So one grey overcast day in September I headed down to the BFI Southbank for the premiere of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I’d never attended a premiere before. They always look terribly exciting on TV. You get to see (and possibly meet) the stars, and any other exciting celebrities that may come along and they always look as if they have a really lovely atmosphere. And my inner fashionista does love looking at what the various celebs are wearing on the red carpet. But they also look as if they involve a lot of standing around, jumping up and down and shouting to get people’s attention and lot of lots of people (I am very bad in crowds). So I was somewhat wary. But with the prospect of so many of the cast attending (seriously when else are you going to see the likes of Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy and John Hurt at one event?) and with a feeling that I should probably attend on behalf of the website I shuffled on down in the morning to see what it would be like.
We arrived and chatted with a couple of other gentleman who do premieres all the time and love collecting autographs who told us how these things usually play out. After a while they opened the “fan pens” which was the area we were allowed to stand in to wait against the barriers for the actors to arrive. We found ourselves what we hoped would be a decent spot – it allowed us to see the actors arrive and watch them as they were interviewed by the press.
The place was a blaze of activity. Huge lighting rigs had to be erected to light the guests way down the carpet. The barriers were hung with ginormous card posters advertising the film to ensure that everything looked nice on camera. Large posters were hung from the lampposts and the windows of the BFI were covered with plastic sheets bearing the “code” motif from the posters. Speakers were set up to play the Tinker Tailor soundtrack when the stars initially arrived (we were “treated” at various points during the day to some strange ambient music followed by a series of 70’s rock classics).
All of this activity of course excited the attention of passers by. At one point during the matinee at the National everyone came outside on the balconies to look at what was going on. Passers by would come into the pen area to ask us what we were waiting for. (I resisted my usual answer of “Godot”.) My friends and I would say we were waiting for the TTSS premiere which would immediately be followed by the “Who’s in that then?” question. Benedict’s name didn’t get as much recognition as I would like (although I am sure that will change entirely once Sherlock series 2 has aired) but the mere mention of Colin Firth never failed to be met with “Oooh Colin Firth. I like him. You’re waiting for him? Well say no more…” I spotted a couple of the couples we spoke to later on at the back taking photos when the premiere started so clearly Colin has immense pulling power!
The other main job of course was the laying of the red carpet. Now I had rather assumed that the red carpet pixies just arrived, rolled out the red carpet and bob’s your uncle. But as the nice security guard pointed out “that’s why you’re on the other side of the barriers love”. Fitting this red carpet was an extraordinarily convoluted affair which took, I kid you not, the best part of 5 hours. And underlay had to go on first (to prevent any of the ladies attending from catching their heels on the uneven ground and breaking their ankles) and the carpet had to be cut and matched on top and edged with red masking tape. The words “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” also had to be cut out of the carpet and white wording included. None of which was made easier by the wind and the rain which came down very heavily while we waited but thankfully had cleared up by the time the premiere actually began. The trees were also determined to wreak havoc – shedding leaves, bark and twigs all over the clean carpet. But at least that gave us the entertaining sight of men vacuuming. The poor gentleman in charge was visibly quite fretting the longer this process took and the nearer to 5:00 p.m. it got. But he needn’t have worried – by the time the premiere rolled around everything was perfect. The soundtrack started up and off we went.
First to arrive was Gary Oldman. Now one thing became immediately apparent when it comes to attending premieres there is no right or wrong place to stand. Whether you get to meet anyone depends very much on how keen they are to sign, how good their handler is and pure luck. I had assumed that people just walked down the carpet as and when they arrive but it turned out that there is something of a hierarchy. The stars arrive in individual cars, are met by their handler/publicist person and are walked down the carpet. They sign a few autographs for the fans, although most were hustled along pretty quickly, before posing for the photographers (who to mine and my friends horror had set up directly opposite us and who amusingly are given cheat sheets so they know who the actors are when they arrive. The photography seems to involve them screaming the actor’s name and “To the left” and “To the right” a lot – I feel this should have been synched to the Beyonce track to liven things up a bit) and then the stars head off to speak to the press.
