30 Hours in London to see Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch appeared at London Film and Comic Con last weekend delighting thousands of fans who attended to see him. Fans travelled from all over to see him but some had crazier journeys than others. Michelle Zajac came from the US to see Benedict and spent a grand total of 30 hours in the UK to see him! Here is her story:

I spent the past weekend hanging out at London Film & Comic Con, meeting Benedict for the very first time. Naomi asked me to share a bit about my trip, because in order to do this, I flew all the way to London and back from Washington, DC in the span of a single weekend — and spent a grand total of 30 hours on the ground!

Here’s a rundown of my LFCC experience by the numbers to get started:

1: Wrong airport travelled to

2: Diamond passes

3: Number of face-to-face interactions with Benedict 

4: New friends

8: Hours of sleep over 2 days

10: Total number of autographs and photos with Benedict 

13: Number of people I met (Benedict, Christopher Lloyd, Mads Mikkelsen, Benedict Wong, Tom Wilson, Alistair Petrie, Sachs Dhawan, Michael Rosenbaum, Sean Biggerstaff, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps, Wil Wheaton, and Tony Lee)

15: Hours in the air

30: Hours in London

38: Hours between real meals

Now, let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? Over the July 4th weekend, Showmasters made the announcement to end all announcements (so far as I was concerned): Benedict Cumberbatch would be coming to LFCC! 

I had just recently attended Sherlocked USA in Los Angeles in May, but Benedict was unfortunately unable to make it. I was also already planning on attending Sherlocked UK in Birmingham this fall (please come say hi to me if you see me!), but as the news about LFCC sunk in, I began to wonder: if he was free NOW, what is the likelihood that he will ALSO be available in October, knowing how many projects he’s working on? Now, maybe (hopefully) I’ll be wrong about that, but here was a GUARANTEED opportunity to finally meet one of my favorite people on the planet (and my favorite actor). Could I really pass that up?

I spent the weekend thinking about it, running all possible scenarios in my head. Finally, I decided to go, lest I regret it forever – but I knew I couldn’t afford to take any additional time off from work. That meant that I was looking at a whirlwind trip, the likes of which I’ve never attempted before: leave DC on Friday night, and then turn right back around and leave London on Sunday afternoon. Originally, I was scheduled to be on the ground for 33 hours. 

However, on Friday, I ended up at the wrong airport. Don’t ask me how – I’m still not entirely sure myself. For those not familiar with the area, DC has 3 major airports. This flight was scheduled out of Dulles, but I usually fly out of BWI. One thing led to another, and I suddenly found myself at BWI with a flight leaving from Dulles in an hour. I was never going to make it, and I felt the whole trip slipping away. Luckily, after a frantic phone call, I did find out that British Airways did have later flights leaving from the airport I was already at, so three hours later (and oodles of self-loathing for the mistake), I was finally on a plane to London. For those of you counting, I was now going to be on the ground for a mere 30 hours

After landing, going through customs, and getting a ride out of Heathrow, I finally arrived to the Olympia at 10:45 AM on Saturday morning — not ideal, but still workable, for sure. I collected my diamond passes (for Benedict, of course, and Tom Wilson as well), made a beeline to not miss my Christopher Lloyd shoot, and then headed upstairs immediately for my photos with Benedict. Up until this point, I had been running on pure adrenaline. But as I stood in line, the nerves began kicking in. I had bought 3 extra photos on top of the one that came with my diamond pass, but I had never done anything like that before, so I had no idea what I was doing or how to ask for poses without feeling super weird. 

When my turn came, I went up, said hello, and then let him know about the 4 photos. I asked if he was doing hugs that day, and after thinking about it for a second, he said no (totally understandable, with the amount of people he was seeing that day), so we just did a normal shot first. Then I asked if we could do silly faces, which we did. At that point, my mind started blanking out, so I was incredibly grateful when he just casually pointed at me to non-verbally suggest his classic pointy pose — because of course he would know that I would immediately understand without him having to say a word. And then, for the grand finale, he said to me, “Let’s do a heart one!” – and brought his hand up in half a heart, waiting for me to complete it. I never could have thought of a better one if I tried – I was so happy! Little did I know about the face he pulled…he left that as a parting surprise for me… I started laughing the second they handed me the photo and continue to giggle each and every time I glance at it. (I later noticed that the picture went viral – over 17000 reactions on Facebook and 1300 on Twitter! That felt pretty weird, but it was an amazing photo!) 

When I left the photo area, I could have easily left right then and there feeling completely satisfied. But no! I still had an autograph session to attend, as well as his talk … not to mention all the others I was to meet in my short amount of time there! 

Others (including Clare) have summarized his talk, so I won’t give a complete play-by-play, but I will say that it continued to confirm for me everything I had ever thought about him (and then some). He was charming, extremely funny, sweet, and incredibly thoughtful. I enjoyed listening to him laugh about how he knows we already know everything about his background, mull over his Hamlet, listen and respond to people’s suggestions about roles he could play (Macbeth, anybody?), and interact with little “Thorina.” I was especially moved by listening to him explain his reasoning for why his Hamlet played at such a big theatre – he told us how he initially wanted to do a very intimate version (like Andrew’s initial run at the Almeida — which he called “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful”), but that he wanted to be “as generous as possible” to his fans by making his performance accessible to as many as he could reach, so he made the play’s scale a prerequisite. That’s not something you hear every day, but it only goes to further confirm the love he clearly has for all of us!

