If, as the Mayans had predicted, the world had ended yesterday, I would have been in very good company. After all, it’s not every day that you get to spend the evening with a wizard. He may have even been able to protect us using his staff.
Last night, on FriI joined 39 other people at a private charity screening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and a Q&A session with Sir Ian McKellen in London.
This exclusive event was in support of Step Forward, an an independent charity based in east London that provides free and confidential services to young people. Sir Ian has been Step Forward’s patron since 2006, and, in a bizarre coincidence, my family used to live in the Tower Hamlets area of east London in the 1850s!
My attendance was a long story that I won’t bore you with, but it was down to eBay, a pleading message on Facebook and good old fashioned luck!
I arrived at London Marylebone about 5.30pm and then started our journey across London by tube to get to the Genesis Theatre in Stepney Green. I was aiming to arrive at 6.30pm, and when I got out at Stepney Green about 6.40pm, there was a fantastic firework display going on at a block of flats behind the tube station. I jokingly thought: “That’s Gandalf’s work, I bet!”
Arriving at the Genesis I was given my VIP pack which included a pass, a couple of postcards (which would prove very handy later!) and information about Step Forward. We then waited to be called into Studio 5, the Genesis’ deluxe screen that has a seating capacity of just 40. We settled into our seats, which were gloriously comfy armchairs with a cushion and throw each, and had a glass of bubbly, our first of two complimentary glasses.
After an introduction from Step Forward’s CEO, Jennifer Fear, and a video about the work that the charity does, the man himself appeared, armed with several props from the The Lord of the Rings and An Unexpected Journey. Perhaps you recognise them?
After revealing that the fireworks were, sadly, not down to him, Sir Ian then launched into the Q&A session. You’ll have to forgive me because I can’t remember all his answers, but there were several that stood out. A few people asked their questions before I asked mine. Their questions were rather more serious than mine, so when Sir Ian asked for my question I started by saying: “I’ve got more of a lighthearted one for you…”.
As I was sitting on the back row, Sir Ian couldn’t hear me very well so started walking towards me. Without thinking, I got out of my seat and started walking towards him.
Within seconds he was in front of me and I started my question again: “I’ve got a lighthearted question for you. Which five characters from the Middle-earth universe would you invite for dinner?” His answer? “Ah, good question. I’d invite Merry, Pippin… Frodo, my favourite dwarf and Galadriel, as long as it was Cate Blanchett who was embodying her.”
Other answers that stand out include Sir Ian’s response to what it’s like performing in front of a green screen. “It’s just like performing in a theatre. There isn’t really a castle behind you, of course, while you’re acting on stage.” That’s something I’d never thought of, but, of course, he’s completely right.
Sir Ian also revealed how he always preferred playing Gandalf the Grey compared to Gandalf the White as Gandalf the Grey is much more humane. “Gandalf the White is a commander,” he said. “He has to save Middle-earth.” Other Gandalf-related snippets included revealing that Sean Connery and Anthony Hopkins had also been in the running to fill his boots before Sir Ian took the role. He also revealed how whenever he was late on set, which was quite rare, Peter Jackson would always say: “Where’s John Hurt got to?”
Sir Ian then spent a good half an hour taking photos with everyone. My boyfriend went first, and took the opportunity to ask his question: “Out of the props that you kept from The Lord of the Rings, which is your favourite?” He answered saying that he kept Gandalf’s hat, though he didn’t particularly want that. He also has the keys to a certain hobbit hole, though we can’t tell you which one!
I then had my photo taken with Sir Ian. He held his staff and I put Gandalf’s hat on, though I wasn’t sure it’d fit! “It never really fitted me either,” Sir Ian said. Then, grinning like the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland, I returned to my seat.
Unfortunately, I didn’t think that my photo (pictured left) hadn’t come out that way, so I joined the photograph queue after everyone else had been to have my photo taken again and to have the postcards that were in my VIP pack signed. When I revealed why I had come back again because the photo hadn’t come out that well, Sir Ian very sweetly said: “Well, that won’t do.”
Sir Ian then bade farewell and left us to watch An Unexpected Journey. Sadly, I had to leave before the film had finished so I could get back to Marylebone and catch my train home, but that was a small price to pay.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Step Forward for organising the event and to Sir Ian for attending. He truly was everything I’d hoped he would be: friendly, smiley and answering questions very thoughtfully and thoroughly. It was an absolute pleasure.