Let me set the scene for you. It's the summer of 1999 and I'm sitting in the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, freaking out. Why? Because I have to have a pair of snakeskin boots repaired in the next few hours so my boss can go onstage to play a concert in front of 22,000 people that night. But I realize that I have a lifeline I can turn to. I'm a member of New York Celebrity Assistants - a group of over 100 assistants to celebrities in all walks of life - and can, with one email, blast every one of them to ask for recommendations for a place that can solve this conundrum. Not just a shoe repair place, but a place that can quickly repair boots that are irreplaceable and need to be delicately handled.
I got those boots repaired before soundcheck that day. After I sent that email it was forwarded on to the LA group, the Association of Celebrity Personal Assistants, who sprung to my aid immediately. Within ten minutes of that email going out, I had three great recommendations and was out the door on my way to one of those shops. And, had I been in Europe, I'd have been able to solve the problem easily as well since our group has a similar relationship with the Association of Celebrity Assistants, which is based in London.
New York Celebrity Assistants celebrates its 15th Anniversary this week, and it's been a long and fascinating journey from a small meeting at the Ritz Carlton in 1996. Bonnie Low-Kramen, who has worked with Olympia Dukakis and Louis Zorich for 25 years, attended that first meeting, and is one of the founding members of NYCA. "It's a win-win situation to help your colleagues with resources," she says. Another member, who's worked with a multiple award winning actress, tells me point blank that "I could not have done my job as well or as efficiently without it. Our positions can be very isolating so it's truly been a god-send to have a group of colleagues and friends I can go to for advice or suggestions." Advice and suggestions on everything from hard-to-get restaurant reservations, carpet/window cleaners, plumbers, electricians, movers, house seats, household security, staff hiring, private jet companies, gift buying, financial planning, stress management - solved quickly and easily through the combined power of over 100 rolodexes.
NYCA members (currently numbering 122) work for the crème de la crème of celebrities in a plethora of professions. NDA's prevent me from naming most of them, but the list includes Oprah Winfrey, Paula Zahn, James Patterson, David Sanborn, Dr. Ruth, Barbara Cook, and Sarah Ferguson, in addition to the aforementioned Olympia Dukakis. The others range from rock stars to philanthropists to debutantes to supermodels. The membership, which meets about every six weeks at high end restaurants or hotels who regularly host celebrity clientele and see the value in associating directly with those who serve A-Listers, is wildly diverse and a great group of people.
Meetings are themed to any number of topics that are helpful to someone whose job entails performing quick drama-free miracles all day long. A few recent topics include green home resources, estate planning, life insurance, and social media training. Early this year we met at Tiffany's for a tour and a chance to network with personal shoppers. Every attendee left with a gift bag from the store. "Rather than feeling like you're in a vacuum - which most celebrity assistants physically are, running a one person office and maintaining discretion as they handle personal tasks for a celebrity - you're part of a community that can spring to your aid in a few clicks of the mouse," another member tells me.
Another, who works for the Saudi Royal Family, needed specialty cakes made at the last minute from a bakery that did not allow last-minute ordering. A half hour after an email went out to membership he had the names of two executives at the bakery that were able to override their policy and accommodate the request. Yet another, who needed a seamstress on the Upper East Side to immediately repair a gown so her boss could perform at Feinstein's at the Regency, got enough suggestions to solve her problem in a timely manner. The show did go on.
NYCA also provides, for its members, a robust job referral service that has served members well since the group's inception. Reaching out to this group ensures you'll get the best of the best, who are used to dealing quickly and efficiently with difficult tasks while always remaining discreet and professional. Bonnie Low-Kramen, who wrote a popular book about the profession called Be the Ultimate Assistant and regularly gives presentations across the country on being a Celebrity PA, calls NYCA "my powerful secret weapon. My connection to NYCA has meant that I have been better and faster at my job. To have instant access to such resourceful and talented people has been priceless."
The last word on the subject perhaps should go to Ms. Low-Kramen's employer, Olympia Dukakis, who says, "There is no question that NYCA is an organization of great value to both assistants and celebrities. In 15 years, NYCA members have helped us with resources and information countless times. Every celebrity would be wise to support their assistant to join. Congratulations on 15 years and thank you!"
For more info on NYCA visit the website