We arrived rather early at Bournemouth. Luckily the M 25 ( London orbital road, always jammed ) behaved that day and what was even more convenient: we didn't have to search for the Pavillion ( we only knew the Bournemouth International Centre as a concert venue there, so had no idea where this new one would be…why do all his classic tour venues have their major renovations when Michael does a summer tour for once?!), because it was just opposite our hotel. YAY! We hoped for an early check in as we had experienced with most other hotels, but no. Check in time is 3 pm, now it's not even 2, so you have to take your luggage back into your car and come back in an hour. Right, very helpful...NOT. When we parked the car ( we were allowed to use the hotel's car park, so at least our sweet Ford Focus had checked in successfully!) there was little else we could do, so we decided to walk down to the stage door, as you do. A hand full of people were already waiting and discussing what the best position for seeing him arrive might be. Seeing the entrance to the actual door was lined by a high wall this was an important issue.
We knew we'd be in for a long wait in blazing sunlight. At least we had sea view! Okay, you had to stand up very straight, but there WAS the sea, quite blue in the distance. As we had two cards to write we thought being early isn't too bad, for no matter how detached you want yourself to be, once you are at the stage door, you stay there. After all he might be early again, who knows? So we wrote our cards (one for his birthday…and Justy's, and one for the end of tour), met up again with sweet Audrey from Aberdeen whom we had virtually manhandled ( womanhandled?) to try and come to another concert LOL and welcomed Pat and Linda. This time they were in time. Very much in time. Hours passed.… Mind you, there were a few false alarms as one by one his musicians started arriving. Callum was the first and he carried two boxes of Moet Chandon champagne into the building! So when we had seen him, the backing singers and the band arriving we were quite sure Michael wouldn't be long. But his coach was not moving one inch. Instead we heard the band starting to rehearse which was quite odd. But after a few moments more we knew what was going on: they were rehearsing Happy Birthday! So Michael was in for a surprise tonight. Teeeheee sneaky, sneaky! But that also meant he wouldn't arrive in the near future…more waiting in the burning sun.
At some point the security men started putting up barriers (again! Never seen so many barriers at stage doors before.) to block people from entering the immediate stage door area. Sensible, we thought. Worth a try. The car park had two entrances. One that was gated and directly at the main road and one that now was blocked by barriers and dozens of fans on the other side, near the stage door. We were all pretty sure Michael would arrive through the gated one.
It was nearly five when his coach left to pick him up. We were happy, but all more or less sunburned ( poor Linda, we hope your arm is ever so much better and nicely tanned by now!!)… It's needless to say that by this time the crowd that had gathered was enormous, just as you'd expect at a day like this. So we all stared down to that gated car park entrance, waiting for his coach to re-appear. And it did…and passed it… Slight confusion on our end of the crowd. We couldn't believe it but the driver actually came down the other way through a rather narrow drive way, blocked by surprised fans and said barriers.
It was great for us all that he was forced to drive down very slowly though. Time to exchange birthday wishes, hand over pressies and a group of fans had made a pretty Happy Birthday banner that he could admire for quite a while. Now guess what happened once the barriers were opened for his coach? Exactly, fans found their way to the previously guarded stage door area easily. The poor security men could have saved themselves the trouble of putting those barriers up in the first place. Michael got off his coach and continued harvesting his presents and cards. He looked extra yummy and wore a new necklace. When someone told him to enjoy his birthday he said he already was enjoying it a lot and you could tell he was very genuine. Serious dimple action going on all the way from coach to stage door. When he was in we were all dying for cold drinks and a place to sit. So the groups parted rather quickly and we went to our hotel to be checked in at last.
Once we felt sufficiently posh-ed up for the occasion we made our way to the venue and the merchandise stand and decided to spend a fortune on a few items there as it was the last night of the tour and we … actually we cannot think of any better excuse or explanation so we will just leave it at that. It felt unreal to be there for the last time this tour. The place seemed to have a weird atmosphere, but that was probably because of the latent gloom we all felt…and the heat wave that hit you like a desert storm! Or rather a desert storm locked in a very tiny place indeed, as the air didn't move an inch but was so hot it was almost unbearable. Luckily Lucia's CD covers were placed all over the seats so you could use them as a fan. Now if we felt like bathing in hot chocolate ( hang on, that actually sounds quite enjoyable!), how must Michael feel with about 40 spotlights on him?? Anyways, the concert started and the place was on its feet. Naturally the inevitable had to happen: when Michael finished singing one song, someone from the back shouted HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! He laughed and said “Is it my birthday today? I wouldn't have noticed!” or something to that extent. When he began introducing his next song a choir formed itself in the centre block and they sung Happy Birthday quite undisturbed by his ignoring / not hearing it and the number of people in the audience shifting in their seats, trying desperately to understand what he was saying. Okay, so it was a special night, but we all knew the band planned on playing Happy Birthday for him, why not save the singing until then?
