Part Deux: Screw the Louvre…I’m Dining with Lionel Richie
Leah Walker December 19, 2012

All Lola could think about was getting our coats. Lionel Richie just asked us to join him, a French ambassador, a famous photographer, and a German count for dinner. Are you kidding me? I was ready to brave the cold Parisian night sans outerwear, but then logic took over.

“Where are y’all going?” I asked.

Everyone looked to the ambassador as he uttered something in French. Of course I didn’t understand. On the tables of Le Bar in the Four Seasons George V there are small pads of paper with little golf pencils. I slid the paper over to the ambassador and said, “Could you write that down, please?” He scribbled “Benoit Ducasse” on the pad and handed it back to me. As the gentlemen prepared to leave Le Bar, Lionel looked back at me and said, “You’re coming, right? If not, I know where to find you….Texas.”

I threw back the rest of my lychee martini. Through bursts of laughter and exclamations of “Can you believe this is happening?” Lola and I scurried up to the room for our coats. I quickly googled the restaurant for the address and we were off. A ten minute cab ride and Lola and I arrived to Benoit. A classic French bistro, it was well-lit and crowded, even at nearly 10 pm. I walked in with eyes wide scanning the room for the foursome. I was quickly spotted by the maitre d’.

“We’re here for Mr. Richie,” I said.

With his right eyebrow raised, he looked us up and down. “There’s been a change of restaurants. Mr. Richie and his party have moved to blah blah blah.” Again, not understanding what the hell he said, I handed him the George V note pad. “Could you write that down, please?” He scribbled “La Société” and even retrieved the address for us. Before leaving I asked the maitre d’, “Did Mr. Richie ask that you inform us of the change?” With a slight smirk he replied, “Madam, I wouldn’t have given you that information had he not asked me to.” And with that, Lola and I set off into the rainy night in search of another taxi and Lionel.

The taxi arrived to a place that looked familiar. It was the Saint Germain area, but it looked different than I’d seen it before. During the day it had a lively cafe scene, but on this rainy, cold night, it was all but deserted. We spotted an imposing door with the number 4 above it. That was supposed to be La Société, but it looked like no restaurant entrance I’d ever seen. There were no windows, just the giant doors. With a little hesitation, we walked in.

It was dark except for the spotlight shining down on the hostess table. Standing there was a beautiful woman with shiny black hair. She was wearing a fabulous cocktail dress. I certainly felt under dressed in my sequin top, jeans, and boots. It’s not like I was planning on going to an ultra-hip restaurant to meet an international recording legend. How could I possibly anticipate that?

As I approached the woman, she glared at me the way beautiful French women do. With a little trepidation, again, “We’re here for Mr. Richie” came from my mouth. With those five little words, her whole demeanor changed.

“Of course, madam. He is waiting for you. May I take your coats?”

As we stripped off our coats, heavy, velvet curtains were drawn and we were introduced into the restaurant. As I followed the hostess, I couldn’t help but feel a sensory overload. It seemed more like an underground speakeasy, or at least what I imagine them to be. There was fabulous mood lighting with tables tucked away into cozy corners. The waitresses strutted around like they were on the catwalk in sparkly, short dresses. The waiters were straight out of a Dior ad. La Société felt like a place to see and be seen, but also where you could take your mistress and go completely unnoticed. It was a strange contrast.

At a rectangular table backing up to the wall sat Lionel and company. We locked eyes and he waved Lola and me over. I slid past the ambassador and Lola past Michael into the booth where we served as bookends to Lionel. Wine, water, and various cocktails filled the table, but food hadn’t been ordered. I looked around the restaurant and felt the heat of everyone’s eyes on me. It was if people were wondering who I was and why I was with him. It was surreal.

“I’m glad you both made it. You obviously got my message about the restaurant change.”

For over two hours we talked about everyday stuff. There was no pretense and only the occasional mention of Madonna, Gregory Peck, and Quincy Jones. Lionel explained to the ambassador about Southern girls and what makes us so special. He spoke of his kids and mother, who was a teacher. We talked about believing that each day is a gift and living life to the fullest. Lionel asked about our trip and was particularly interested in Prague. He’d taken his family there recently and loved the city. We took turns showing each other travel photos from our iPhone. I asked him what he thought was the most beautiful place in the world. He told me that the view out his California back door followed closely by the Bahamas were the most spectacular places he’s seen.

As the restaurant started to clear out, we continued to eat and visit with one another. At one point the ambassador took my phone and entered his contact information. He told me that the next time I came to Paris to contact him and that he’d open the doors to the city in ways that I could only imagine.

