Copenhagen and meeting one of the most famous singers in music

6 mins read

For the first 20 years of my life, I’d never met anyone famous. To be honest, I’d never really been that bothered about it. Countless times, I’d seen stories and videos on Twitter of people having negative encounters with celebrities, whether they came off as rude or otherwise. It’s always seemed to me to be a situation you’d want to avoid rather than actively pursue.

But, when the moment arrived, I ended up doing the complete opposite.

In June of 2022, I’d spent the day with my brother walking around the picturesque city centre of Copenhagen, Denmark.

We were travelling back from Slovakia after seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers play a packed stadium gig in the sweltering heat of Bratislava. I got the chance to see my favourite guitarist, John Frusciante, put on an incredible performance. We had time to kill, and planned to take in the sights before we left.

At the cruise port in Copenhagen. Credit: Matthew Burns.

While we were walking along the main square, we couldn’t help but notice an interesting looking man as we passed. He was around six foot tall, wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a big cigar. I remember telling my brother, “He looks a bit of a character”. But, not thinking much of it, I kept walking.

My brother went quiet, which wasn’t like him. I stopped and asked him, “What’s up?”. He replied, “That’s James Hetfield”.

Instantly I told him, “No chance”. My rapid response was of someone who probably didn’t want to believe we saw somebody that famous. Why would the lead singer of one of the biggest bands on the planet be standing around in the middle of the street?

But, to be fair, if you were that bothered about not being noticed, you probably wouldn’t be wearing a massive cowboy hat.

He said, “It’s definitely him”.

“Surely not”, I said. Then, he pulled up Google Images, and pointed to the distinct neck tattoo of the Metallica frontman, and then looked back. “Alright”, I told him. “It’s definitely him”.

We walked a bit further. I looked at my brother, and I think it was the first time I’d ever seen him star struck like that.

I liked some of Metallica’s songs, but I wasn’t their biggest fan or anything like that. But I knew my brother was, and my dad. I vividly remember him blasting the St Anger album in the car when I was younger, one of the band’s most divisive records amongst their fans and critics.

Cover art for St. Anger by Metallica.

My brother was, reasonably, hesitant to go up and speak to him, who at this point looked to be crossing the road to make his way down to the harbour. “Realistically, you’ll never get this chance again, so go over there”, I told him, feeling the need to hype him up. 

So we did. My brother went up to him, asking the obvious, “Hi, are you James Hetfield?”. He responded, “Yup!”

“Do you mind if we get a picture?”, my brother asked. James replied back, smiling, “Nope! But I’ll shake your hand,” letting out a hearty laugh.

He couldn’t have been more of a humble and chilled out guy, and I don’t think either of us were fussed about a photo at that point, as we both shook his hand.

He asked us if we were coming to the Metallica show the next day, and we told him that we’d just seen the Chilis the night before and were heading home later on. We found out after that Hetfield was there to see Lars Ulrich, the Danish drummer of Metallica, be presented with an honorary award for his role in Metallica’s lawsuit against streaming service Napster for copyright infringement, as well as songwriting and composing. We chatted for a bit longer, and then we said goodbye.

What gets me about that day wasn’t the fact we met someone that famous.

If we’d been a street away, we would’ve been none the wiser. If we’d had a direct flight from Bratislava to Edinburgh, that opportunity would’ve been unknowingly taken from us. Cheers, Ryanair.

The biggest thing for me though, was that James Hetfield easily could’ve been a bit standoffish or rude. Yet, he couldn’t have been further from it. If that ends up being the only celebrity I ever bump into, then I’m sound with that.

Featured image credit: Jeff Kravitz.

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I'm Matthew Burns, a fourth year journalism student covering Stirling Uni FC for the 23/24 season.

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