Here we are, back after a rather stressful trip including being up for approximately 44 hours without sleep.
Am I tired having slept for five hours in the meantime? No (which actually is strange!)!
Do I think this trip was madness? No!
Would I do it again? Anytime!
Will my colleagues, friends and my brother ever understand it? I don't know!
What I know is: All of us who have been there, were lucky enough to be part of something special.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the 19 th July 2003 was not just some performance of some musical, neither was it just the last performance of a musical performer. For the cast it was good-bye to "a great company leader" (producer Michael Rose about Michael, when Chitty received "Variety Club Award for the best musical"!) and for many it seemed to be good-bye to a very special person, to a very dear friend!
For a lot of people who were in the audience it was a very long good-bye to a dear friend. Of course we all know Michael Ball is not our friend and we are "only" lucky people who are allowed to enjoy a fabulous talent. This talent is part of a great personality (and yes in a very handsome cover as well) for Michael Ball has another gift - apart from his voice - that makes him one of a kind:
Giving complete strangers the feeling they are someone special.
Many people made it their habit to visit the Palladium Stage Door and the star of the show. It became an as natural thing to do, as visiting your mum for a Sunday tea-time. You could go to see him, whenever you liked, just as you do with friends. If you felt down, needed cheering up, you knew he would be there and you could go. And usually he took the time to speak to everyone who tried. Whenever he was asked for a hug or even a kiss he obliged. There were no near misses, sure enough, whenever the door of the van opened (or rather was opened for him by Scott), he managed to cheer. He even allowed us to have some insights into his private life, be it a kiss for Cathy, Emma and Connor arriving with him, his dad taking him out for a pre-birthday late night dinner or just telling us some little episodes of his life that made us feel like good friends he met on Great Marlborough Street. Not just a group of fans gathering at a stage door. He even talked to fans on the mobile! With him being all natural and kind (and VERY patient with us lot), one sometimes even forgot completely that he was a big West End star and chatted and laughed with him, just like that. Of course, not everyone who wanted to could afford to be there every day / every week, some could only go once . some never. As it happens with friends who live far apart. He also motivated people who for various reasons haven't really been out of their house or town for ages , to overcome all odds and make their way to the Palladium. It's his gift, that made all this possible!
It was Saturday night, when everyone could see and feel, how special Michael Ball is to many people. It was then, Anton Rodgers' voice broke, his eyes filled with tears, when he wanted to thank Michael for the last 1,5 years. It was then, many people in the audience, as well as members of the cast had to wipe their eyes when Michael had trouble keeping back his tears. It was then many people realised they were about losing a friend.
The stage door mirrored this impression. Trembling lips, tears, red eyes, tissues, hugs everywhere. This was certainly the moment to realise, that meeting Michael Ball at the stage door is not only getting your photos done. signatures on whichever items (everything from programs over t-shirts one is wearing to pillowcases). (Actually I would love to get a list from Michael what stuff he already signed!) ;-) Yes, it's part of the package and certainly nice, but still the main thing is seeing him! No photos can ever make up for it. Another fact got more and more transparent over the last few weeks: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was no longer only a great musical we all treasured, not only Me Old Bamboo and the Hushaby Mountain Reprise, but it had become a social event! You went there to meet and greet, to make new friends and catch up with old friends, to have a laugh and share new piccies. It has been some time now that we didn't call it the Palladium stage door anymore but the "Chitty Stock Exchange". All kinds of photos and videos changed homes there. The most important questions was: When will you be at the stage door? So we can exchange stuff then. 19 th July 2003 was not only sad, in fact it was one of the best days we ever had! So, this is where my story starts:
18 th July 2003 - Dark forces want to keep me away from Michael!
