Stuart Heritage: “A fifteen-year career, and I’ve cashed it all in for some coconut cake”

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Kirsten Dunst. Angela Basset. Henry Cavill. Renée Zellweger.

This is a list of the chosen ones. These Hollywood actors are just a few of the many who are sent a white chocolate bundt cake for Christmas each year, courtesy of Tom Cruise. Graham Norton gets one too.

Then, about a year ago, Stuart Heritage, a Guardian TV and film columnist, launched a campaign to get himself added to the cake list. And, after some lobbying, he achieved the seemingly impossible: last Christmas, he received not one, but two Cruise cakes.

“I still don’t think he [Cruise] knows he sent me a cake, by the way. I think what happened was a Google Alert went off on an assistant’s computer”, Heritage tells me when I ask about the experience. “He wouldn’t know who I was if I stood in front of him.”

Heritage’s cake-based campaign raised some important questions for me. For one, can all journalists abuse their power to get free dessert, courtesy of Tom Cruise? If so, does anyone know if Cruise reads Palatinate? Because I too am a (student) journalist who would really like a white chocolate coconut cake. I’ll thank Mister Cruise in advance.

But the main question Cruise’s sponge raised was this: what happens post-cake? After the coconut flakes have settled, then what?

Imagine, for instance, that this year’s Mission Impossible Seven isn’t a cinematic triumph. If Heritage writes the movie a scathing review, is he struck off Cruise’s secret cake list?

“Am I on the list now? Am I on the cake list?”. Heritage seems slightly concerned by the possibility that he could now receive coconut cakes forever.                

“I’d like to think that this is just a one-off, and that we’ve reset the clock on it, and I can say whatever I want”, he continues. “Because I don’t want to be in Tom Cruise’s pocket for the rest of my life, over, basically, something you get from Greggs.”

“I don’t want to be in Tom Cruise’s pocket for the rest of my life”

I assure Heritage that I would retire from Palatinate for half that. If anyone wants to be Profile Editor next term, I’d probably accept a singular square of shortbread for it. Email me.

Heritage – understandably – seems less enthusiastic to exchange his journalistic career for sugar. “I probably didn’t have that much credibility anyway”, he says. “But I’ve probably cashed it all in for £50 worth of cake. A fifteen-year career, and I’ve cashed it all in for some coconut cake. I don’t even like coconut that much.”

“It’s like being in the mafia”, he laughs. “It does feel a bit like I owe Tom Cruise a lifetime of servitude.”

Realising that cross-examining Heritage about coconut cake may have run its course, the conversation turns to Louis Walsh. Since X Factor was cancelled last year, Heritage has written in support of Walsh’s TV judging ability. According to Heritage, Walsh’s “ineffable spirit” was what kept the show afloat. “The episodes that didn’t feature Louis Walsh were flat-out unwatchable.”

“He [Walsh] didn’t appear to like music”, Heritage says when I ask about the piece. “The song choices that he picked for his contestants were ridiculous.” But, “every time he wasn’t on it, the show got worse.”

Heritage then describes how, after he wrote the column, Walsh contacted him. “I don’t know how he got my phone number. I was at my mum and dad’s house.” “He said: ‘you’re right about everything! I don’t believe it!’”

“He’s sort of – not kept in touch – but every now and then I’ll get a text from Louis Walsh, and it’s weird.”

What would Walsh think of this?

“I don’t think he cares, honestly. He’s got that David Hasselhoff thing, where you don’t know if he’s being very serious – and clueless – or if he’s completely on it.” “I don’t understand him as a person, I can’t figure him out.”

“It does feel a bit like I owe Tom Cruise a lifetime of servitude”

Usually, this sort of Profile would end by referring back to a theme. Ideally, there’d be an insightful way of tying the different elements of the article together. Anyway, it turns out that Louis Walsh, coconut cake and Tom Cruise are subjects that cannot easily be linked. I tried.

If anything, though, interviewing Heritage taught me that sometimes this happens. Heritage spoke passionately about the different parts of his work, but he also talked about the unpredictability of journalism. Sometimes, I learned, Louis Walsh will decide to send you a supportive text. Sometimes, Hollywood actors will respond to journalists’ columns, and, just sometimes, this unpredictability will result in Tom Cruise sending you a coconut cake.

Does that count as a link?

Image credit: Emily Heritage

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