Lost in translation, British engineer gets instant fame

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London, Oct 22 (UNI) A case of mistaken identity made a British engineer judge a beauty contest, appear on national television and shake hands with the Russian President.

Neil Smith, electrical projects manager at a new steelworks in Siberia, was taken for a rock star during a long stay at a hotel in the industrial town of Sayangorsk.

A wealthy hotel owner mistook him for a contemporary of The Rolling Stones when he misinterpreted the 52-year-old engineer during a conversation.

''One minute I was just getting on with my job and the next I was getting the red carpet treatment and people seemed to think I was famous back home,'' Smith, from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was quoted by the Telegraph as saying.

Although he explained he once played bass guitar in a club band, he was to be publicly presented as a rock star contemporary of The Rolling Stones.

''I just got swept along with it and in the end I dare not admit the truth,'' he said.

''It was totally surreal being interviewed on TV and then meeting Vladimir Putin.'' The identity crisis occurred when he had been transferred to stay in a remote hunting lodge because his hotel had to be cleared to make way for Russian VIPs on an official visit.

''There was absolutely nothing to do in the evenings apart from drink in the bar so I got talking to the owner, who was some wealthy Russian with numerous business interests.

''As we talked with the receptionist acting as interpreter I mentioned I came from South Yorkshire and I used to be a bass player in clubs around the country when I was younger -- I meant working men's clubs and places like that.

''He was interested and he asked if I would be a judge in a little competition so I said I would and assumed it probably meant casting his eye over a few acts at a local bar,'' Smith explained.

When the big night arrived, however, he was taken by limousine to a venue the size of the Albert Hall in Siberia's main city of Abakan as a judge at Miss Siberia contest.

''I was introduced to the packed arena they said I was a major international guitarist who has been specially flown in for the event,'' he said.

After the contest he was interviewed for Russian television, spent an hour signing autographs and attended an after-show party with the contestants.

Back at work he was placed at the end of a long line of people to meet an official delegation when he shook hands with President Putin.

''We exchanged greetings and then he was gone. Now I know why my original hotel was emptied,'' he said.


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