It all started on a lazy Monday morning (24th September 2001). The clock shows 6:10 am:
How on earth did I manage? I overslept! It was not too bad, but still. I am on my way to seeing Michael tonight, so how could it happen? A minor miracle, that cannot be explained and after all I love being in a hurry, that is the only explanation I have. God knows how I managed, but I really got showered, dressed and prepared my luggage, just in time to get over to the airport.
I was so nervous. For the first time Julia and I would not meet at Stansted airport, but we had to meet at the hotel. Trust me, I can be such a cowardly sock! Although I had it so easy. Our hotel was very close to the Victoria station. I just had to find my suitcase at Gatwick airport, find the train station and get on the Gatwick Express. Should not be too hard! And it was not! Despite starting a bit too late I was there earlier than Julia and could get my things into the hotel room. Just about 20 minutes later I met her on the street. Yes I had her back after the unbelievable time of one month! Actually I could have got used to seeing Julia, Michael, Pat, Stella and the other girls each month. Why can't life go on like that? Ok I could not afford this on the length of time, but it would be a nice dream.
Just an hour later we were on our way into the city. Somehow I felt quite soon that I did not miss the hot tubes too much in the meantime. But who cares We were back in London, which meant in fact that we were back in the one city on earth where our aim of admiration was as well at this moment. Can there be a better feeling? Yes standing at his side, but more about this later on.
We went - quelle surprise - to the Donmar. We wanted to have our tickets, cause it certainly felt much better to hold them in our hands. Everything went fine with Julia's, but then they couldn't find mine. For god's sake I had the credit card with me and they could to print them out again. It seemed that they sent some of the tickets out to me, which never reached me. It was some time after two, so what to do now? Going into the city and doing some shopping? We could have done, but we decided against it and sat instead on the kerb and waited for the things that should happen, or for the people to be coming.
As time passed more and more people arrived and it was getting more and more crowded. We must have been mad to be starting queuing there already at shortly after 2 pm. We could know he would not be there too early, but excitement rose and rose. Plus I had a task, well I had several tasks over the week. I wanted to have a photo with Michael and my bunny Julia, plus I had to ask him from Helen, if there is any chance he might do a concert in Malaysia. I had a week to do both, but certainly I did not want to wait the whole week for this.
One thing I always wanted to have since the first time I have seen him life in Amsterdam was having a photo taken with him. And since I know Julia just because of him: the other thing was a photo with all of us three. Without him, I would not know her and without both of them my life would be far more boring and I really think: much poorer. Therefore my mission was set for the time being there. I needed to find a way to get close to him and ask him for a photo. So here we were: I had Bine, whom I asked to take the photo and she agreed, although I think she was extremely afraid, if it was going to work. Brave Sabine did a trial photo and so our luck for the rest of the week was in her hands. LOL I should not have told her that, huh? However, we waited there and it got more and more crowded. I was so afraid. I really had to manage. My camera was partly already playing tricks with me, so I was happy to have someone who managed to work with it. I did not think I had more than just this chance today. It was so full already. How should I manage? I never managed to utter a word to him. My own courage was working on me and not just once I felt the urgent need just to run away. Why am I so stupid? He is only a man after all! Nothing more and nothing less. (Of course with a magnificent voice, great looks....). OH my. Finally the cab arrived, drove a bit too far down the street and I felt sick. I had to do something. I had to get closer. Everything inside me just said, that I wanted to run away, but some part of me was more sophisticated. I still don't know how, everything I know now is, that suddenly I stood right in front of Michael when he was passing by and said: "Michael, please?" He stopped and looked at me with those gorgeous blue eyes! I was close to a heart attack and everything was just going automatically. It must have helped that I trained the words I used there this afternoon for an eternity. I thought so often what I wanted to say to him and somehow I managed to utter one of the 20 billion possibilities I had. So I said: "I have a photo with Cathy McGowan (first fault, it should have been we, sorry Julia) and now I would love to have a photo with her boy-friend. And with my friend." He was giving me a broad smile and said. "of course you can." And then we stood there. I felt his hand lying on my back, and mine laid on his. Just such a great feeling. I could not believe I was standing there and the time seemed to have stopped for that moment. Bine was as she says nervous and shivering, but she finally managed to take the photo.
The moment was finally over much to soon, but I was thankful. I had everything I wanted to have in this week. LOL as my mum said when I was talking to her on the phone later on that day and just hopping up and down with the phone, she laughed and said. "Ok then you can get home now?". Oh mum you bet I won't. this was certainly the highlight of the week.