Friday morning: Chaos! Overslept due to too much chatting the night before (of course I still don't know which clothes to take with me!). So many things I still have to do added to the shock of missing the Chitty evening tickets for a whole three hours in the morning! Until I was working and suddenly saw a vision of me putting the tickets into an envelope. Literally dropping my work, hammering in my phone home number a very impatient me explains a thankfully very patient mum, where she should look for them. HOOOORAY, Chitty is saved. WE found them! Lists are lying around everywhere and the guilt is working on me! I did not tidy my office, I did not finish all the work I could! And then it hits me again: Girl you are not going on a holiday! It's only one day! Only Saturday! You will be back on Monday! But please explain that to non-behaving sub-conscious that still sees me as a nasty colleague, leaving all her work for others!
Photo shop being mean as well: First set of photos is not there (you have to collect them yourself, no nice Boots person to get it for you!). GURRRR. But then after the shock I found them in a special box, because I ordered too many and they would not fit into the shelves (yahoo!). Packing, copying videos, phoning bunny, checking and triple checking all possible lists, no getting rid of the feeling: I forgot something! Finally, I started to relax, when most things were done and I could start to enjoy the prospect of seeing Michael. "I am calm, I am not nervous! Everything is packed! Everything is done! I can enjoy myself, lay back and tidy my purse of all useless paper! Ah fine, no more bills, just the credit cards, drivers licence, MBFC membership card, Café de Paris access card. Perfect J ."
"Calm, calm, everything is perfect, ca.. NOOOOOO .." Kerstin now jumping to her feet, madly ripping everything out of her purse, going pale, paler, palest! MY IDENTITY CARD IS GONE!!!!! Ten minutes of shock, trembling and mum's 1.000.000 time checking my purse later (yes, we might have overlooked a credit card sized green piece of plastic in a completely empty purse...it IS possible...). There! I can see it again! A flash, a memory!. Wait, it gets clearer: I see Kerstin, I see Kerstin walk through the pass control two weeks ago. I see her wearing her black leather jacket.. I see her smilingly taking her card back and... "MUM WHERE IS MY LEATHER JACKET???" "In the car dear!" One world record run to and from car plus searching the wardrobe again I hold the precious plastic piece in my hands: I found it! ~ Actually it must have been my Michael-guardian angel: Usually I don't check my cards, because I have them with me all the time! If I had realised that only at the airport, the plane would have left without me! OOOOOER!
"Darling, go to bed early! You have to get up at 4 am!" "YES Mum! I know! Of course I will!" Mothers! I know! I am no child, of course I will be in bed at ten pm at the latest!
Ten.. minutes past midnight: Hey, I sit on my bed! Ten, midnight, where is the difference! And who needs sleep anyway?
Hum...now it's Friday night and still not everything packed. At least finished copying all the videos...backpack will be heavy.. but at least will be much lighter after we met everyone. How come it seems like I need to pack a million things and at the same time like not a real journey at all?! Bit worried that we might collapse on a park bench sleeping and miss bus back to airport at 4:15 in the morning....I know I won't sleep much.
Now it's 1:50 am and I am still up...alarm clock will go off at 4:00! GAH! Sleep!
Why does the local fire department have to do their trainings including playing with their alarm in my room? Can't they just shut up and leave? Gurrr, I am going to. oh.. Ouch. Actually the fire department turned out to be my alarm clock, telling me it's ten past four! Do I have a good sleep? Ah well, let's stay for another four minutes until it will go off again..
19 th July 2003, 4.56 am:
Sitting in the car on the passengers seat (which I just hate!), plus being 10 minutes late! We will never make it to Muenster station in time (aka 5.21 am).
Miracles do happen! I am there, I am at the bus stop. And as my plan on the internet said, this list will for sure confirm that my bus will be lea... MY BUS IS NOT EVEN LISTED! I won't cry, I won't cry! Well what does it matter, if I have to give all the money I have with me to a taxi driver??? SOB SOB SOB.. What's that? Just in front of me a people carrier, almost as posh as Michael's stops. The driver is as well almost as handsome as Scott is (LOL NOT!). "To the airport?" "Uhmm. Yes?" says the reluctant me, seeing the very small D50 attached to the car, which should be my bus number! Oookay, so I am the only one wanting to get to the airport at this unholy time! Okay! Do you love the sunrise as much as me? With the fog hovering over the fields and. turn right??? Hey, the sign was hinting to go straight ahead for the airport! Uhm, should I ask, if he missed that important sign? Should I be afraid, that we are now taking little, tiny streets passing between fields with no civilization anywhere near? When will I be missed? Will they find me? I should try to remember the route we are taking! You never know in a... What, where are we? What kind of building is. Oh.. The airport! "Thanks for driving me! I never thought of being kidnapped and murdered!"
