It’s always a “good thing” to support a worthy cause ... in the current economic climate, it’s not always possible to do as much as one would like to – but if I have the opportunity to do “a little something”, then I do. Leukaemia Research is a charity very close to my heart – not least because my favourite cousin died of leukaemia in her early 30s just a month before my son was born, 12½ years ago.
Last night, the Criterion Theatre in London’s Piccadilly Circus freely opened its doors to be taken over by Leukaemia Research to host “A Special Audience with Stephen Fry” preceded by a champagne reception for a few hundred lucky people. My son and I were amongst those lucky people.
The Reception began at 6.30pm and prior to our National Treasure coming into the Reception, Alastair Campbell mingled and chatted amongst us. Alastair has supported the charity since his best friend, John Merritt, died of leukaemia and then tragically John’s daughter succumbed to the disease too. He’s a friendly man although – as an avid fan of Burnley Football Club – he was clearly distressed that “his” team had lost to Blackburn Rovers the day before. I hope that the Audience with Mr Fry went some way to cheering him up.
Nigella Lawson was also at the Reception and was gracious enough to write a note to my husband who is a great fan of hers and willingly posed for a photograph with me and my son. She asked if my husband was keen on cookery programmes. Naturally my response was “Oh, yes”. It would have been infradig to have been more honest and to tell her that he has more prurient thoughts than cuisine on his mind when he sees her on television. She’s a beautiful, intelligent lady and has at least two more outstanding assets than just her culinary expertise. Mick Hucknall of Simply Red was there and didn’t seem too displeased when I told him that we liked his music. He was also kind enough to have his photograph taken with my son.
Another guest was Ed Victor who is a very well known literary agent. I would very much have liked to have met him to tell him that I am, at least in my own not-so-humble opinion, an undiscovered literary genius but sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to meet him. I was, however, so pleased that he was there as – had it not have been for Leukaemia Research – he wouldn’t have been anywhere. Ten years ago, on the day of his 60th birthday, he was diagnosed with the disease and it was purely through the wonderful research funded by the charity that he survives in good health a decade on. It was Ed Victor’s idea to organise occasional “Special Audiences” with various celebrities in order to raise money for the charity.
One person who I was lucky and privileged enough to meet was the original Calendar Girl. Not Julie Waters – who played her in the 2003 film – but the real life lady, Annie Clarke whose husband had died of leukaemia and who raises money for and, who with her friends, gave a great deal of “exposure” to the charity’s work.
Shortly before 7.00pm, a very tall man appeared in the room. I’m sure that just about everyone in the UK (if not, since the advent of global sale of television programmes, the entire world) is aware that Stephen Fry is a witty, enormously intelligent, erudite speaker, talented actor and brilliant writer. Those attributes would be enough to make most people admire him. I do. I also LIKE him. He is kind, generous of nature, warm, friendly and has the most wonderful way of making everyone he speaks with feel as if they are really the most important person in the world to him. I was especially overwhelmed when my son (who was the very youngest person there), bravely and with great aplomb introduced himself to Mr Fry using his Twitter name – and Stephen, bless him, repeated his Twitter name and then greeted him, without ANY prompting whatsoever, using my son’s real life name. This man must have a memory the size of this planet! My son, who’s a talented young artist, gave a drawing he’d done of Stephen to him – at which point, the splendid Mr Fry knelt down and my son forgot to be grown-up, couldn’t help himself and gave this great, gentle man a hug. I chatted to Stephen for several minutes, easily fell prey to his delightful charms and hugs, kisses and photographs ensued.
The actual show began at 8.00pm. It was an intimate “audience”. The BBC’s Alan Yentob interviewed Stephen about his life, his work, his likes and dislikes, his successes and his self-perceived failures. He was astonishingly open about his bi-polarity. He had the audience laughing and crying. Two hours passed in a flash and members of the audience were given the opportunity of asking questions. Stephen answered each question with characteristic humour, empathy, kindness and honesty.
My son desperately wanted the chance of another chat with our National Treasure so, after the show, we went to the Stage Door. I managed to get my ‘phone’s camera muddled up with its video recorder so we now have a recorded moving memento of the evening.
I’m rarely at a loss for words but I truly can’t find the right ones to impart how wonderful the evening was. Perhaps my son described it in exactly the right way ... “It was the best time I’ve ever, ever, EVER had”. I concur.
If you ever have the chance of seeing Stephen on stage or of meeting him – do it! I can assure you that it really is a very good way of spending an evening.
(If you’re interested in learning more about the wonderful work that Leukaemia Research enables, do – PLEASE – visit their website at http://www.lrf.org.uk/)