The week was just fabulous, we were lucky enough to be really early at the stage door on Wednesday. There have not been many people. In fact we kept talking among us and were just in the middle of a conversation. No one seemed to have expected Michael at that moment. Suddenly Crys Ager nearly shouted "Michael" so I turned and wanted to look up the street looking out for a car or something, but someone blocked my way. Michael Ball himself grinning all over his face. I think my eyes popped out of their sockets. Oh how he enjoyed to surprise us all like that! And getting us all worked up with our cameras to get a pic of him. he told us he had to get inside, because he had to work. So he just started working on Wednesday which is rather interesting. Actually I wonder what he was doing all the time before? ;-) Nevertheless he stood there for a moment and we chatted for a moment. Nothing earth shattering. But I was actually quite proud that I managed to ask him about the tour and concerts in Malaysia maybe for Helen. He said he'd love to go there and do a concert of course and then he asked again where, LOL. I repeated and he said, that they are just in the stage of planning everything. So I guess this means nothing in no direction. Could be he will be doing one there, could as well be he won't go there. Nevertheless I will keep my fingers tightly crossed for you, Helen!
These were my highlights regarding Stage door standing. Monday after the show was fabulous. We were standing there outside, waiting for Michael to come, so we might tell him our goodbyes. Then a lady came down the stairs and I just thought: I had seen her before. My brain was working overtime and I tried to get who she was. all the time the words "Hey, Mr. Producer" went wild in my head. I told Julia and she had the same problem as I had. The lady left and went past me and I still could not think who it was. More than a minute later, Julia finally turned towards me and said: "McKenzie?" I looked at her with astonishment. "OH yes right. Julia McKenzie. We should not have forgotten her, huh?" And just the moment I said that another Ballette standing in front of us, turned and shouted equally loud. "Alright, that was her. Of course!" Felt so much better to know we did not have been the only people forgetting her name. Just a bit, well embarassing when I turned and saw she was just standing some metres away from us! Later on I heard as well that Tony Slattery had been there that night as well, but I did not see him.
Another story are the Stage door events after the show. It got a usual custom, that Gareth - Michael's personal assistant - collected programmes and things for signing after the show so that Michael could sign them. A thing they might have regretted afterwards, cause some people really handed in tons of material. On Tuesday Gareth left upstairs with such a pack of programmes and stuff that I really felt for him. I did not know how they wanted to manage that night. I just thought, if Michael is going to sign that all he will be there writing his name for hours.
It was not too long afterwards that Michael already came down. I thought he could not have done all the signatures. He came down with two ladies and a guy and said "I brought my mum and my little sister!" Of course he wanted to leave early with them. I thought he would not have signed them all. It had been much too far and there was not enough time. Well so I thought, but just a minute after he left. Gareth came down with all the programmes and they were all signed. I thought I was dreaming. Of course he did not have the time for personal dedications. And I hated to hear everywhere around that people were complaining about it. He had a part of his family there that night. I can understand that he did not want to stay half of the night there signing programmes. Everyone takes for granted that he does these things, but you cannot! There is no way in taking this for granted. I heard about many people more and less famous than Michael who don't do it. I could come up with examples here, but I decided not to. If he does so then the reason is, that he is one of the nicest and most unstarry stars I have ever heard of. I have heard of more than one person, who cares far less for his fans. Michael is something exceptional there and we should never forget about this.
I heard so often that he got less accessible over the years. I have not been there long enough to really judge it. I know that I will be stepping on some peoples toes here, but this is really important for me. At the Donmar I met so many great people and we had lots of fun, I am sure I can speak for Julia as well as for myself here. But still there had been people disturbing it and maybe for some even ruining the time. I think one of the problems there are the crowds after the shows. Michael felt very, very tired after the shows from Wednesday to Friday. The days had been really long for him and it was no surprise. He could have left early on Wednesday just through the back door, but he did not. He took his time to come down to say goodbye to his fans and even signed some things and think got photos taken with him. Although he was tired and I am sure he just wanted to leave. I thought this was really nice of him and I cannot imagine most people would have done this!