Michael (and we) had no idea this concert would work like a last night matinee in a musical! When Louise started her impressive African intro to Circle of Life, she very cleverly changed the last few words of each verse into “Happy Birthday to you!”. The first time he just turned as if to say, wait a minute, something wasn't right. But the second time he got the giggles and pointed at her with this “ we talk later” look on his face. It was so much fun to watch. Next on the agenda was Count Fosco's entrance. Oh dear! We almost fell off our chairs and Michael had a tough time to compose himself when he saw his guest star in his new “festive” gear: Count Fosco wore no less than a baseball cap, a white thong that clearly was size S, and he held a nice pair of undies ( probably another thong, black with white animal prints on it we think) in his right hand. The audience collapsed with laughter. What a hilarious sight! Poor Michael! He had to go on with the show after all…it took him a few seconds though. He remarked on the size of the thong, about it never going to fit his padded alter-ego. After these two incidences he was allowed to continue his show like usual…for a while. Oh, “What Love is For” was dedicated to Cathy , of course, as she was in that night, naturally.
In the second half, when he starts motivating the audience to sing along to Bread of Heaven, he tried to grab us by our ambition, as he stressed how great London was last night…and that Brighton and Portsmouth were REALLY tough competition. That had the desired effect ( How could it not? Michael Ball is able make two German Bunnies into ardent Welsh patriots, how could he fail at an English fan crowd then?), he decided we all must have Welsh ancestors to make us sound that wonderful.
The closer we came to the finale the more we wondered when the band and backies would start their birthday tribute. After all he had gone and returned once already for his encores and Love Changes Everything was finished! And then, suddenly, Michael still talking, a new tune started. You should have seen Michael spin around in utter confusion! We didn't recognise the melody either as it was very cleverly arranged. So Michael kept asking “What is it?”, but Callum merely smiled. Our poor birthday boy looked very unhappy, not being master of his stage anymore. To his immense relief the tune soon evolved to good ole Happy Birthday To You and everyone joined Annie, Dean and Louise. Michael was all speechless. To top it all a group of crew members brought a pretty birthday cake on stage and he was seriously touched. The lady got a kiss and a cuddle and one of the man a handshake. When we had all finished our song, Michael blew out the candles and got a massive cheer. Okay, he couldn't avoid it any longer, a speech was due. But first he laughed and told his whole team they were “all sneaky buggers!” LOL Then followed a very emotional speech about how fantastic this tour has been and the support he received from us all. He told those who only came for one show and had no idea what he was talking about that there were people coming to see the shows from literally all over the world, some fans even seeing every single concert of the tour. HE fought hard to hold back tears while he spoke his heartfelt words of gratitude and here are a few quotes:
He said he was fortunate to have support from family and friends and “most importantly the most extraordinary fans that I think anyone has a right to have.”And that the fact people travelled so far and seen so many shows “..blows me away. I never will take it for granted, I never have” A very emotional Michael admitted to “I'm kind of all speechless!” and we all went awwwww naturally. “So I'm gonna do what I can do best, I think. I'm gonna sing you a song.”
And said song was You Raise Me Up that never felt so appropriate before.
It was a very special night indeed. You cannot imagine the joy it brings to see him so very happy, for he deserved it so much after this amazing tour. Lots of staring at the ceiling from us, so the remains of the make up wouldn't be ruined, we can tell you. So when we all cheered and woohoo-ed and applauded ( actually we feared the circle would come down on us, so loud were the stamping feet!), ready to show our appreciation to the band and singers before the evening was definitely over, he suddenly re-appeared! This has never happened before so we were all a bit perplex. He took another bow and went to Callum, whispering with his MD and the band. With broad grin Michael asked whether we'd be up for one more song. YES we were! He turned to the band: “ Everyone knows what we are playing? Good.” As a special encore we got Wonder of You which was ever so sweet of him. Full routine, with kissing a fan in the “your kiss to me is worth a fortune” line! When he was finished the place went wild. There are no words to describe who a last night, any Michael related last night, feels. It is such a mix of strong emotions: happiness to see him so happy, joy to be so close to him, sadness that it is all over now, the wish to enjoy every second of it all, denial ( we all live in this incredibly popular place called Denial…twin town is Hope, by the way)…so many feelings at once. And then suddenly, all was over.