Finally for Saturday was my autograph session – which was by far the most nerve wracking part for me. To understand this, we need to go back to Sherlocked for a moment. When I decided to go to that convention back in January, I figured there might be a chance that Benedict would attend, and if he did, I wanted to find a way to show my affection and gratitude in a tangible and meaningful way. Luckily for me, the company I work for offers a volunteerism program where you spend 30 hours of personal time volunteering for a charity and then the company donates $3000 to them once you’ve completed your requirement. So, I decided to pick Save the Children for the 2016 year as my gift to Benedict, because I remembered hearing about his impassioned speeches after Hamlet and knew how much he cared about their work. 

Once it became clear that he probably wasn’t going to be able to make it, I decided to write him a note and see if his parents, who were attending, could get it to them. They graciously agreed, but I subsequently realized that I didn’t actually know if he ever received it or not, so this time, I wanted to ask him in person (and I brought a similar note just in case he hadn’t). So, I was feeling pretty nervous while I stood there waiting in line – and mind you, I was also running on about 3 hours of sleep and no food since the previous evening by this point! 

When my turn finally came, I greeted him happily, and then as he began signing, I asked my million dollar question. He thought about it for a moment, and then honestly told me that he thought he might have, but that he couldn’t really remember… and being the gentleman that he is, he immediately launched into a profuse apology. (On this note, I am frankly impressed that he was so candidly honest with me and didn’t just lie and say yes to try and make me happy. The respect the man has for his fans is so obvious, it can almost be a little overwhelming at times.) I told him that it was fine, because I obviously know that A) he is horribly busy and B) that things can get lost in transit, but he continued to apologize, saying that he was horrible at “these sorts of things” and that it was very well likely that his parents had in fact gotten it to him and it was on him for somehow not actually reading it.

At this point, I presented him with the replica note, hoping to make him realize that it really and truly was OK – and he accepted it immediately, telling me that on second look, upon seeing it, he did seem to think that maybe he had seen it, but that he would make a point of reading it again just to be completely sure this time. In chatting about it, I gave him a brief summary of what it was, and he thanked me graciously for it. Finally, as it must have been top of mind for him since I had mentioned Sherlocked early on, he asked if I had come all the way from LA for this, and I told him no, but that I was actually from DC…and then his minders interrupted him, and I was off! That was a theme of the whole weekend, I noticed – being in such a great mood, he was really chatty, and more than once blatantly ignored “the rules” until a minder actively intervened – it was really nice to feel like he was genuinely interested in the (short) conversation we were having! 

Today, I got the chance to see Benedict one last time before I left – his duo photo with Mads. Now this one ended up being quite funny, because as we were initially standing in line, a crew member came up and down the line, telling us all that he wasn’t feeling well today, and thus, he didn’t really want anyone to touch him since he was feeling so poorly. That didn’t bother me, because I just felt bad that he was still doing loads of photos and autographs if he was feeling ill! When my turn came, I said good morning to them both, and then Benedict asked me how I was doing. I told him I was doing great, and then said that I was so sorry to hear that he wasn’t feeling well and that I hoped he felt better soon. We took the photo, and then he suddenly turned to me before I could leave and said, “Wait, I’m feeling bad?” I looked at him quizzically and said, “Well, yes, that’s what we were told…?” I immediately found myself staring into a similarly confused face as he asked me, “By who??” I gestured back toward the line and crew and said that they did. Out of nowhere, super dramatically, he smiled and yelled out, “RUMORS!!” (Apparently there was a bit of miscommunication with the crew, and shortly after my exchange with him and a few subsequently similar ones with other fans, he ended up asking the crew to go back out and retract their original announcement.) And then again, up came the minders, even though I’m pretty sure he was still talking at that point (saying that he did actually feel fine), so I just turned around on my way out, gave him a huge thumbs up and smile, and hollered back that that was good (it’s a bit hard to be eloquent when you’ve got minders on your tail!). And that was that! By 12:00, I was on my way back to Heathrow, by 1:00, I was eating my first real meal in 38 hours (as all I had eaten after the flight meal on Friday night was a fruit cup at the venue, two small dishes of crisps at the Saturday night performance of Hamlet, and three granola bars at 2:00 AM in my hotel room), and a couple hours later, I was headed home!

Sitting here on the plane, I’ve been taking some time to finally try and take it all in (in-between catnaps to try and make up for the lack of sleep!) – I really could not have asked for a better weekend. Even though it was a whirlwind, it was an absolutely wonderful one. If you’re like me, sometimes you wonder if the people you love and admire most in the world are really as great as they appear to be. Benedict was all that and more. I could not have anticipated how genuinely interested he seemed to be in our interactions – especially knowing that he was having literally thousands of those over the course of two days. As crazy as my whirlwind felt, I’m sure he felt something similar, so I really can’t (and would never) complain. I leave this weekend feeling absolutely thrilled to be his fan. There aren’t too many people out there I know of who can have fame hit them in the face like a ton of bricks (like it did with him) and really and truly not let it affect them. This was my first time crossing his path, but I certainly hope it won’t be the last!