The fabulous French wine continued to flow and the courses of food came and went. Lionel made sure that Lola and I tried everything he’d ordered, even the pâté, which neither of us generally care for. “Think butter as you eat it,” Lionel said as he fed us. He even modeled his roasted duck as I took photos. Cries of “You eat the food. You don’t take pictures of it!” were shouted across the table by the famous LA photographer.

La Société was practically empty by the time the waitress came around offering coffee and dessert. I’d lost track of time given the company. Lionel ordered three scoops of vanilla ice cream and he got them…in three different bowls. I laughed to myself thinking of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine is forced to go to a new coffee shop and orders a big salad. The waitress brings her three small salads. Not sure that anyone else at the table would get the reference, I kept it to myself. Just as with the pâté and roasted duck, Lionel fed Lola and me bites of the ice cream. Again, the feeling of surrealness enveloped me.

Everyone gathered their coats and walked back through the velvet curtains. For me, things looked and felt much different going out than they did coming in. We emerged back through the same heavy, wooden doors into the cold Parisian night air. Lionel took out his iPhone and handed it to the ambassador.

“Here. Take a picture. I’m going to need something to remember this by.” He then pulled Lola and me close as the ambassador snapped the photo.

“Look to see if you like it,” said Lionel.

“Yeah. It looks great!” I proclaimed.

“Text it to yourself.”

“You just want my phone number,” I quipped.

“I have your phone number already. It’s on your card.”

From out of his back pocket, Lionel produced the business card I’d given him earlier in the evening. “Email the photo to yourself, too. Make sure you choose full size.” I just laughed and did as I was instructed. “Now, input your information into my contact list.” Again, I did as I was told. As I typed in my phone number and email address, I was tempted to scroll through to see what famous names his phone contained.

“Where are you both headed now?”

“We’re going back to our hotel.” I told him.

“Where’s that?”

“We’re staying at the George V, same as you.” I said matter-of-factly.

“Oh! Well then you both must ride with me.”

With that, I climbed into the back of the chauffeured black Mercedes with Lionel, while Lola hopped in the front. Everyone else loaded into a black van. As we rode through the city streets, Lionel, Lola, and I talked about the price of fame and crazy fans. He told us stories about some of the photos he’d received and we doubled over in laughter. Too quickly, we arrived back to the hotel. The crowds that once lined the sidewalk were gone. It was nearly 2:00 am and the hotel was quiet. We strolled through the lobby and stopped in front of Le Bar, the place where our evening had begun.

“Ladies, I had a wonderful evening, but I need to call it a night. Somebody here has to work tomorrow and that somebody is me.”

Suddenly, a drunk girl came running from the bar towards Lionel. The ambassador, all 6’4″ of him, bowed up ready to protect the star. She blabbered something about meeting him before in Monaco, and like the consummate professional, Lionel was kind and briefly spoke to her before she was herded away.

With a hug and a double kiss on the cheeks, Lionel said, “You have my phone number. Use it. I mean it. Sooner rather than later.”

Before I knew it, he was gone and I was left standing in front of Le Bar wondering what had just happened. Had I really had dinner with Lionel Richie, music mogul and legend? This was the guy I’d listened to on road trips with my parents. I learned how to play “Endless Love” on my French horn and trumpet.”All Night Long” was played by DJs at every wedding from as far back as I could remember. Was this the same guy that just fed me roasted duck and asked me to keep in touch?

Hell yes it was.

On cloud nine, Lola and I floated up to our room. We had to catch a train for London at 9:00 am and needed some rest. Exhausted, yet still high from the evening, we collapsed into bed and erupted into giggles. Could this trip get any better? I was confident that it would. After all, we’d had a charmed month and there seemed no signs of it slowing down.

The laughter faded and we drifted off. Just after 4:00 am, my phone rattled me out of a deep sleep. I had a text message. I ignored it. Nearly an hour and a half later, my text message notification shook me from my slumber again. This time I picked up my phone to see who it was from.

“Great night…Great meeting you both…”

“Too much Fun!!!”

They were from Lionel. I chuckled to myself and laid the phone back down. I had another two hours to sleep and I intended on getting them. When it was finally time to get up, the first thing I did was download Lionel’s latest CD, Tuskegee, for the train and the second was to order room service. Lola and I hated to leave our beautiful room at the George V but London awaited.

In the taxi on the way to the train station, I texted Lionel back and thanked him for the evening. I told him what a wonderful time we’d had and that it was a pleasure to be part of his “tribe” if only for the night. I let him know that if he does come to Houston on tour with a certain lady legend, I’d love to see the concert and show him some Southern hospitality. Honestly, I didn’t think I would ever hear from him again, but I did later that evening.

