Entertainment & Arts

David Hockney: What happened when he got stuck in a lift?

David Hockney and firemen Image copyright Samantha Chantarasak
Image caption David Hockney and his knights in shining armour

Artist David Hockney had to be rescued by firefighters after getting trapped in a hotel lift in Amsterdam on Wednesday. But he wasn't alone. Among those with him were the Daily Mail's editor and the BBC's James Naughtie, who shares the experience here.

It was all a bit unexpected. I suppose when you get stuck in a lift, it always is.

We were coming down in David Hockney's hotel next to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam so we could find a quiet spot for an interview.

He wanted to have a smoke outside: he usually does. A little crowd packed into the lift: a correspondent from the New York Times, a Dutch artist with a TV cameraman in tow, a few others. Nine of us. It jerked to a halt. There was a suspicious silence. We knew we were stuck.

We pressed the alarm a few times. Nothing. Nobody's mobile phone could get a signal. There was a bit of feeble shouting and we shuffled around, wondering if the lift would be tricked into moving again. But it only wobbled.

We didn't know whether we were in the basement, between floors, or whether we'd somehow gone up by mistake. Someone suggested pushing on the ceiling, because that's what happened in the movies when people climbed out by scrambling up the metal wires. Somehow, that didn't seem very realistic to us.

Eventually there were shouts from outside. Of all people, the editor of The Daily Mail, Geordie Greig, a very old friend of Hockney's, was waiting for us in the lobby... and we realised where we were.

Geordie went into super boy scout mode and began to reassure us: the general manager of the hotel had been summoned, with his chief engineer. So had the Amsterdam fire department.

By this time, we'd prised the door open three inches and or so and we could see light. Someone started to pass bottles of water through the gap. Then Geordie got someone to find a folding stool that was slipped through so that Hockney - 81, after all - could sit down.

I thought the community singing was going to start soon. People were making jokes, but realised that the fun would only last for so long.

"Get a crowbar," said Hockney (there was a pithy adjective attached).

We'd been there for getting on for half an hour. Then feet on the roof of the lift, the sound of clanking - some heavy tools were on the scene - lights from torches, the glimpse of a fireman's uniform. Much heaving and groaning.

The New York Times correspondent said she'd spent her whole life in that city - a place built on elevators - and this had never happened to her before. That wasn't much help.

We exchanged stories. I thought of Tony Hancock's sketch, from half a century ago, about what happened when a bunch of strangers got marooned in a lift. This seemed more like a Pinter play.

I'm afraid I was worried most about whether after all this we'd get our interview.

But the cranking and heaving was helping. Eventually, with a creak and a bang, the door was wrenched back, light poured in, and we climbed out, to cheers from the crowd that had gathered in the lobby.

It hadn't been exactly life-threatening; more a bit of weird fun. Afterwards, the firemen crowded round. They wanted a picture with Hockney. It was Amsterdam, after all. A very civilised city.

The exhibition Hockney-Van Gogh: The Joy of Nature opens at the Van Gogh Museum on Friday.


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