The moment of the week I hated most though came on Friday after the show. It was very obvious, that this night everything should have been Michael's place, but certainly not the stage. His voice was so hoarse and he had problems and I am sure that most of the show was a constant fight. I expected that he might get on the stairs and tell us, that he wanted to leave directly. But then I think at first Gareth asked us, to let Michael leave without much trouble, as he was really tired. Then a guy came down. I don't know who he was actually, but at first he was standing inside on the stairs and talked to the people inside. We were standing outside, so we could not understand what he was saying. He managed to fight his way out through the crowd and almost begged us on his knees, that we might just let Michael pass by. He was really exhausted and just wanted to leave right away. I knew already then this was useless. Some time later Michael came really down and somehow I think this was one of the more stupid ideas he has had during the week. Not that I can remember another one. Of course he could not get through. Maybe he should have taken his mum with him again, cause with her walking in front of him and having both hands on her shoulders, he could leave without much trouble and no one bothered him. But this night was different. Very slowly he managed to get out of the building. He walked up the street, cause his cab was parked a bit up there. I thought I could not trust my eyes, when I saw that some "ladies" started to chase after him. The first time so far I saw Michael Ball fleeing from fans! He jumped into the cab and was finally off. Sorry, but I hate this behaviour. Everyone has the same chances, to say bye. Sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are not. Why do some people have to run after him and cannot just leave him alone when he wishes to? I know I sound like a broken longplayer, but he did not have to do it to come down there. He just did it, so that his fans might have the chance to see him once more and take a photo of him not with him. What I only fear is that some day he might decide he won't leave without bodyguards. Honestly I could not have blamed anyone, if he had surrounded himself with four people to get him out of the building without trouble!
On a happier note: There were so many great moments. It was so cute to see people boasting with excitement, after Michael got a photo taken with them, gave people autographs. Everything, but I think the most cute moment was on I think Thursday night. Lynn from the USA had her last night. And the day before she had taken a cute photo of Michael. She asked Gareth, that Michael might sign it and a friend would collect it for her the following night and send her. Gareth finally left. These days we had the custom that Gareth would collect what could be signed the next night, cause Michael was far too tired, to do them all in that night. Gareth came back some time later and handed Lynn her photo. Michael had already signed it for her. It was so cute to see her amazement. She hugged Gareth and then stared with disbelief to the photo and finally started crying. She still did this when we finally left minutes later.
What about the show and me? Well it was fabulous as I had already written in the other review. The Donmar has a quite unique and special atmosphere! It really is very intimate. And Michaels voice filled the whole auditorium. It was an unbelievable feeling when he first entered the stage and belted out all these songs. There are no words to describe it in an adequate way. He was just magnificent. There had been so many songs that were just pure showstoppers. My highest respect to him that he managed to put up such a show. Now it is Tuesday morning. My last show was on Saturday and I have still all these songs and parts of songs in my ear, I see him still sitting there on the stage being completely lost. I don't think ever in my life something impressed me as much as this show.
About the seating: I can just say there is no bad seat at the Donmar. Especially not if you have a person like Michael who uses the whole stage. He was looking everywhere at a time and it was just brilliantly done. As well as I had pretty good seats in the stalls. I mean I know it is just an illusion that he looked at me. One night after the show I had been standing on the stage for a moment and if I had this illusion till then I could say goodbye to it now! I had problems finding the way from the stage because they had this one spotlight still focused on the stage and I could not see anything really, despite this light. So I know he could not really see me, but the pure look of him directly into my eyes and knowing if this light would not have been there he would have done it, was just great. And he did it quite a lot!
The best seats for this I had on Friday night. I was just in a perfect position, sitting third row, stalls in the centre and having a first class view on stage. I could see him without anything disturbing my view each time he sat down on the stage. And trust me, if there was from the stage show one moment I loved most, it was "remind me" on Friday night.
He looked directly to me - I know not seeing me actually, but who cares - and started to sing: "Remind me not to find you so attractive". Oh my god thank you Michael, that gave enough self-confidence for a year, LOL!
Saturday was a horrible feeling. We knew this would be our last night for some time with nothing new to look out for. Horrible. But we still had this one show to look out for. After we had seen Pat and Stella already the night before, we met them now already before the show. While we were standing there with them, Jan finally arrived and we had a nice chat. She was eager to know how often we went altogether. the queue was fading and we really needed to get inside finally, cause: Latecomers won't be admitted! J .
We sat on our seats, a bit further down to the left side and waited for the show to begin. We tried to fight our constant depression, knowing, that everything we were going to see and going to hear would be the last time now! Had the first half always been over that soon? For me it seemed to last only a couple of minutes. We got out into the bar to get something to drink. And while we were standing there, Cathy finally appeared and was talking to James. I thought I could not believe my eyes, but she had come. She looked just gorgeous. I fear I had been a bit staring at her in complete disbelief. She was dressed completely in black and looked just fantastic. When the interval was over she went over to Tony and Jan and took a place at their side, where usually no seat was. As we heard finally, she could not find her ticket and therefore was obviously too late for the first half!
