HER name is Rita and she’s lovely, but unlike her namesake made famous by The Beatles back in 1967, this Rita was never a meter maid.
No, Rita Gilligan has a far more impressive back-story than sticking parking tickets on windscreens, ever smiling and 77 years young, this Rita lays claim to be being the first waitress in the first ever Hard Rock Cafe, in London in 1971.
Still going strong, she now travels the world as a brand ambassador for the chain of rock ‘n’ roll restaurants, adding her Irish charm to openings and special occasions.
I had the pleasure of meeting the Galway gal earlier this week when she popped over from the Emerald Isle to host the 20th Birthday celebrations of the Capital’s Hard Rock Cafe, where she took great delight in sharing with me the story of how she landed the much coveted job.
Living in London at the time, it was her husband who tipped her off to the fact that a new restaurant was opening and looking for waiting staff.
He also mentioned that they intended to buck the trend by hiring older waitresses rather than youngsters.
“I was 29 at the time,” recalled Rita, “and I went along to the interview.”
Conducting the interview was a boss who was just 21.
“It all went really well and then he asked me how old I was,” smiled Rita, who has not only met most of the world’s rock ‘n’ roll royalty but has become one of them herself.
She continued, “Although I was 29, to be on the safe side I said I was 32. He looked at me and said, ‘32, sorry, you’re too young’.”
Rita managed to talk herself into the job nonetheless. It’s easy to see how, even now she is a wonderful little bundle of good vibes.
47 years later, she has outlasted all her contemporaries and published a book, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Waitress at the Hard Rock Cafe - My Life.
Published in hardback in 2016, I made sure to pick up a copy and get her to inscribe it.
It promises to be a tasty read, forget ‘Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll’, ‘Beers, fries and burger-filled rolls’ is where it’s at for me these days.
Another highlight of the evening was the opportunity to hop aboard a Harley Davidson, another first. These amazing machines are a work of art, sitting astride one feels remarkably like luxuriating in the most comfortable - and expensive - leather armchair ever.
As Rita posed with me for a pic, I couldn’t help noticing her Hard Rock Cafe pins (badges to you and me).
Apparently she has thousands and, as each employee earns a new service pin for each year completed with the Cafe, Rita has been there so long they now make a new individual pin just for her each year.
A legend and a lesson to us all, as she wrote in my copy of her book, ‘Together We Rock’, keep rockin’ Rita and a Happy 20th Birthday to our very own Hard Rock Cafe.