When Rob Goldstone was writing his memoir, it was suggested he call it Useful Idiot. But Mr Goldstone had a better idea.
“Take the ‘Useful’ bit out,” he said, chuckling. “Let’s just call the book ‘Idiot’.”
A quick online search provides ready ammunition for the epithet. In a YouTube video, he’s seen skipping around a cruise ship singing about Andy Pandy. In photos on social media he’s wearing a Russian fur hat, or a Mexican wrestler’s mask, or a giant plastic crown.
But it is the Briton’s cameo in the US presidential election which is by far the most surreal.
Mr Goldstone, 57, unwittingly set up a meeting between a Kremlin “informant” and the most senior members of Donald Trump’s team – a meeting which, when it became known last summer, threw a grenade into the White House, and turned his own life upside down. The New York-based music publicist was hounded by the press, and ridiculed online. He was also astonished to find that he had waded right in to Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian attempts to sway the election.
He’s now written a book about it, out this week.
Was he naïve?
“Yes!” he says, laughing wryly. “About all of it!
“I went back home to Manchester when this broke, to apologise for it all.
“And I went to see an aunt, who has since passed away, but was in an old people’s home. I wanted to say, look, I’m sorry for all this.
“But she said, gleefully: ‘This is unbelievable! I have all these women coming round at night, and we just watch it!’”
Certainly Mr Goldstone, a former tabloid journalist, whose colourful career already included flying around with Michael Jackson on his private jet and persuading Muhammad Ali to come to his local radio station, was an unusual addition to the Trump team.
In 2013 he had helped “the Elvis of Azerbaijan,” a pop singer named Emin Agalarov, bring Mr Trump’s beauty pageant, Miss Universe, to Moscow.
He tells of hoping to entice Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to the pageant so that he could get "the selfie to end all selfies" – him sneaking a photo of himself with Mr Putin and Mr Trump in the background.
The Putin-Trump meeting never happened, but from then on he was the go-between for the Agalarovs, with Emin’s father Aras one of Moscow’s most influential property tycoons, and the Trumps.
In June 2016 Emin asked Mr Goldstone to email Donald Trump Jr to try to set up a meeting between the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer flying to New York, with the offer of damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
The meeting was a disaster – the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, irritated those in the room by launching a lengthy discussion about rules banning the adoption of Russian children and Mr Goldstone felt humiliated.
Emin texted Mr Goldstone, he said, saying: “‘I just want you to know that, like you, I was against all aspects of this meeting.’”
He shook his head in disbelief.
“And I didn’t reply, because I wanted to say: ‘Well, you pillock, why didn’t you tell me?’”
Mr Goldstone said he thought the request was strange to start with, sarcastically asking Emin whether the “connected” Russian lawyer was linked up to the power grid.
“When I fought back on it, saying nothing good will come of it, if there had been one iota of that I would have thought, OK, he also thinks this is weird, let’s not do it. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
All of this he relayed, in December 2017, to Mr Mueller’s team – an incredibly daunting experience. He found the interrogators to be “methodical and logical” – in contrast to the highly-partisan political committees before whom he also testified.
“I think when they ask questions they know the answers,” he said. “I think they definitely know more than anyone thinks.
“I think the meeting will turn out to be a very small piece of a very big puzzle, and the reason it gets so much attention is because it’s one of the only tangible things there is. I wrote the email, I puffed it up, we had a meeting, and guess what – I sat in that meeting. So I’m kind of the independent voice in it all. Because I’m not on one side, or the other.
“I shouldn’t have even been there.”
Does he feel used?
“It’s a really interesting question,” he said, after a long pause.
“A year ago, when this all broke, I would have said 100 per cent that this was black and white. It was some kind of favour that this client of mine, and his family, wanted done for this lawyer. And they just asked me to be an intermediary, because they always asked me to be an intermediary, especially in things relating to Trump.
“But a year on, having read and seen all that has been said and done – especially when the attorney herself, Natalia, said: ‘I am an informant.’ And I was like: ‘Wait, wait, wait, wait! What does THAT mean?’
“Right now, I don’t think I have been used. But I won’t say that definitively until I see that report.
“I allow myself to maybe have a 10 per cent question mark. I think I’ll be as interested as anybody to see what these investigations – especially Robert Mueller’s investigation – reveal.”
Mr Goldstone insists he has no politics; he has never voted, and simply works to keep his clients happy. He happily concedes that he thinks Mr Trump is “nuts”, but a fabulous showman. Asked what he would do if Mr Trump was his client, and he had to improve his image, he said he would take away his phone.
“When he first took over, I would have said: look, it’s been reported that you don’t want to live in the White House. Well, you have to.
“You have your own plane, and that’s great, but now you fly on Air Force One.
“Oh, and by the way, in your role as president, you don’t have a phone. That phone? Hand it over. And if he said yeah, but I like to tweet every 10 minutes, I’d reply: ‘Sure, but you also like to live in Trump Tower, but you can’t. Unfortunately, in this package you get as president, that’s how it is.’
“I would have literally stepped on his phone. And said: now you don’t have one.”
His election was America’s Brexit, he believes – no one wanted to admit voting that way, but many millions did.
“He really can convince people that he’s one of them,” he said. “Even though he would drive over you in his limousine to get to his gold-plated toilet. It doesn’t matter, because you can relate to him.”
He hasn’t been in touch with the Trumps since the Trump Tower meeting; the Agalarovs keep him at arm’s length, amid the fallout.
If he bumped into President Trump, he thinks the president would have a sarcastic one-liner for him. If he could pose him a question, he would ask: “I’d always believed you’d win, but I always believed you thought you wouldn’t. Are you sorry you won?”
For Mr Goldstone, it is just another chapter in a rollicking life. He has put aside working as a publicist for now – being more famous than your clients is not a good look, he thinks.
“Do I think it’s a shame the president is a reality star? No. If there was a reality star who was brilliant in terms of bringing people together, doing amazing things – I don’t care where you came from.
“What this has shown me is never dismiss anything. Anything is possible. Does it mean that Gemma Collins is the next home secretary? No. But could Lord Sugar be? Maybe. Richard Branson? Maybe.”
What would his 12-year-old self, being bullied at school, have made of all this, I ask.
“He would have absolutely loved it. My 12-year-old self was really bad, really naughty.”
He paused, and chuckled.
“So not very different to Donald Trump’s 72-year-old self! Maybe it was all fate after all.”