Great god, seems I have the airport to myself as well! Three desks open for Check-in. "Do you have any luggage!" "No!" big smile! I feel so cool. Security check.. Everything should be fi.. TEN PEOPLE? ONLY FOR ME? I don't have any weapons, sharp things or bombs with me! I promise!
Yes, managed to get to Stansted all in time, flight was fine, and I am not THAT tired after all. Good, better check on bunny's flight. Is due at 7:40. GAH "estimated time of arrival 8:25" GAH means much later bus and much later arrival at stage door and...I need a cold drink!
Oh my, got back from shop, I needed 30 pence more to get some cool water...so still thirsty, but also happy as when got back , airport monitor said, bunny's flight would not arrive 45 minutes late but 17 minutes early! Curious that even though it is only 7:15 am they say "landed at 7:23"..how can they know?? Clairvoyants?? Only a few more minutes alone in England. YES!! Chitty Stock Exchange here we come! Now only need return bus ticket!
I AM ALIVE! Touched down after the plane was heavily shaking and the pilot had to turn the steering wheel - or whatever pilots call it - heavily to keep the track, just before trying the shortest possible way the plane needs to get to a standstill! Did I book a flight or a crash test? However, have to hurry because bunny is already waiting for me! Uhm, why do people here stop? Traffic jam! And why are they all positioned to the right? That's where the people come through who are going to leave! Oh for sure, they forgot to open the door and we can't go on! Stewardess who accompanies two children is passing us! For sure she will know what to do, when she won't be able to pass the door! Okay, now on my way to baggage reclaim. Actually the door opened, when stewardess went there! Can it be 30 people were just too stupid to follow the signs???? Passing the luggage belts without minding which is yours is just fab, feel double cool, though wondering for a moment, if I shall have pity with a poor suitcase from Stockholm that's trying to get a funfair feeling by going round in circles on the belt! Poor thing! Nay! Bunny is waiting, Now Bunny is strongly hugged and I am back home. London, here we come!
Ok, now it's twenty to 8. Our bus leaves at eight. All is fine, we are re-united. Nothing can go wrong anymore, nothing. Except for the enormous queue at the bus tickets desk. It moves fairly quickly though. Fine. Ten minutes left and only two women in front of us. No problem.
Oh god, does this woman want a detailed account of ALL trains and their directions in Britain??!! She just doesn't stop? Why don't they employ someone else to do the info bit, so Colin, the bus ticket seller (we met him when we needed a bus up to Pat's two years ago .. as Hertz wouldn't give us our car and .. ah well, a different story, also involving a Michael concert, three in fact...), could just give us our tickets??? Ah she is gone, now the other woman in front of us. Five minutes left...but she has a Stansted Express bus flyer in her hands, so will only say which station she is going to and get ticket. No problem. GAH GAH GAH she let him calculate when she'd need to get on a bus to get this and that flight back home. Can't she do that on her own?? All departure and arrival times of the buses are listed on this flyer! And you need to be at airport at least one hour early. This is maths even I can do!
After what felt like ages, it was our turn. Colin looked up, prepared for another info marathon. I smiled back: "Two returns to Marble Arch, please." I even handed him the exact amount of money. He was surprised! Mad dash to the bus station. Twenty seconds, ten....It's still there! I can see it! Driver just about to close the door. Us, panting: "Just us, no luggage, Marble Arch." "Ok."
We leave. Can't believe it! We are on time!
Both Bunnies again:
The coach stops at Marble Arch and we get out. Only us and our rucksacks, nothing more! We are hip, we are cool, we just hop on a plane and get to London for a day! How cool is that? So now we know how it has to feel to live in England and do a one-day-trip to London.. Beyond cool!
