The Hollywood Fast Life of Stalker Sarah

June 1st, 2013

Mark Peterson/Redux, for The New York Times

Sarah with Harry Styles, of the band One Direction.

One afternoon this winter, Sarah M., better known as “Stalker Sarah,” was sitting in the back of an In-N-Out Burger fidgeting with her iPhone and plotting how to get her picture taken with Harry Styles, the rakishly handsome frontman of the English boy band One Direction, or one of his bandmates. Sarah was dressed in her usual uniform of black leather jacket, black skinny jeans and black sneakers; her long brown hair was swept back into a neat ponytail, and her wispy bangs gently brushed the top of her signature wire-rimmed glasses, which accentuated her black eyeliner. It was more or less the same look she had worn in photographs over the years with Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Justin Bieber, Julia Roberts, Oprah, Tim Tebow, Levi Johnston, Rod Blagojevich, Kris Humphries and many, many others. More than 6,000 photos of Sarah mugging with celebrities have been uploaded to the Internet. At 17, she is easily the most famous fan in the world.

Mark Peterson/Redux, for The New York Times

Sarah, after she got a photo of Harry Styles.

Sarah had picked this In-N-Out Burger because it was near LAX. That morning, she heard that One Direction was booked to perform on “The X Factor,” and speculation about their arrival gained traction when the band was photographed entering Heathrow Airport at 2 p.m. London time. Soon after that, some of the band’s more than 11 million Twitter followers deduced that they must be taking the 4:15 British Airways flight to Los Angeles. Sitting next to her father, Tracy, Sarah tracked the flight’s progress on her phone. The plane was due to land 30 minutes early, which gave her exactly 15 minutes to get to the airport.

Seven minutes later, Sarah and Tracy walked into the Tom Bradley International Terminal. It looked like a bust; no nervous throng of teenagers or idling paparazzi were anywhere in sight. Then two girls no older than 15 noticed Sarah, whipped out their smartphones and began typing rapidly. Five minutes later “Stalker Sarah” was trending on Twitter, at which point teenage girls (and some of their parents) materialized like an invading army. First there were 10, then 50, then 200. Photographers from TMZ, X17 Online and Splash took up posts near the black S.U.V.’s waiting curbside. The fans had come to meet the band, but for some, a photo with someone who had met them (multiple times) before was almost as exciting. When One Direction performed on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” a month earlier, Sarah was mobbed by dozens of the band’s fans; some tore at her clothes. At LAX, a girl approached her nervously. “Hi, Sarah?” she said. “Could I get a picture with you?” Then another.

Sarah obliged, but her face betrayed worry. With so many fans in the terminal, One Direction’s security team would surely be looking for another exit. She made a run for the curb, and almost immediately, the other young women began exiting, two by two, sensing the missed opportunity. Tracy, who had been standing 20 feet behind his daughter in a blue warm-up jacket and baseball hat, walked up to me and whispered, “She probably went up to the top level of the parking garage to see if anything’s set up.”

This was not Sarah’s first time navigating the escape hatches of LAX. It wasn’t even her first time there that day. She arrived at 8 a.m. to meet Ed Sheeran, an up-and-coming English folk-pop singer who she thought would be flying in from Denver (where he played recently) to Los Angeles (where he was booked on “Jimmy Kimmel Live”) in time for the show’s taping. She wrote down all the information for the direct flights from Denver to L.A. and went from terminal to terminal waiting for him to arrive. When he showed up, around 1 p.m., she was the only fan there to greet him. They snapped a photo together.

Five minutes later, Sarah walked back into the Tom Bradley International Terminal with the army of girls sheepishly trailing her once more. There was nothing doing on the upper level, she said. She was now noticeably excited. She had not taken a picture with Styles all year and was eager to see him. But as she bounced in place, a freelance photographer approached and said that an airline employee he pays for tips texted him that One Direction had slipped out through the American Airlines terminal 20 minutes earlier.

“If that’s true, then why are you still here?” another paparazzo asked him.

“Cher’s coming in from Paris at 9,” he said.

Molly Knight is a contributing writer at ESPN the Magazine.

Editor: Jon Kelly

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.