Megan Fox began to panic.
It was only a few minutes until the vixen du jour was to go onstage at the 2007 Teen Choice Awards. Fox, new to the red-carpet circuit, had just been propelled into stardom by the box-office smash “Transformers.”
Now she had to step onstage, in front of many of her peers, her fans and, well, the world. She flipped, and started saying she needed to speak to her co-star Shia LaBeouf immediately. LaBeouf was nowhere near.
But Christopher Gaida was right by her side.
“I told her she was fantastic, that she looked great, to relax, everybody loves her,” he says. “No b.s., just what I really, truly thought.”
Meet the celebrity escort, the red carpet’s secret weapon. North Hollywood resident Gaida, 38, has escorted celebrities at more than 150 awards shows and benefits, literally walking them from point A to point Z, ensuring the celebs are where they need to be every moment of the night.
“I’ve heard from a number of people that I’m ‘the Celebrity Whisperer,’” says Gaida, whose new book, “Arm Candy: A Celebrity Escort’s Tales From the Red Carpet,” published by AuthorMike Ink ($24.99), comes out tomorrow. Throughout the night, it’s his job to keep the celebrities at ease. Like Fox, a surprising number of them are very shy and nervous, he says.
“They are actors, so they are used to having lines prepared for them, and they get several takes,” says Gaida. “These shows are mostly live, and they have to be themselves, which is sometimes hard.”
Not surprisingly, stars sweat their appearance big time.
In the case of Jessica Alba at the 2007 Taurus World Stunt Awards, this meant suggesting backstage that she go with a different dress before the carpet. She took his advice and slipped into a shimmering little number.
“I told her I liked the dress because it was sexy and shiny,” says Gaida. “It just really showed her personality as fun, young and lively.“
“They’re hiring me because they want my expertise,” he adds. “I feel like it’s my job to give my opinion.”
It’s that candor with celebs that has had some stars clamoring for Gaida’s services. Susan Lucci’s people have repeatedly asked for him to escort her. Queen Latifah was so smitten with him at the 2003 VH1 “Divas Duets” show that she offered him an auditon for her next movie, “Taxi.” (He didn’t get the job, unfortunately.)
Though candor is important, Gaida says it’s crucial that he stays out of the spotlight. He’s often photographed by angry, shouting photographers, but he tries to keep a few feet of distance between him and the celebrity.
“It’s not about me,” he says. “It’s their moment.”
Gaida is coy on how much dough he scores as an escort, but says it can range from no pay for a charity benefit to several hundred dollars for an evening. Thanks to his experience and status, though, Gaida can nab a higher price, sometimes earning double the normal rate. Even so, it’s not enough to pay the bills. He works as a producer during the day, most recently wrapping the Travel Channel show “Exposed.”
Born in Philadelphia, Gaida moved to New York at age 23 and got his start in escorting the following year while temping at MTV. He was working on some dull task when a harried midlevel employee approached him, asking him to come be an escort that night.
“I’m sorry, but I’m really not comfortable selling myself like that,” he replied.
He quickly found out what celebrity escorting was really about — not sleeping with the stars, but guiding them through an event like a shepherd does his sheep.
Two to three weeks before an awards show, producers hire escorts for their events from a small pool of elite candidates with carpet experience. Each escort is usually assigned to one celebrity. They’re informed of the time the star will arrive at the red carpet, and they meet them at their limo at that time.
When the star arrives at the carpet, Gaida introduces himself to the star’s staff — publicists, managers, etc. — and then to the star directly. From there, they quickly discuss a game plan. How long will they stay on the carpet for photos? How many interviews will they do? What media outlets need to be avoided completely because they’ve written negative things in the past? It’s up to the celebrity and their team to decide in most cases, and then Gaida executes the plan.
For his first event, the VH1 “Divas Live” of 1999, Gaida’s job was to get chummy with “SNL” stars Cheri Oteri, Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon. The night went off without a hitch, and Gaida was hooked.
But not every night goes so smoothly.
At the 1999 VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards, Gaida was assigned to escort Sharon Stone. As he introduced himself, she refused to shake his hand, snapping that he was to walk three steps ahead of her at all times and never look back. At the 2003 VH1 “Divas Duets,” Chaka Khan stormed through a hallway, shoving him along the way and ripping his shirt. Gaida says she did not apologize.
At the 2000 GQ Men of the Year Awards, Gaida was escorting Susan Sarandon, when Julia Roberts frantically approached him, yelling that she was supposed to go onstage right that moment. Gaida showed her the schedule, which made clear it was another 20 minutes before she was to go on. But she was insistent.
“You must be mistaken,” she seethed, raising her voice two octaves.
But Gaida didn’t buckle, and eventually convinced the star to back down through an equal level of insistence. (A decade later, he served as Roberts’ escort for a benefit event and mentioned the time she had yelled at him. She apologized, and now recognizes him and says hello at events.)
Questions on the carpet, however, fly at Gaida all the time. Along the way, he may be asked for any number of things — breath mints, hair spray, wardrobe repair — but he won’t be carrying these tools on him.
“I try not to have anything on me, because I’m moving around so much,” says Gaida. “But I’ll know exactly where to get anything they may need.”
Wardrobe malfunctions are fairly common, says Gaida. At the 2010 Daytime Emmys, the strap of Lucci’s dress broke backstage. Gaida whipped that bad boy off of her, ran down to wardobe to fix it and had it back to her in time for her to go onstage.
Perhaps Gaida’s most important duty is to make sure the celeb makes it to the venue on time. At the 2009 Emmys, Christian Slater refused to wrap up an interview. Gaida found himself and Slater locked out of the show, having to call security to get in.
“He knew that it was his fault,” Gaida chuckles.
For some stars, the drama is between one another. At the 2011 Emmys, Gaida found himself escorting the at-the-time extremely erratic Charlie Sheen. Everything was going fine until Sheen wanted to go to the green room, and who should be there at the same time but his “Two and a Half Men” replacement, Ashton Kutcher.
“I probably could have stopped him from entering the room,” laughs Gaida, “But I was too interested in what would happen.”
Sheen and Kutcher played it like champs, at least for the night, giving each other a cordial greeting and moving on.
It’s these little moments that keep Gaida excited about his job even today. Though he’s recently taken a break to write and promote his book, he’s getting back into the game this Saturday at the Annie Awards (for accomplishment in animation).
As for the Academy Awards coming up on Feb. 24, it’s up in the air whether Gaida may be asked to escort or, perhaps because of his book, blacklisted altogether.
Needless to say, not everyone’s excited about his tell-all tome: “Some insecure management-level people are worried that I’m revealing too much, and the secrets of Hollywood. One producer said to me she was worried I’d ruin award shows forever,” Gaida laughs. “I was like, ‘Wow, I have that much power?’ ”