Near Greatness

Every Picture Tells a Story

How meeting Rod Stewart changed my life

Rod, the model railroader.

My ex-husband was a model railroad enthusiast, and while we were married I helped start a company that turned his lifelong hobby into a business. It was an exciting time. Tiny people, buildings and locomotives became our stock-in-trade. We designed and manufactured products bought by hobbyists all over the world.

One day a phone call came in from a woman who said she wanted to place an order on behalf of Rod Stewart. I was mildly skeptical, but when she gave me a Beverly Hills address, I had to ask, "Is this for Rod Stewart, the entertainer?" She laughed, explained that she was his estate manager, and yes, the order was for the Rod Stewart.

A few days later, an autographed photo arrived at our P.O. box. Scribbled above the signature was a personal note:

"Dear Anne Marie, Do ya believe me now?"

I was thrilled. Not for a second did I imagine that this long-distance encounter with a rock star would eventually lead to some crazy changes in my life.

As it turned out, Rod Stewart was passionate about model railroads, and he loved our products. The next week, he made a call personally and asked for additional parts. I kept addressing him as "Mr. Stewart," but he insisted that I call him Rod. It seemed a little unreal to hear that famous raspy voice on the telephone. I hadn't been a huge fan, I must confess, but his genuine charm and grace instantly won me over.

Incredibly, he said he wanted to meet my husband and me. Rod put me in touch with his manager, who made the arrangements, and a few weeks later we all got together backstage before an open-air concert at the Jones Beach Theater in New York. Rod was wearing a bright orange jacket and cool sneakers, and his hair was of course wild and amazing. He asked if we'd like to come back and talk more about model railroads after his show.

Our seats were in the front row, with crazed fans on either side. During the concert, Rod kicked dozens of autographed soccer balls into the crowd. Then he kneeled down and gently handed one to me. The women around me were stunned, desperate to know how I'd made that happen.

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Afterward, we returned backstage and resumed the conversation we'd started earlier. Rod clearly loved chatting about his hobby with people who shared his interest, which truly was a passion. Later that year, he would appear on the cover of Model Railroader magazine. To him, that was cooler than being featured on the cover of yet another rock publication.

Rod kept calling and became a friend as well as a regular customer. He gave us great seats at a number of his concerts—including one at the legendary Apollo Theater, where he poured me a glass of wine in his dressing room and I hung out with his then future wife, Penny Lancaster, while the boys talked trains. By then I felt comfortable calling him Rod. One time he sent my husband and me a Christmas card, addressing us as his "little sausages."

Now we get to the crazy part of the story. Some years later, in the midst of a midlife crisis, I threw a theme party and hired a Rod Stewart lookalike—and, shortly after that, ran away with him. I quit the model train biz, ended my marriage and had a total meltdown. I'd been craving new excitement, a more colorful life. Running around with a pretend rock star seemed like just the ticket.

I carried on with that fellow for a few years, and even got him backstage to meet the real Rod Stewart. We came away with a great photo of the three of us, which the Rod lookalike and I sent out that year as a Christmas card. Of course, it also became a promotional photo for "fake Rod"—after he cropped me out of the picture.

In the end, I walked away from this guy. It was a tough period—the first cut may be the deepest, but they all hurt—and for a while I couldn't stand to hear any Rod Stewart songs. In time, however, I got over it, and today I can smile when I think back on my jaunt with a celebrity imposter.

As for Rod Stewart, what can I say? He's a great singer and a wonderful entertainer. But there will always be a special place in my heart for Rod, the model railroader.