Have you ever walked down a street, or sat on a train, or been in a department store and seen someone you recognise? You think it's a friend of yours, but can't quite recall their name, so you smile, say "Hello", have a wee chat with them and only once you've walked away do you realise that it was an actor whose face is beamed into your sitting-room through the television screen - you think you "know" them, because they look so familiar!
I had this experience on a huge scale last night, when I was at the Olivier Awards at the Royal Opera House. My lovely friend, Fin, had invited me to accompany him to the awards ceremony and after-party - you'll remember the story of my posh frock shopping trip from an earlier blog!
I'll start the story of the day with arriving at Fin's apartment (it's far too gorgeous to call it a flat). I had been in Cambridge on a training course for my church - I think this means that I can now claim to have studied at Cambridge, don't you? Post-graduate course, obviously.....The course itself was really useful but it was pretty tiring, as there was a lot of information to assimilate and we did a lot of group work so the level of engagement required was quite high. The other delegates were from URCs across the UK and we had some time to socialise as well and a couple of hours to look around the beautiful city of Cambridge. I went for a run early on Saturday morning and running along the banks of the Cam, seeing the punts bobbing gently, the sun filtering through the trees and the peaceful start to the day as Cambridge came to life was a bit of a bonus (and helped counter-act the effects of the rather large amounts of food I consumed over the three days!).
I left Cambridge on Sunday morning, part-way through the morning sessions, so that I could arrive at Fin's for 1 pm. Thanks to the marvellously punctual FirstCapitalConnect train service and London Transport, I did actually appear on Fin's doorstep at about 2 minutes to 1 - how's that for timing?? After a quick catch-up, we both disappeared to our respective rooms to get ready. I put into practice the tips I had learned at my Look Good, Feel Better workshop at the Royal Marsden a few weeks ago and finally was ready to slip into my new frock. Gentle readers, I am delighted to say that I felt fabulous in it! Combined with the make-up and a very simple hairstyle, the dress made me feel that I looked the best I have since I had my surgery last year. Fin was in the kilt, a wonderfully unique red kilt with thistles incorporated into the panels. Which tartan? MacFlamboyant, I think :-) There's something about a man in a kilt that seems to appeal to people, because I lost count of the number of people who came up to us over the next twelve hours and commented on how fantastic Fin looked - and he did look fantastic! We felt quite the Beautiful Couple in our finery. We took a couple of photos in Fin's apartment and then went down to get our car to the Criterion restaurant, where Fin had booked a table for us to have lunch. It's a gorgeous restaurant, very opulent and glamorous and the staff all said how wonderful we looked, so my head was beginning to swell a bit!
I bet it's no surprise to you to learn that my very delicious meal was accompanied by champagne - oh yes! We started the day as we meant to go on - in style and with lots of bubbles! When it was time to leave for the pre-show drinks at the Waldorf (the glamour continues!), we realised that the rain was pouring down outside, scuppering our plans to walk from the Criterion to the Waldorf. We had been hoping that we might get mistaken for celebrities by tourists, because who else would be in full Highland dress and a floor-length silk dress in daylight?! However, since we didn't want to arrive in rain-spattered clothes and with frizzy hair (in my case!), Fin arranged for us to be picked up and driven to the Waldorf. We did get some appreciative comments and compliments from the groups of people outside the restaurant as we left and some Japanese/Korean tourists smiled and said something which we think might have been complimentary!
At the Waldorf, we were having pre-awards drinks with the group from Ghost - the Musical (the more sharp of memory amongst you will remember that Fin took me and two other uni friends to see this in January). The production was up for several awards, so our group was a mix of actors, producers, publicity, etc. Fin is one of the producers - the show is in preview stage on Broadway, so he will be going over for Press Night next week. If there's any justice in the world, it will be as phenomenally popular over there as it has been over here. I had several people comment on my frock, which made me feel good, as you can imagine.
Fin had forwarded me the email with details of the arrangements for the awards, in which we were advised that the only access to the Royal Opera House was via the red carpet...I've never been on a red carpet before! And this was no short, thin strip of CarpetRight - this was a long, very wide carpet, with barriers on either side, crowds of people lined up to watch everyone arrive, cameras flashing and people calling out the names of the various celebrities. Just walking up the red carpet, I walked past Natascha McElhone, James McAvoy, Anne-Marie Duff, Jack Davenport and Zoe Wanamaker. I was feeling a bit star-struck already! I took a photo of Fin with Zoe Wanamaker and with Jack Davenport and sneaked a few phone photos of the others on the red carpet.