Minutes later, we are on our bus to Oxford Circus. Most shops are still closed, Strange! And we are in London. Cool! Or is it cool???? Madness more like!! Not even 10 am and we are almost at the stage door. Gosh are we detached! NOT! For surely he won't arrive before 1 pm! Will people laugh at us? Don't comment! Weyhey, we are not the first ones! Sharon, Joan, the always lovely Rose-Marie are there, as well as Sheila (I think was her name). Oooer, should know, should not I? Guess what? Chitty Stock Exchange opened early today. Hugs were being exchanged, just as naturally as the latest photos and videos, newspaper cuttings and gosh.. Once again you realise what a great bunch of people Michael Ball fans are! Also future post-Chitty exchanges are planned!
10 am, the London Palladium Stage Door, the sun is burning! A short trip to Marksies later we are prepared for a long wait in the sun, as we think! Though I have never emptied half a litre of freshly squeezed orange juice that fast! Will we survive until Michael arrives? Doubts crawl up in our minds! It's very early and we feel like being barbecued!
More people gather at the stage door, but it's still fairly empty. Honestly how many people can be as mad as we are? Staff of the Palladium arrives and gets in without hassle. Until finally a lady gets in, stops and complains about us blocking the stage door, telling us off! We are astonished! Frankly, we are.. what? 10 people and far from blocking the stage door! She dashes in and while we are still quite bewildered a guy gets out carrying a mobile barrier! LOL, sorry, I know they expected more people to come and how right they were, but still: A barrier for about a dozen women? We behaved and got in line amused by the sight!
10.30 am. The sun is rising once more.. at least that's what it feels like, when we finally hug Angela and her beyond-lovely husband Darren, who deserves more than medals, more than becoming MBE or whatever the Queen has to offer! Just before our last trip to Chitty. cough, cough.. 2 weeks earlier (we are NOT being decadent!), sweet Darren had to leave to New Zealand on short notice. Of course we were sad, but it's his job and it comes without saying, we completely understood! Nevertheless he kept apologising for not being able to be with us! Sweetheart he is! Top this with: Getting back from New Zealand on Friday, which means horribly long flights from a country that's in mid-winter to a now burning hot London summer's day! Instead of going home and getting lots of sleep he is in London the next morning to share the day with his wife and her mad German friends! Actually we should make him "Bunny h. c." (though I doubt he'd think this is a big honour;-)). Angela...a real angel.. by name and nature. Another bunny h.c., who does all the ticket booking for us these days and managed to get us a row E marking our worst seat for the coming tour!
The miracles of the internet: I am on my mobile, telling mum we arrived safe and sound at the stage door, while she keeps telling me how very sunny it's in London and how hot it should get! "Yep, noticed that!" "Darling, get some shade! It's too hot to stand in the sunshine all the time!" she tells me! "Shade? Mum, do you know, where you can find shade at this time of the day at the Palladium stage door? . Certainly not at any place near enough to get a glimpse of Michael! For sure I did not fly all the way to London to miss him getting in!". But is not it cute! After almost five years she still believes me able of rational thinking, whilst waiting for Michael! The wild women of Ball behind bars...what a sight!!!
Pat - or dear sweet friend and land-lady for our next mad trip to England arrives. The clock turns 11 and strange things happened in the meantime. Constantly we are pushed back. Suddenly we found ourselves very far away from the barrier, just like those who only just arrived, not like having stood there from the start. It were the very same group of people who let us be removed by security(!!!) at the Blickling Hall queue when we joined our friends there (back then we couldn't queue ourselves as flights made it impossible) but allowed loads of THEIR friends to join them, hours later. Really curious if you ask us. Maybe we are too new to this or they simply don't like us. Anyway, we wouldn't let that spoil our day! And in the end we were happy because we saw much more of him than we would have done at the barrier.