The second half was once more brilliant. Cathy was lucky enough to receive a wink from him during the time. She was enjoying the show you could tell. When we got to the ending of the show, just before he was going to sing "The ball is over" he said, he was going to break his rules now for the first time and talk to the audience. He told us how much he enjoyed it and that he wanted to thank the Donmar and the staff at the Donmar and especially three people: James Sharkey, his pianist Jason Carr and his director Johnathan Butterell. Then he and Jason received flower bouquets from the staff of the Donmar. Michael sang his last song and this time the Ball was really over. He received standing ovations and was truly touched by the reception he got.
Michael left the stage for the last time and we got over to Pat and Stella, who were chatting to Jan. Cathy was standing at their side. We hoped that Pat and Stella might say something to introduce us to Cathy, but then something happened I would not have expected. Jan saw us and said to Cathy: "These girls have seen the show six times." Cathy turned to us, gave us a smile and from then on we had a nice chat with Cathy McGowan, that seemed to last forever. I could have kissed Jan for doing this and I could still kiss her for this.
I have heard so much from other fans about Cathy. All I can say is, that she is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. Honestly somehow I had the feeling while talking to her that we had known each other for an eternity. It was so cute, when Julia finally managed to ask her for an autograph, how her reaction was. She said. "But I am not Michael" Yes we knew and we did not want to have an autograph of Michael, but rather one of her. She gave it to us, one for each of us. She finally even said that she remembered us, which was such a great feeling. I don't know for how long we might have stood there, if the staff did not start to throw us out literally. They told us three times to leave please, while we were talking to Cathy. And then one finally asked me, if I was waiting for someone and I just looked at her in disbelief and then at Cathy. I felt like: You know I am talking to Cathy McGowan? She saw Cathy and then literally blushed and apologised. Her next trick to get rid of us then was telling Cathy which way take best to get to Michael. so I really guess we had to part now, but well we had some really great minutes and a chat that will be enshrined in my memory forever! She said goodbye to us and when they all left we received kisses on both cheeks from Jan and a kiss from Tony on our left cheek. For the rest of the night we were floating on a cloud. The week was nearly over, but the ending was very well worth it.
Michael finally came down to us again, and told us, what a great audience we had been and how much he had enjoyed each minute of the shows. He thanked everyone for coming, no matter, if they came to all shows or to one of them and no matter from where they came. America or from wherever. He was in a good mood and I am quite sure that he was as well happy that these two weeks had been over. He let himself being photographed with some fans. Before he left he was asked what will come next and he did not say anything definite. "Some gigs and acts and there might be something very exciting coming up" With these words he finally left us. We were floating outside towards Pat and Stella who were waiting for us and dragged us up the street, so we might say our final goodbyes to Michael, while he was leaving in his car. He did not too much later, and then he was gone. We were so happy about everything that happened, that we were not really mourning that everything was over now. We said goodbye to Pam Hancock, who had to get her train. We stood there for some time with Pat, Stella and Linda. Until we finally parted. We went back to our hotel room. Knowing there were just about seven hours left for us, until we had to part and fly back to Germany, she to Berlin and me to Dusseldorf. We stayed awake until after 2 am until we finally fell asleep. I know I dreamed of what I had seen that night and it was like a slap in my face when the alarm clock finally went on. We got ready and left for the station.
I think when I left Julia there, it was the first time I really had to fight very hard my tears. London gave me a nice goodbye. The sun was arising, the sky was red and with this nice play of colours over the river Thames I left London finally. Germany had me back at 2 pm. It was a strange feeling finally to be back, but I had the time of my life and I can never thank you all enough for this.
I am sure I won't be able to list them all here. I just know I will forget people, so if I do forget someone, I am really sorry. It was great meeting: again or for the first time: Sabine and Uli, Stella, Pat, Sheila N and Christine (thank you again Sheila!), Pam, Pam Hancock, Debbie N., Debbie, Gill and Maureen, Pat Lyra, Linda, Linda, Lynn, Crys Ager, Agnetha, Alison, Dorothy Eden, Lynn Eppler, Sylvia, Barbara, Sheila, Teri Ferguson, Cherie.
The memories I have got will last a lifetime. So a very big thank you to the most important people of the week: Julia for sharing so much time with me and never getting exhausted ;-). Michael for doing such a brilliant show and giving me the week of a lifetime and I am not kidding! And last, but not least: Cathy: For talking to us like you did, being so nice with us. All I can say is Michael is a really lucky man!