Ewan McDonald gets a glimpse into how the other half lives when he checks in for a night of pop star-style pampering.
Jude drove into the forecourt. I looked around, anxiously.
"That's good. They're not here. We'll be able to walk in the front door."
"Who on earth were you expecting?" she asked, as the parking valet opened her door.
"The paparazzi. Hundreds of hysterical, screaming teenage girls. Behind a picket fence and security guards. Thinking we were Lady Gaga arriving."
She handed the keys to the valet and gazed at me.
"I'm not Lady Gaga," she said.
"And I don't think you'd have a clue what to do with one hysterical teenage girl, let alone hundreds."
For 24 hours we would be treated like the Stamford Plaza's most famous recent guest. The hotel is offering guests the opportunity to stay in the suite used by Lady Gaga during her three Vector Arena concerts. The Governor's Suite is arranged, the fridge stocked, the help organised as it was to meet the superstar's requirements. What you'll get is what she saw.
The hotel's general manager, Peter Gee, and his sales and marketing director, Nigel Clarke, were waiting on the red carpet at the steps when we stepped out of the car.
One suspects they were more used to black, tinted-window, top-of-the-line SUVs than a bright yellow Honda Jazz: if so, they hid their surprise in that way experienced hotel professionals have.
I recognised them, of course. I'd checked out the YouTube footage of Madame G's arrival before we left home and noted how they gently but firmly ushered her away from the paparazzi's lenses and out of the fans' grasps into her temporary home.
They took us up to Xth Floor (oh, come on, you don't think I was going to reveal that) and into the suite. Our bags had arrived first.
Past guests here include Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Sean Connery, Joe Cocker, Stevie Wonder and Lionel Ritchie.
It is, I paced out later, larger than our three-bedroom, two-bathroom, living and dining area townhouse. And I counted our garage in my calculations.
Bathroom, bedroom, two living areas, kitchen with marble island bench, oven, dishwasher, cupboards of saucepans, crockery and cutlery, fridge and freezer, and ... "There's the espresso machine," Nigel said.
"Fresh coffee beans, ready to go."
He opened the fridge.
"Crushed ice, her favourite drinks, the fruit platter. Trim milk, of course. Would you prefer full milk?"
"No, no," we mutter politely.
Nigel pointed out the connecting door from the boardroom, which seats 12 business folk. Or cabinet ministers. Locked today, "that leads through to a matching suite. That was her dressing room".
Uh huh. That's a measure of fame: when your dressing room has more square feet than a Kiwi family home.
Alone together, I check the fridge: more chilled fruit, strawberries and blueberries in midwinter. Cans of H2CoCo coconut juice. We're living the rock'n'roll dream here: except that Keith or Mick or Flea would never have a clause insisting the fridge be stocked with pure feijoa and lime blossom tea.
Knock on the door, several miles away. The masseuse, is here, with oils and table and remarkable hands, to offer the back and hips and legs relaxation that Herself enjoyed.
Face down on the bench, Jude asked: "Did you do this for Lady Gaga?"
The masseuse is well trained.
"I signed a privacy agreement so I can't talk about it," she replied.
Chef Ram arrives next, in immaculate whites, to discuss our dinner menu. We agree on his pine nut-crusted goat's cheese starter, then I will have the hapuka, pan-fried in butter, and Jude the beef and oxtail feast. Dressed meat rather than the meat dress. To finish - oh, you guessed - more fresh fruit to spruce the palate.
There is no debate about the wine: Nigel has provided the vintage Lady G enjoyed during her stay, and when someone offers me Central Otago pinot, I rarely object. Okay, never.
Jude lounges on one of several sofas with one of many magazines and a G&T. I look out the window at the view. It is ... well, no point in being coy, my newspaper's building.
The week prior I'd sat in a meeting there, as editors and picture editors and chief reporters discussed how they could snap paparazzi photos of Lady Gaga on the town for the following morning's Sunday paper.
Someone had heard she had been downtown and bought Subway. Someone else said no, she had probably been to the Gucci shop because they had a picture of her coming up the back-alley stairs to the Stamford's back entrance. Look, a third chipped in, that's her body double.
I stir ice into my glass of Scotch. As the press gang fussed how to snap that million-dollar picture, the subject was probably standing where I am now, looking through the window into the editor's office.
When Ram and his assistant arrive with the entrée, we are becoming used to the celeb life. He sets the table, guides his offside through the niceties of presentation. We eat, opposite one another, at a table that could seat eight.
The food - this course, and the next, and the one after that, is served with consideration and courtesy, and cooked and presented to the high standards that international hotels expect and demand.
It is something special, unique for us: I wonder how many of these hotel rooms are all that 26-year-old Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta from Manhattan sees of the world that 64 million music sales and the best-selling tour of all time have bought.
While her dancers and crew experience the nightlife and tastes of yet another city, she eats at this table. It's been reported she sent texts incessantly to know where her friends were, what they were doing, what it was like. Out there, the fans; in here, the loneliness of the long-distance pop star.
The next morning Ram arrives with the superstar's breakfast: watermelon juice, chocolate or banana and vanilla protein shake, and bran or blueberry mini-muffins.
Wild shot in the dark, but I'm guessing no one served Clinton, after a hard night's negotiating, or Joe, after an even harder night's rocking, with that breakfast.
Fortunately we discussed this with Ram last night, and he has cooked bacon and scrambled eggs on the side. Well, on the big plate. And that coffee machine is chugging...
Our pop star experience is almost over. At an agreed time the porter arrives at the door to take our overnight bag. Fifteen minutes later Nigel and Peter knock: we are being ushered out of the hotel using Plan C, one of the three routes that Stamford security has worked out, days in advance, to get celebrities out of the hotel and off to their concert, or conference, without fans or protesters or paparazzi noticing.
Five of us enter a goods lift and... oh no, I'm not giving that away either.
Peter tells us there are three options every time someone like Lady Gaga is on the move.
"We have three exits. We park the vans at one. Everyone keeps an eye on that. Then we create a diversion by causing some movement somewhere else. And what really happens is... "
Did it work with Lady Gaga, we want to know?
"Oh yes," he says.
"We had the paparazzi outside every entrance and exit for five days. And they only got one photo of her, coming up the alleyway stairs at the back. They thought she had a body double but that's just one of the dancers she hangs out with, she happens to be blonde. We are proud of the way we protect our guests' privacy."
Our privacy is completely protected. The bags are stowed; the engine is running. The valet gives Jude the keys and two security guards escort the Jazz, at walking pace, to a side exit, flashcard the gate.
Jude drives into the street and drops me at work - 20 metres up the street at the newspaper office. Better pretend I'm not a world-famous pop star. Poker face.
STAYING IN STYLE
The Stamford Plaza's Mother Monster package ($2000 twin-share) includes a night in the Governor's Suite, private chef's dinner, an hour-long massage, valet car parking or private car transfer from Auckland Airport or within the greater Auckland region, the star breakfast and more.
There's also a Little Monsters deal ($275 twin-share), which includes a night at the hotel, valet car parking, dinner at the Knights on Albert Restaurant, a special in-room power breakfast and more.
Further information: See stamfordhotel.co.nz or call 0508 658 888.By Ewan McDonald Email Ewan