By Edward Wilkinson Latham

AUBREY MEZDI, 46 was the 1987 Leo Sayer ‘Stars in Your Eyes’ South West regional runner up. After eight years of falsely impersonating the pop star at village fetes, and garden centers, he was sued by the real Mr. Leo Sayer and subsequently moved to Saudi Arabia. After five years, he fled to China where he founded a human rights escort agency for other persecuted celebrity look-alikes.

“My days are my nights in the Red City, like many expats who live in Beijing. It’s when the action happens, plus I’m noticed a lot more after dark, often by tourists and Chinese people, most of who have worked in takeaways in Britain and the Channel Islands. They all want their picture taken with the Leo, so I carry a Polaroid camera and charge $10, $11 signed. These are also the hours when I search the streets and noodle bars for fresh talent, especially those who are hard up and will perform a little dance or sing a ditty for money, or yuan as we call it here in China. They’ve all got a story to tell and it doesn’t take me long to convince them with my charisma and a few drawings, that China is one of the few place where you can get away with impersonating a celebrity and make a profit. That’s why I set up my fabulous agency “Better Than The Original.” The Chinese appreciate a look-alike celebrity who has been persecuted in his or her own country and really if you think about it, we are all refuges in a way.

My first piece of talent was the lovely Randolph, a Chancellor Helmut Kohl impersonator. One evening outside the Forbidden City, I found him eating rice with a straw out of a plastic bag. When I saw him there, with widdle down his trousers and his grubby tie round his head like Rambo, I knew he had been through the revolving door between business and politics. I watched him for a while, studying his form, his poise, but when he started to wee on his fingers I knew I had to step forward and help. His story was that he had come to China on a delegation meeting from Hamburg, with a company called Mutti’s Plastics. After a night out of drunken merriment with his counterparts at the Green Lotus, he became separated from the rest of his group. One thing led to another and he became one of the lost people. Well I took him home and cleaned him up and today we share a five-bedroom apartment with darts room and mirrored gymnasium.

Since I’ve signed Kohly to the agency I’ve taken his picture in all sorts of environments and positions and sold the delicious photographs to lots of German media publications. He was my prototype and today I apply the same template to all my look-alike talent, with off shoot, niche market DVDs. I still get Kohly lots of work with clients who like a strapping German frame and a broad range of compelling conversation, but I’ve learnt that you really have to know your stuff. You don’t want to get caught out. Last month Kohly had to memorize his entire twenty six page reunification speech from 1990, for a client who had a thing for jodhpurs and German politics concerning the ramifications of West Germany inheriting a population raised under a malfunctioning socialist welfare system. It’s not for us to ask the client why, just to fulfill their penchants, no matter how peculiar. But I must say, Kohly does likes to play for big steaks, so I try and set him up with other men dressed for business and they meet in hotels, normally with a carvery attached. He still has a couple of regular clients at the French Consulate and despite his age, he can still bring in the money. And besides, I love him. There I can say it. It may be a strange vision to some, but Leo Sayer and former Chancellor Helmut Kohl love each other. It is unfortunate that we usually keep pretty different hours, but neither of us really benefits from being seen out in public in each other’s company. It’s too much for the punters to comprehend, the language, the clothes, the different dance moves and so forth. We’re poles apart in 1980’s popular culture, but opposites do attract.

Personally I think it’s great for the pop master, Leo Sayer to be part of the new developing China. The people here love things made in Europe and the eighties revival has done wonders for the agency and me. We get calls from lonely people, business types, government officials, and of course Olympic committee members who want to add a little celebrity to the evening. I don’t mind that people want to touch my talent, I suppose they want a little bit of Euro celeb to rub off on them somewhere. I still get a booking myself from time to time and that gets my fabulousness out from behind the desk. I usually perform a variety of acts in private homes and depending on how much money is thrown in the pot, I’ll go from fully clothed to leotard, but really it’s a real privilege to be wanted, whomever is paying. Once in a while I stay in and watch English speaking television so I can keep myself up to date with current conversational topics back home, such as Jews for Jesus, the pedestrinisation of central Birmingham or the ongoing heated debate of allowing sandals to be worn in parliament chambers. Whatever the week’s schedule though, I have to devote four hours to my hair, maintaining its volume, bounce and curl. It’s my bread and butter if one day everything is taken away again. It’s the money I make off the others that keeps me in imported Yorkshire puddings, champagne and botox. Leo does like a good Yorkshire pudding I must say, but so does Kohly, which is a problem, so I have to watch him like a hawk and count them all the time. I also have to keep Kohly in optimum Chancellor weight and fitness, with a delicate regime of waffles, meat and beer, plus vitamins and a weekly half hour long intensive dance on the spot.

I’m very excited about the Olympics this year. The agency is signing expats left, right and centre at the moment in preparation for the flood of exited, curious visitors from around the world to China. They will all want to see, maybe touch and hopefully spend money on someone who looks familiar. I’m happy my agency, or charity as I call it sometimes, has reached out to people on the internet on some of the adult human rights web pages and as a result we’ve received a lot of inquires from lovely people, but as I said, I set this agency for artists who have been persecuted for being a look alike, or those who can invent a good enough sounding story. If I think you look like someone and you are convincing enough to hustle for a dumpling or two then I will take you, mould you and educate you to be a more glorious version of the original. Over the last six months I’ve signed a Simon Le Bon from Taunton who was persecuted for being a gigolo at Cheddar Gorge. Apparently he only just escaped Somerset with his life. There’s a very convincing Russian Vanessa Phelps dominatrix, who I think will be very popular with the Olympic judges, a former French Foreign Legionnaire Chris De Burg, who has hardly slept since I’ve had him on the books. And last week I was sent four identical Gordon Brown quadruplets from the Azores Islands. They’re all musicians, so I’m going to teach them English and then substitute their quirky island folk lyrics with more relevant content. I just see money and more money coming in from that one. Only yesterday I came across the files of a Jeremy Clarkson and a AA Gill con duo who were arrested near the Russian border last week and I’m confident my contribution to the Communist Party Christmas Party will make them both mine by Monday morning. Apparently they’ve both had a lot of experience on the Eastern European trucking routes and can sell anything from cat litter to guns. I know our clients will pay top dollar for that kind of prime, ripe talent and the photographs and downstream marketing potential in issues of The Mail on Sunday will be of sizable revenue.

My celebrities are always charged out at a non-negotiable, non-refundable fee, but in order to diversify and meet the new global markets, we also accept jewelry, passports and military equipment, even organs as long as they have been put on ice properly, of course. I’m not shy to say that I think I might be growing an Empire here; for those who want to be adored and adore too, obviously. Really, if you think about it, we can all be arranged in to archetypes, so by the law of averages, there are at least ten to twenty look-alikes for all sorts of celebrities out there. There could be a whole mini van full of Jane Goodys, a choir of Michael Barrymores, even a pod of Tony Blairs out there somewhere. I just have to find them, or preferably someone somewhere is persecuting them and I can scoop them up for a song.”