In the last year I have met a lot of people in the classical music / operatic circuit one particular acquaintance was Paul J Guest, who I had chats with on Twitter and I finally met him during the Daniel Barenboim concert at Tate Modern on 8 April 2011. He seemed friendly enough but as the night continued he seemed fond of name dropping and clearly seemed as keen on networking as he was of hairspray. He told me he was dating a well-known indie opera director and that his day job was as a repetiteur for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, like with any acquaintance one takes that kind of info with a pinch of salt and not make the effort to cross-check them.
As the months went past I noticed that his Tweets were changing their content and gave the impression that he was very well networked and was working for a number of online publications. I was thinking everything was going swimmingly for this fellow, he started writing sleeve notes for new classical releases, he seemed to be in demand for talks and even featured in a Proms programme. All this seemed too good to be true and in many ways showed how susceptible to chancers the classical PR circuit really is.
A musician friend alerted me to a change of fortunes for Paul and how he was making claims that were proven from unlikely to outright false. That and his retreat from most social media made me want to investigate in a fairly detailed manner.
Looking over a number of articles published by him one pattern came through clearly…in every single publication a new title will show up, a new claim to relevance would be made. Lets have a look at a few.
Huffington Post: Paul Guest is a writer and playwright. Paul has written on culture for The Guardian, Huffington Post, Ceasefire Magazine, The Arbuturian and MUSO Magazine. His essays have appeared in programmes for the BBC Proms and Nimbus Records. Paul is currently writing his second play entitled ‘I’m A Stranger Here Myself’.
Guardian: Paul Guest is a classical music journalist and musician – follow him on Twitter @pauljguest
Journalisted: Current/Opera and Classical Music Correspondant at The Arbuturian
Experience/Music Theatre Skewed/Bachtrack/Musiquebox Magazine
Ceasefire: Paul Guest is Ceasefire‘s Classical Music and Opera critic. He also contributes to MUSO magazine, WIRED, Classical Music Magazine, and is the resident interviewer at Opera Britannia.
BBC Proms Programme for Prom 51: Paul J Guest is a musicologist, curator and author of We’re Sitting in the Opera House, a new history of opera, to be released next May.
Of course the wildest and most varied claims came from his Twitter profile
From the above you would assume he was in the process of writing a book and being a playwright and any other occupation under the sun. Now, why didn’t anyone question a 19-year-old being able to make such claims?
Four weeks ago a certain PR agency that helped him get most of the gigs to date and a number of other professional supporters got an email from Mr Guest telling them that all his claims were false, that he only attended the Junior year of the Guildhall School of Music and he apologised reassuring them that he was getting help for his mental health issues.
At that point it seems the penny dropped for all his supporters and also his website and Twitter account disappeared. Thankfully a number of his tweets are still archived online giving us an interesting insight at the kind of claims he was making online alongside all the rumours he was spreading in person. He would name drop as if his life depended on it, pretending to work for the Royal Opera, the Royal College of Music amongst many more claims. Shall we look into some of them?
He happily told people in music circles that he was commissioned by Bloomsbury to write a multi volume history of Opera book (also mentioned in his Prom 51 programme entry)
All it took was a phone call to the publishers who denied any knowledge of said book or who Mr Guest was…
He was more than happy to insinuate on twitter and to blatantly tell acquaintances and new friends that he was working for the Music Director of the Royal Opera, Antonio Pappano.
After another phone call to Pappano’s assistant we were told ‘That name means nothing to me‘.
He also claimed in writing (and on occasions bragged in person) that he had interviewed Pappano.
A couple of emails later I was assured by the Royal Opera’s press office that they had no record of him interviewing the MD. I searched for such article to no avail.
He told a lot of musicians that he was conferred a FRCM (fellow of the Royal College of Music).
Again another phone call later and a quick browse at the publicly accessible list, the only person on it with the surname Guest was a Douglas Guest who was awarded the fellowship in 1964.
The FRCMs list is available in PDF form on the RCM’s website: http://www.rcm.ac.uk/about/historyofthercm/honoursandfellowships/FRCM%202012%20updatedJF.pdf
He claimed at times that his day job was as a repetiteur (as he told me face to face) at the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Again a swift look at their website disproves that claim rather easily.
Here’s the list of their music staff: http://www.brb.org.uk/masque/index.htm?act=department&urn=118&tpl=orch1
His name dropping skills were extraordinary and overall shameless, I contacted a number of important figures in the Classical Music world only to get confirmations that they had no idea who Paul J Guest was.
My sources also informed me that he would wait for people outside the stage door of the Royal Opera House with a pile of scores and a baton, so they would get the impression he has been conducting. Numerous tweets mentioned working there…here is one:
I enquired about his self-identification as a musicologist and as an author by emailing the editor of the BBC Proms programmes only to be told that he was commissioned to write the article due to his familiarity to Emily Howard’s music output. I was told: ‘The author’s credit was supplied by the author‘ which seems a bit strange for the Proms not to look into the credentials of the commissioned writers.
But at least in retrospect this programme entry can be seen as the swan song of a man who took advantage of a lot of people on the back of the current PR trend for the cult of youth in the classical and opera world. Paul must have seemed like the perfect ambassador to carry on their ideas of renewing the frumpy old world of classical, one funky haircut at a time.
Here’s a recorded interview between the composer Emily Howard and Mr Guest.
Own blog used to be here: http://www.paul-guest.net/ but was allowed to expire
The Huffington Post UK
The Guardian (culture professionals network)
Two articles found here: http://www.bachtrack.com/reviews/list/3273
The Paul Guest Column: http://www.opera-britannia.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=507