We had fantastic seats in the ROH - front stalls, near the front. Patrick Stewart and Lenny Henry were two rows in front, Kara Tointon two rows behind, James McAvoy and Anne-Marie Duff one row in front, Zoe Wanamaker three rows in front, and June Brown (Dot Cotton from EastEnders) about five seats away from me. Phyllida Law (mother of Emma and Sophie Thompson) was almost right in front of me. Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball were hosting the awards for the second time, I think, and I thought they were really good - as with all of these events, you get blips and when the show is broadcast live, there's the potential for awkward silences and embarrassed throat clearing, but on the very small number of occasions where links or mics didn't work, they coped brilliantly - great ad-libbing, relaxed approach and humour. I hadn't expected or realised that during the awards ceremony, we would also be entertained by dancers, singers and performers on stage - Sarah Lancashire sang, we had performances from South Pacific, Singing in the Rain, Matilda, Crazy for You and the Wizard of Oz. We also had a stunning duet from the Royal Ballet and, when Sir Tim Rice was given a special asward, we had a real treat: a rendition of I Know Him So Well by Maria Friedman and another singer whose name I can't remember, an impeccable, emotionally soaring performance of Don't Cry for Me, Argentina by Elaine Paige, who spoke very movingly about Tim Rice. He was very humble in his response - he came across as a total gentleman and looked like the kind of person who would be very happy and entertaining just having a couple of glasses of wine in the pub! For me, one of the highlights of the day was the unexpected (by me!) end to the ceremony: in honour of Tim Rice, we had a performance of the opening number from The Lion King, complete with the magnificent animals processing down the aisles. I could feel myself welling up - I just remembered how overwhelmed I was when Neil and I went to see the show in January and I found myself crying as the curtains opened! What a magnificent end to the awards ceremony itself!
This wasn't the end, though - oh no! We were invited to the after-show party, so we moved upstairs with the other lucky invitees and started mingling. I tell you, it was wall-to-wall celebrity! I shall try and list those people I spoke to or saw: (deep breath)
Eric Pollard from Emmerdale
Sir Trevor Nunn
Jonny Lee Miller
Katherine Kelly (Becky from Corrie)
Michael Landon (Dempsey from Dempsey and Makepeace)
..and that's over and above the ones we saw on the red carpet!!
We spent some time chatting with Katherine Kelly, Celia Imrie, Gillian Bevan and Lesley Manville and I had a brief chat with Ronan Keating. Amy (daughter) had texted me to say that I was to ask Ronan Keating for his phone number, so I told him this and he laughed and said "Sure", but I didn't think this was a serious request or answer, so I just got my photo taken with him instead and sent it to Amy to make her feel jealous :-D (It worked!).
Without exception, all the people we met - actors, directors, producers, other guests - were charming, friendly and very happy to chat. I had a complete and utter blast! Lesley Manville even commented on my dress, yay! It was a totally fantastic evening and came to an end just before 1 a.m - Fin and I went back to his apartment and had a cup of tea (perfect end to a perfect day). By the time we finished chatting, it was nearly three in the morning - the latest night I have had in over a year! Well worth staying up so late, as I just had the most glorious time. Fin had said he hoped that going to this event would be good for my confidence and he was absolutely right - not once did I think about my face, but what I did think about was that actually, I looked pretty good in my frock and could hold my head up and talk to people without feeling I need to apologise or explain about how I look.
<unfolds piece of paper, adjusts microphone, clears throat>
I'd like to thank the following people:
My wonderful husband, Neil, for encouraging me to have the confidence to go out and enjoy myself without worrying about how I look and for telling me all the time how beautiful I am. Also for being so happy for me to be invited to such a prestigious event while he did the gardening and food shopping :-);
My children, for doing the same and for helping me choose my dress;
My amazing friends, for their encouragement and kind comments on Facebook about my dress
and finally, to my lovely friend Fin, for thinking of me and giving me the chance to be part of the wonderful world of London Theatre.
I might have introduced the above paragraph in a flippant way, but the sentiments are heartfelt and genuine. I feel very blessed.