Lola and I had a fabulous night with a true gentleman. He was as sincere as the lyrics of his songs and as kind as you would hope him to be. Lionel gave me an experience that money can’t buy. The fact that it was totally unexpected made it all-the-better. I’ll never forget that evening in Paris.

I’ve become a huge fan of Lionel Richie…the person. Perhaps one day our paths will cross again. I’ll simply greet him with “hello” and a hug. I only hope that he’ll remember me.

Paris_Lionel

 You can read part one of this story here.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for four years, and was awarded additional time with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

47 Comments

  1. Wow!!! If I didn’t know you already I would not believe this whole story, but knowing you I am sure this is an exact accounting of the evening. You are so lucky! What an awesome story – the best of the trip! Feel free to call the Ambassador to let him know I will be in Paris in January. As for Lionel, I don’t need to meet him; I feel like I already have from your post.
    Oh the places you’ve been…
    Keep,the stories coming,
    Priscilla

  2. GAHH!!! I love this story. I can’t believe you were wined and dined by Mr.Richie and even got a text. It sounded like you had one incredible night. You definitely deserve it. Just let me know if you guys ever meet up again.

    1. Hey, Tawny, I’m just as surprised as you are. And if we ever see one another again, you’ll be the first person I contact.

  3. Awesome story! Loved how personable he was. I’ll hold off on the Lionel Richie song quotes. However, one of my favorite songs by him is Stuck on You. He does a duet of this song with Darius Rucker – from South Carolina.

    Very impressed by the guy. Seemed like a gentleman. Story you will remember forever. And when you go back to Paris, make sure you don’t lose the French Ambassador’s number!

    1. Yeah, I really like his duet with Darius as well as the Willie and Tim McGraw ones. It’s a great album as I love country music. Lionel most certainly was a gentleman and I’ve got the French ambassador on speed dial for my return trip to Paris.

  4. It’s wonderful to find out that talented and successful people can stay humble and down to earth. It seems like your experience was one that will stay with you forever! Wonderful story.

    1. Through the media we can’t help but formulate opinions and thoughts about celebrities. Quite frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. Lionel was certainly as humble and normal as they come. He just has had an extraordinary life.

    1. I was certainly smitten, Lisa. After so many months on the road, perhaps it was refreshing for him to spend time with some good Southern girls. Who knows?

  5. How often do you get to say “We’re here for Mr. Richie”?? Apparently twice for you! Gahhh, so jealous. And you got a text, it’s just not fair. LOL.

  6. You bought his album! See, this was part of Lionel’s grand plan to promote Tuskegee by wining and dining the world’s population, one person at a time. Dude is workin’ it. And I love that he changed the location and just expected you to find him. Imagine having that kind of power!

    Also, “You Are” may or may not be one of my favorite songs to blast in the car and sing along. I’m not admitting anything.

    1. You know, Scott, that thought did cross my mind. That Lionel Richie goes the extra mile, doesn’t he? “You Are” with Blake Shelton may or may not be playing on my iPhone as I type. I’m not admitting to anything.

    1. Buy it, Gina. I’m actually getting a commission from the sales on iTunes for each purchase through the end of the year. 😉 Ha! I wish!

  7. ok so part three is where he calls you, shows up at your door, and buys you a chateau in france, right? that’s where this is leading? we’re just assuming.

    1. Normally I don’t like the term “lucky” because I believe we make our own luck. However, this is one time I will agree with the use of the word. right time + right place = luck

  8. what a charmed month and evening. only with you Leah!!! since i was there too, i can attest to the fact that i think Lionel & co. were happy for the breath of fresh air & smiles us Texans gave them that evening in chilly Paris.

  9. What a random and fun thing to have happened close to wrapping up your month in Europe! Sounds he is a really nice guy. Probably was looking for some genuine folks to hang out with!

  10. My favorite part of travel consists of chance encounters with interesting good people. Usually, they involve people that live in the countries I visit who are just your average people. What I loved about this post was it was a similar magical experience, but it was about meeting a famous person, but the famous person turned out to be just an ordinary good person like you meet all the time while traveling.

  11. Oh wow how amazing! Its so great that to hear that he’s a nice person, some celebrities can be quite horrible once you meet them in person :S

    1. Haha…you’re not the first person to say that Mr. Richie was smitten with me. I’m not convinced, but there are certainly worse problems to have if he indeed was. 🙂

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