I met Bill Gates when I worked at Virgin Interactive because I was the producer of "The 7th Guest."

Graeme Devine, who programmed Guest, had been working with Microsoft on getting it to run under Windows so Gates could show it at a Multimedia conference.

Thanks to Graeme, I was able to tag along to the rehearsal for the presentation, which was the night before the actual event. I think this took place at Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Gates dropped by and talked with Graeme and pretty much ignored me. But I was listening. The thing that struck me was how relaxed he was. He was only worth about $7B then - I thought of him as The Seven Billion Dollar Man.

After chatting with Graeme he did a dry-run of his presentation. He was the most charismatic speaker I had ever seen. He was laughing, making jokes about CD-I, and generally having a great time. His staff was working really hard to make sure everything went great and while you could see they were working hard and focused they didn't seem unhappy or like people that were being forced into unpleasant labor. They liked working for him.

It was an incredible experience for me, because Gates was completely unlike his public persona, which is a nerdy, goofy, nervous-nelly kind of guy.

How could this be?

Graeme and I left - but before we got into our car, I realized I need to go back and and go to the bathroom. On my way to the bathroom, Gates and an associate (maybe Glaser - I can't remember) were coming out of the auditorium. With every step, Gates slowly transformed into his nerdy self. It was amazing.

I realized from that that when Gates was in his element - the dry-run for his talk - surrounded by his staff, where he was in complete control - he was the most charismatic person on earth. I could see why people worked so hard and were so eager to please him and generally worked their asses off.

But out of his element, he was a very nervous dude, which is they guy we see on TV.

I read in article in Slate once by a reporter that had dinner with Gates and he commented on how relaxed and interesting Gates was. The reporter had to go to great lengths to point out that even though Microsoft owned Slate, the reporter was not an apologist for Gates or Microsoft. He had to defend his comments that Gates was an interesting dinner companion. That is how at-odds Gates' public and private personas are.

So - a big question answered - how could that nerdy dude we see on TV build a huge empire? Answer - he's different in private.