The music had stopped, the lights went on and people started gathering their belongings. The long way to the stage door ( they only opened the front doors so getting out of this boiling venue took forever) was not a very happy one, we assure you. But it felt so unreal that we would not be back in a few days, experiencing it all again that it had not quite sunk in yet.
When we finally reached the stage door, the barriers were up again and a crowd of fans stood ready to greet him on his way out. So we decided it was no use to stand in row five, not even seeing his curls. We went for the little footpath that led past the venue's car park and was raised quite a bit. So you could stand there and see it all from above. By now we were used to long waits so we had brought our normal shoes along. Concert shoes simply were not designed for several hours of standing. And we knew we would be in for a looong wait. It was his birthday and we saw those boxes with champagne brought in earlier… Eventually the first musicians took their leave and we saw Annie and Louise carrying a bottle of champagne each to their car. So they apparently were presents for everyone in the team, what a sweet idea! More waiting around. But finally the familiar screams and flashes let us know Michael was there long before we could actually see him in person. He came out together with Cathy which is a rare sight ( she usually dashes out a few seconds before him ) and that made us Bunnies very happy, we assure you. His shirt was quite open ( as in first four buttons undone!) and he told the crowd he got a massive sunburn and held his shirt open for everyone to see! Lucky ladies in the first row! He stood a while and continued thanking everyone for a special day but then he got into his coach and we couldn't see him anymore. Luckily our footpath was next to a public and now empty car park, so we simply crossed that and ended up on the other side of the venue, near the gated entrance to the venue, where his coach was now leaving. We joined the fans waving at him there and got our last few precious glimpses of Mr Michael Ball leaving for his amazingly long and relaxing 24-hour-holiday.
There we all were, left aimless and lost but also on quite a high from this concert…but there was no point in denying it. Time for the last good-byes had come. We cannot say how long we all stood there and chatted, hugged each other only to start a little conversation again to postpone the final parting. But inevitably the moment came and we said good bye and safe journey home to our friends, new and old. The ugly truth finally hit us: The tour was over. We wouldn't be back to see him for god knows how long. This was it.
We had a nice last day in England, a walk on Bournemouth beach, a relaxed trip up to Stansted. The streets were free and the sun was shining oh and Michael's tour bus drove past us at some point after Basingstoke on the other side of the street! Heading towards Bournemouth…okay, it was just some Star Line bus we gather, but it made us jump in our seats!
And here we are, back in Germany. Far too far away from England and too broke to even consider going to New York to see him in Patience. We need a concert date in England soon. Just a date, may it be in December, would do.
Some Michael perspective is badly needed after we were so spoilt with this tour. Thirteen concerts, thirteen stage doors. It was easily the best tour we ever had! Every day was special and exciting. We met so many wonderful people from all over the world along the way. To all those of you who walked up to us and had a little chat about the website: THANK YOU SO MUCH! You can have no idea just how much this meant to us. All your kind words are in our hearts and motivate us to go on and give our best for you, so you can continue enjoy visiting this website as much as we enjoy making it. We promise we will always do our best for you.
Like at the Academy Awards there are a few people that need to be named just for simply being themselves and making our trips to England extra special, funny, naughty, hilarious, mad, joyful, crazy and phantasmagorical:
Here's to Pat, Linda, Angela, Darren, Pam H, Rose-Marie, Pam (and gang), Audrey, Joan, Sharon, Gill & Maureen, all those sweet ladies from America and Australia. You're just too good to be true!
And Michael, we cannot express our immense gratitude and respect in adequate words, so we will not even try. You continue to amaze us with everything you do. How can one person have so much talent? Thank you for always giving 200% especially when the going gets tough. It was through your work we met all the wonderful people that make up the Ballette community, so thank you ever so much for attracting so many wonderful women (and a few select men, too)! Thank you for sharing your talent with us all. This was an incredible experience. But Show Must Go On. All the best of luck for NY! And always remember: You rock, we roll!