Eventually we decide to position close to the street. No chance for anything, where we just stood. So maybe we are lucky enough and Scott stops the car not too far away from us! Sylvi and her daughter Melli arrive and we have the first hugs for almost a year, can it have been such a long time ago? (Was really nice to meet you for the first time, Melli; note by Julia!) Wow! Time passes, when Julia announces: There, he is coming! WHAT? Where? I don't see Michael! Uhm, turns out she was talking about Darren, who just got back with his New Zealand photos. Don't do this to me! Anyway, the photos are just unbelievable! Goodness I never knew that country was such an extraordinary beautiful place!
After some more "Look!!" announcements, that just turn out to be hints of passing Harry Potter buses I finally don't react, when Michael really gets there! It needed three: "Michael is coming!" to make me prepare my camera! Scott passes us, and drives down the street up to the Café Libre. No one is standing there, so I guess he thought it safer to get Michael out of the car, than just in front of the stage door! As only on the pavement some people try to get closer to the car, we move onto the street. Eventually I am standing in one line with Michael's doorsill, some feet away from the car. I am actually shocked as Scott opens the door, Michael gets onto the doorsill and starts talking to us! Hardly anyone is in between us and I have a perfect view to take photos with my 300 mm lenses! And boy, does he look good, or what? Since our last visit, decades ago (16 days ago) he had been to the hairdressers and looks unbelievable! His white shirt widely open, showing off his dangling chain and impressively much of his chest! Thank you Mr. Ball! You certainly know what pleases your fans: Brilliant last night treat! Once again the crowd bursts into song (For he's a jolly good fellow!) - they always seem to do recently! No hiding, he is amazed at the number of people. Anyway, here is approximately what he said:
"How are you all? Are you alright? Are you all in this afternoon? I don't quite know how I feel (putting his hand on his heart!) . We will have fun this afternoon and a proper one this evening. Behave this afternoon! No laughing outrageously I'm gonna get problems . Thank you all for being here. God bless you."
We did not get everything he said, but that's what we can gather from the tape! After his little speech, he got off the car and through the excited masses! My highest respect for Michael to be brave enough to walk through such a crowd of fans!
After Michael had gone in and waved a last time obligatory group photos were taken and Darren or rather Angela offered that Darren could take my roll to be processed while we were at the matinee. And just when we kept talking, still standing behind the car Gareth and Scott got out of a side entrance carrying a brown, comfy looking arm chair to the people carrier! Michael did tell us he needed to get his stuff out of his dressing room, but I did not expect he'd take all the furniture with him ;-). Back in they went with Michael's clothes for the after show party!
After Michael's arrival we certainly needed something cold to drink! Unfortunately Sylvi and Melli decided to get back to their hotel, while we went over to Starbucks for a lovely Frappuccino. Thanks Angela for introducing me to this stuff in the middle of a well working diet! (Anyone interested to know Julia and me lost quite a bit of weight the last months? Okay thought so ;-)).
Lots of chatting, strolling (even passing the Donmar at one point ... another happy stage door memory... and the first last night of a Michael run we were at) and many "Aaaaws" at the sight of Darren and Angela holding hands and walking arm in arm later, we were back at the Palladium, just in time! The time for the second-last Chitty had come (with Michael that is!)!
F funnily enough, just when we wondered whether G&M had been at the stage door , we met them..guess where? In the Palladium's ladies room! Right! Actually being a bit late we walked to the auditorium together, chatting, when suddenly some strange man called called after Gill and Maureen! We turned and found ourselves once again standing there standing there face to face with Michael's dad ..Tony! He was completely amazed to have heard earlier, that people came all the way from different countries to see Michael's last performance. Gill and Maureen introduced us and introduced us and we told him about our mad travel arrangements ..all for his son .. and all worth it. He was a bit impressed (or bewildered, couldn't tell as he is always so friendly;-). Like father like son.) Now, we were the only people left in the bar and the ushers really urged us to take our seats!
So we took our seats behind Chris Kitchen, just to realise: We did not have a look at the photos so far! We had collected them from the shop before heading back to the theatre. So, as strangely there was some time left, I got them out and the drooling started! Great god, did he look. uhm right, show start!
~ Read part II - The Matinee and the very last performance ~