go the long way round to Burger King. And, at least in the eyes of my employers, the premiere presented the perfect opportunity to redress the balance. What if I attended the event, with an elaborate cake that I had baked myself, and presented it to Tom Cruise?
It would be great, we thought. I could do something polite and generous, and at the same time scrutinise Tom Cruise’s body language for the tiniest glimmer of recognition. Everyone would win. However, things did not go exactly according to plan. Just as I was deciding what sort of cake to make – a white chocolate bundt of my own, perhaps – my editor got in touch: given this was a royal premiere, the PRs were unlikely to facilitate a cake handover.
And honestly, why would they? Top Gun: Maverick is a huge film for Tom Cruise. It’s a sequel, 36 years in the making, to one of his most iconic hits. It was meant to come out three years ago. It has been rapturously received by critics. The premiere was his big night. Who could blame him for not wanting to spend it with a Tupperware tub balanced on his lap?
But I didn’t get where I am today without always having a plan B up my sleeve. Security at the event was extremely tight, so I was never going to be able to sneak a full-sized cake in. But I was wearing a tuxedo. A tuxedo with a jacket pocket. A jacket pocket big enough to comfortably hide a Wagon Wheel. I’d pass Tom Cruise in the lobby of the cinema, and say: “Hi, I’m Stuart Heritage”. And he’d say: “I know you, I sent you two cakes.” And I’d say: “Please allow me to return the favour by gifting you this Wagon Wheel I bought at Lidl on the way home from the school run this morning.” And he’d say: “Wait a minute, I gave you two cakes.” And then I’d give him the other Wagon Wheel I had in my pocket, because I think of everything, and we’d become best friends.
However, this also failed to shake out the way I intended. The various red carpets, it turns out, operated on a hierarchy. One for the stars of the film, another for the celebrity guests, and the one for people nobody cares about. That’s the one I went on. I was 50 metres away from Tom Cruise in distance, but several thousand light years away in status.
The closest I got to him, in fact, was when the film began. Cruise walked on stage and gave a little speech about how thrilled he was to be in London. I brought along my brother Pete, surly and sleep-deprived after a big night out, and in that moment he verbalised a thought that also popped into my head: “Wing a Wagon Wheel at his head”.
Better sense prevailed: I didn’t want to be put to sleep by a minder. Plus, Thursday was one of the hottest days of the year. When I reached into my jacket pocket after the film, the Wagon Wheels had warped and melted and essentially formed themselves to the shape of my ribcage. By no stretch of the imagination would it have been a fitting way to return Tom Cruise’s favour.
But I am determined. Tom Cruise did a nice thing for me, so I still maintain that I need to do a nice thing back. Tom, if you’re reading, the Wagon Wheels came from a multipack. I still have four left. Just say the word and they’re yours.