I met President Putin once. His eyes scared me when they locked with mine across Red Square and I got the feeling from his hard, cold look that we weren’t going to be mates.

It was back in May of 2003 and my then-boss Paul McCartney was performing for the first time in Russia as part of a European concert tour on which I was the head of Macca’s publicity team.

If you’re the Beatle who wrote Back In The USSR for The White Album in 1968 and you finally get to play in Moscow 35 years later, then there’s only one place that you want to do the gig – beside The Kremlin in Red Square.

And so that’s where we built the huge stage. We were told that there was only space for about 60,000 in Red Square. We had a look and said no, we think you can fit in at least another 40,000. The Russians said no, our eyes deceived us, there wasn’t the room. So we put 60,000 tickets on sale and they went in a flash. Oddly enough, come the night of the gig, another 40,000 had squeezed in. The Russians said that had nothing to do with them…

The Russians also said that Putin wanted to come to the show because he was a Beatles fan, as if that was a big surprise, most Russians are – during the days of the Soviet Union, “decadent” Western rock music like that of The Beatles was banned in Russia and their records were not sold there. Russians got around that by buying the records from crewmen on visiting merchant ships and then bootlegged them onto discarded X-Ray sheets, they called them “records on the bones”.

The first thing that struck me about Red Square was the number of police and Army who were providing security at the gig, hundreds and hundreds of them. The second thing was the concern that some of the Russian team had that the weather forecast had given rain for the gig.

I remember something I’d once read that the Russian air force had developed technology that meant that if fighter jets sprayed rain clouds with some sort of flakes of aluminium it held off the rain. Was that true? They nodded. Could they spray the clouds? Yes, I was told, but it would cost £10,000. Do it, I instructed, without asking permission. I don’t know whether they did or not, I was told that they did; anyway, it didn’t rain.

The third thing that struck me was the surprise when I was sitting with Paul in his dressing room before the gig and former President Gorbachev burst in, sweating and bearing gifts of his autobiography and bunches of lily of the valley from the garden of his dacha because he had heard that they were the favourite flower of Paul’s late wife Linda. He was a jolly chap.

Not so jolly was the experience a short while later when I went out to see how Red Square was filling up and discovered that Putin’s security team had positioned snipers along the roof tops of the buildings facing the Kremlin.

“Somebody’s got it in for you, mate” said one of my team and when I questioned why he pointed to the four or five red dots of red laser light that had appeared on my chest. Spetsnaz special forces had me in their sights, although I would prefer to believe they were just finely adjusting the scopes on their rifles.

The Wiltshire Gazette and Herald: Paul McCartney performs in Red Square to 100,000 Russians. Photo: Bill Bernstein MPLPaul McCartney performs in Red Square to 100,000 Russians. Photo: Bill Bernstein MPL

The gig started and there was no sign of Putin. It was a long gig, Paul’s, at least 35 songs, so we weren’t bothered, Putin was probably in the shower or something, I figured he’d come along eventually. But as the show progressed there was still no sign of him.

Then Paul got to the place in the setlist when he always played Back In The USSR. He did and the crowd went berserk. But still no sign of Putin, he'd missed it.

Minutes later we looked behind us and a phalanx of people were coming out of the Kremlin, walking down to the gig. Putin was in the middle of them. As he passed, he locked eyes on me. His eyes bored into me and he didn’t look happy, maybe he was amazed that I’d had the audacity to order the spraying of the clouds, either way I could tell in that moment that this was no pussy cat.

He and his entourage took their seats in the crowd and some of them stood next to me, by the side of the stage. One of these was a Russian admiral in full uniform. I glanced down and noticed that, oddly, he was wearing handcuffs on his left wrist.

Attached to the other end of the cuffs was a briefcase – they had brought the nuclear briefcase (the specially-outfitted briefcase used to authorize the use of nuclear weapons which is kept nearby the leader of a nuclear weapons state at all times, and which in Russia is code-named “Cheget”) to the gig. As you do.

I wondered what on earth could have delayed Putin in arriving, it not being every day that Paul McCartney performs on your doorstep, and then it dawned on me – that Putin had arrived after Paul had played Back In The USSR possibly because he didn’t want to be seen jigging about to a song that in some part celebrates the old Soviet regime that Putin allegedly wants to see reinstated.

By arriving after the song has been performed, no “decadent” Western TV news footage could construct implications of him getting down to it.

Perhaps Paul had the same thought, because once he realised that Putin was now “in the house” he did something he had had never done in the 15 years that I worked for him – he performed the song again.

The President did not look knocked out with delight at that.