Confessions of a Fashion Week Uber Driver
The Debrief: Vomit, verbal abuse and a £2.5K unclaimed handbag: the weird and not-all-that glamorous reality of being an Uber driver during London Fashion Week
It’s 4pm on a drizzly London mid-week afternoon and a throng of people has gathered outside an ecclesiastical-looking building in Central London. The mood is sombre, with majority of the 60-strong crowd wearing black and nervously looking around, each one looking to someone else for a clue on the best way to behave in a situation like this. When two women from the group break off and jump into an Uber, wiping their eyes as they step into the backseat, their concerned driver asks them if they had just been to a funeral. Confused at first, the pair then break off into hysterical fits of laughter – they hadn’t been at a funeral, they’d been at London Fashion Week, as had all of the other guests at the former church. And they weren’t crying because someone had died, they were crying because the fashion show they’d just seen had ‘been so moving.’ Oh. Right. His mistake.
This story is just one of the bizarre and confusing situations this 29 year-old Uber driver – let’s call him Alex, so he doesn’t lose his job for talking to us – has found himself in in the two years he’s been working as an Uber driver in London during Fashion Week. ‘Before I moved to London three years ago, I’d worked at a taxi firm in Leeds and London Fashion Week basically wasn’t on my radar,’ he tells The Debrief. ‘It didn’t take me long after joining Uber, though, for me to cotton on to how much of an earner Fashion Week is for a cab driver – I spend the whole week hanging around Somerset House and other spots in central London picking up fashion types. My Mrs hates it.’
That’s a definite theme – beautiful girls gossiping in the back about creepy guys who have crossed the line
Hmm. Why would that be, Alex? ‘Well there’s loads of models. Some of them – especially the younger ones (and I’ve models in my car who couldn’t have been older than 12 or 13) – tend to keep themselves to themselves, but occasionally you get a real talker. I’ve heard about models being screamed at by their agencies for having a couple of drinks on their birthday and putting pictures on social media – apparently that’s now enough to put their contracts at risk - and gossiped about pervy photographers who try it on with all of the models before hiring them. That’s a definite theme – beautiful girls gossiping in the back about creepy guys who have crossed the line.
‘Then, of course, there’s celebrity gossip – one girl told me about a famous (married) English actor she dated who contacted one modelling agency and asked to be put in touch with all the beautiful black models they had on their books. Apparently, they declined. Then there’s the other English actor who hangs about offering cocaine to male models at fashion parties in return for sexual favours.'
‘I also don’t buy that models don’t eat – most of them will be eating something in the back of the car – mainly a bar of chocolate or a packet of crisps - and I’ve had to ask at least five to stop eating McDonalds because it’ll stink it out for the next customer. One was even chowing down on a doner kebab.’
So that covers the models, but what about the other – sartorially adept, admittedly – mere mortals who attend Fashion Week shows and parties? What has Alex learned about the actual fashion elite? ‘To be honest, not an enormous amount,’ admits Alex. ‘The vast majority of the people who want to be taken to Somerset House are either tourists or young people dolled up the nines hoping to get a job in fashion. I guess they think being seen there will be good for their careers? You can tell the people who are actually working because they’ll be constantly checking something on their iPhones, working on their laptops or talking their boss on their phones. They don’t tend to want to talk to you – I’ve been told to “shut the fuck up” by a beautiful blonde woman in her early 30s who who was “too busy” to talk. I asked her to get out of the car if she was going to talk to me like that and she apologised, but I don’t need to take verbal abuse like that and I complained to Uber and gave her one star, but I doubt it will make much difference to her attitude. What really amuses me is the ones who order and Uber to go literally two minutes down the road to a tube station. It’s <such> a waste of money, but I assume their feet are hurting because of the mad shoes they’re wearing.
I’ve had two people get sick in the back of my car during Fashion Week. To put that into perspective, I’ve only had four people be sick in my car in total during my whole driving career.
Verbal abuse and ‘mad’ shoes aside, a lot of this sounds quite tame – has Alex had any experience of the decadent side of the fashion industry? ‘There is a definite switch in the evening when people are going to the parties,’ admits Alex. ‘Like with most events, the raucous behaviour comes out when people have had a few drinks. I’ve been in the car whilst one fashion editor and her intern arranged and another quite famous model arranged to pick up drugs on their phones in the back of the cab. It’s like they forget I can hear everything they say, but I don’t really care - it’s got nothing to do with me how they spend their money and I tend to turn a blind eye. People get really really drunk – unsurprising as a lot of them are so skinny – and I’ve had two people get sick in the back of my car during Fashion Week. To put that into perspective, I’ve only had four people be sick in my car in total during my whole driving career.’
For Alex, though, one of the perks of the job has to be the stuff that people leave behind. ‘The goody bags are a bonus,’ he explains. ‘People always leave them, so I give them to my Mrs – there’s always shampoo or perfume or that kind of thing. I’ll never forget the time that a woman in her late 40s or early 50s left a handbag in my car, though. I tried to contact her to return the bag and took pictures of it on my phone to send to my bosses at Uber, but she never got back to me. When I showed my girlfriend the photos, she told me that the bag was worth £2.5K – that’s more than I make in some months! I’m going to keep if for a while, but if she never gets back to me I will try and sell it on ebay without Uber finding out. That’s a couple of holidays, just tossed aside and forgotten about! For someone allegedly so interested in clothes, it obviously didn’t mean that much to her. Maybe it was a freebie. Anyway, I see it as a perk of the job.’
Like this? Then you might also be interested in:
Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophiecullinane
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating