Nine years ago this month (February–almost missed it!), I spent a week in London by myself. I was still on my 6-month severance pay from the HMO, working 3 days a week as a paralegal, and 4 months into living alone, having separated from my 2nd husband. In 2000, I took my mother on her trip of a life time to the UK and we also spent a week in London. I fell in love. Hopelessly, madly in love. I never, ever thought London would affect me the way it did, but it got its hooks into me the first day and hasn’t let go since. I adore the place, the crowds, the smells, the umpteen million stairs you have to climb to get anywhere, the crooked, creepy parts, the magnificent, brilliant open parts, just all of it.
Anyway. I found a cheap flight and I talked to my boss and arranged it. Found a hostel online (my first experience with co-ed bunking, which taught me a lot for my Spain trip), got my week-long tube/bus card, threw some layers in a back pack and off I went.
I took this book with me, and it was wonderful. I walked and tubed everywhere. I was a little leery of the weather but it turned out to be lovely. Brisk and chilly, but frequently sunny and it actually snowed on the Saturday night I was there. The following Sunday morning was brilliant and I took a walk through Kensington Gardens with snow on the budding crocuses:
and the redbuds in full bloom:
The first day I got there, I took a long walk along Regent’s Canal to combat jet lag, and discovered that it runs through the London Zoo and I could have got off it very near my hostel which was in Camden.
That week was probably the best trip I’ve ever taken. I felt utterly free and uninhibited. I happened to see an advertisement for a Caravaggio exhibit and that was the best money I spent the entire trip. I took a tour of the Royal Courts of Justice for my attorney boss and ate lunch at the Wig and Pen across the street. To this day, I can’t watch Bridget Jones’ Diary without jumping up and down and squealing when the Court comes on screen.
However, by far the best part of the trip came on Sunday afternoon/evening. I was wandering through Leicester Square, having discovered that a book store I wanted to visit was closed, and I noticed a lot of city workers putting up barricades in the Square. I stopped and asked one of them what was going on.
“Oh,” he said, “The BAFTA awards are here tonight and we’re getting ready.” Oh. Em. Gee!!!! For those of you who don’t know, the BAFTAs are the British Film and Television Awards, i.e. the British Oscars! I looked around and realized there was an expanse of red carpet being laid down in front of one of the theaters. Oddly, only the workers seemed to be present at the moment, so a hurried over to the barricade and parked myself practically ON it to wait for the festivities.
This was the show for the 2001 films…the year of “Gladiator”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, “Traffic” and “Erin Brockovich”, just to jog your memory. I hadn’t been there too long when other folks started to line up. Across the carpet from where I was standing were covered bleachers for people who where either in the press or had tickets. It didn’t matter. The post I maintained was very close to where the limousines stopped and everyone got out of their car. I was in absolute heaven. I was in London AND I was going to see movie stars!! I couldn’t have imagined a better evening.
The sun went down and it got pretty chilly but by then I was in a press of people. Shortly the cars started pulling up and people began coming in. I may miss a few, but here are some of the folks I saw that I recognized:
Russell Crowe (much slimmer in person)
Hugh Grant (actually better looking in person than on film if you can believe that!)
Kate Winslett (TINY)
Annette Bening (ditto)
Michelle Yeoh (from Crouching Tiger, which I had just seen. She came over to where I was to sign autographs for people and I was able to tell her in a normal voice how stunning I thought the film was. She actually made eye contact and thanked me!)
Ridley Scott (one of my all-time favorite directors)
And a lot of other folks. Overall the crowds were polite although one woman was pretty rude when Russell Crowe didn’t come over to sign autographs. Some of them did, some didn’t.
I took a TON of photos, but I was wearing some soft-palmed gloves and in the crush to leave after everyone was inside, either 1) the camera slipped out of my hand and onto the pavement when I thought I was putting it in my bag, or 2) I got pick pocketed. However, I didn’t miss anything but the camera, so I think it was the first. I didn’t realize it was gone until I went to an internet cafe that night to e-mail my movie-phile friend Valerie, and then I was devastated. I did have the 5 or 6 other rolls of film I took (this was pre-digital) so it wasn’t a total loss, but OH! I wish I had the photos of that night.
Still, I’ll never forget that sweet night in London when I had a brief brush with fame!