After the press interviews were done there was occasionally more posing for photos and then if there was any time left at the end the actors would sign for the fans. Others attending the event were sort of held at the head of the red carpet and were allowed up in batches. We saw Benedict’s parents arrive (Wanda Ventham looking as effortlessly glamorous as usual) and a few other celebrities (fashion designer Oswald Boatang resplendent in a dark green suit, Noomi Rapace (who I completely failed to recognise when she was posing feet away from me on the carpet) and a few others. Of course some of the stars weren’t especially interested in following the proscribed route – Toby Jones seemed to slip in with hardly anyone noticing him and Stephen Graham also didn’t have a handler and just headed down the carpet by himself.Gary, being the star was of course the most popular with fans and press alike. He tried his hardest to escape and sign but literally every time he tried he (and his very beautiful wife) were snagged for another interview or another wave of photos. It became quite entertaining as he promised my group of friends 3 times that he would come back and sign for us but he never did (we saw him the next day after the BFI screening).As I had suspected from watching footage on TV events like this do indeed involve an outrageous amount of screeching people’s names to get attention. I was a bit taken aback when the chorus of “Gary, Gary” started – it must actually be a bit terrifying to be the actor walking down the carpet and to be met with this wall of sound of people screaming your name!Benedict arrived not too long after looking very handsome in his dark blue suit. He signed a handful of autographs, posed for pictures and was then steered towards the press – an area he never really emerged from. It was really lovely to see how in demand he was. He barely finished one interview before being asked to give another. The downside to this of course was that he just had no time to sign for the fans. Besides Gary he was the most elusive actor on the red carpet signing for very few. But it was wonderful to see how keen the press were to speak to him.My friends and I never expected to meet Colin Firth but when he arrived he was a man on a mission. Armed with his own Sharpie he was quite determined that he was going to sign for as many people as he possibly could. We even heard him politely declining attempts to get him to stop signing so set was he on ensuring that pretty much everyone who wanted his autograph got it. We were all very impressed. And delighted with our autographs! What a lovely man. The sound a lady of a certain age near me made when she got his autograph and the look of utter bemusement on her husband’s face was pretty much worth the trip on its own. Special mention should be made of Colin’s wife who is just utterly stunning. She looked incredibly beautiful in her polka dot dress.
And then there was Tom Hardy who was just an absolute sweetheart. Like Colin he actively resisted attempts to get him to stop signing and was happily posing for photos and chatting with everyone there. I got a photo and mentioned how much I had enjoyed Warrior and he was all excited that I’d seen it (seriously go see it when it comes out – in many ways it’s quite a formulaic sports movie but his performance utterly elevates it). He was just lovely. His handler took him away before my friend could have a photo and promised to bring him back. We weren’t expecting him to return but true to her word she bought him right back after his press interviews. The chances she’s reading this are slim to non existent but thank you wonderful handler lady! You very much made my friend’s day. We all left a tad smitten with him and I can now understand Benedict’s description of him at the Venice press conference as “a puppydog of a man”
Apart from John Hurt who was going to take his own sweet time signing and that was that. His handler kept telling him that he had to go in as they were delaying the start of the film and he would smile politely – and then sign for some more fans. He was so so lovely. But eventually he was hustled away and that was that- the premiere was over! Press interviews done there was much manly hugging and posing for group photos near the entrance to the BFI before the actors went in to watch the film.
I’d met Tom Hardy, Colin Firth and John Hurt and had a fun time watching how it was all put together and seeing everyone arrive. And that should have been the end of a lovely day were it not for the fact that at that point I realised my bag was missing. It had been stolen from the ground right in front of my feet at some point during the premiere by someone remarkably sneaky. Which was of course deeply distressing and has taken a few days to sort. But at least the slight dismay of finding myself and my friends pop up in the background of some of the press photos meant that we could try and work out a timeline for when the bag went stolen – how very Sherlock!
So first premiere done. Not too sure I’d be racing to do another. They are rather loud and stressful affairs but it was certainly an experience!