It’s been an age since I’ve posted to this blog. I hadn’t fallen out of love with U2, I’d just put them on the shelf for a while. Like a lot of fans, I was growing tired of the never-ending silence, but even moreso tired of the rumour mill and the sickening refrain of certain fans trying to stir it up. If we blink, we’d miss something, they assured us. They would be first with the news, you see. And we would again need to fall behind them in the GA lines for the next tour, in which they would be first, again. Sigh.
After the falloff in news immediately after the Golden Globe/Oscar push surrounding "Ordinary Love", I made an educated guess that our band U2 was on hiatus for the present time with no album or tour announcement imminent, no matter what the innurnet said. I ridded my social media of some of the worst rumour mongers, and went on with my life. I planned summer trips to North Carolina, New York & Boston, and have another coming up to celebrate my 40th birthday in Manchester, England in November. (I once had a dream that I'd go see U2 anywhere they would play in the world if it was on my birthday, but so much for that.) I went on those summer trips with no fear that I would miss anything, no fear that I made the wrong decision, and absolutely no regrets. And if U2 had the album out by November? It would make great listening for my overseas flight, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Very recently, I planned a whirlwind trip to go to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to see The Imitation Game - a Benedict Cumberbatch movie about the life of Alan Turing. All of you will know Cumberbatch as he who famously photobombed U2 at the Oscars, he who plays Sherlock on the BBC, and he who has been antithesis of U2 as of late – absolutely ubiquitous and producing all kinds of goodness for his fans. He was, and still is, a very welcome distraction.
Those who know me outside of U2 know that I spent a fair bit of time in Manchester in the early 90s - right when the news had come out about Alan Turing’s involvement in breaking the German Enigma code for the British during World War II (the information was classified for years). He was the man who, for all intents and purposes, invented the computer. Just ask any of your geek friends about the "Turing Test". Turing is a very, very big deal in the history of computer science, and someone that sadly not many outside of the UK know about.
His story is a sad one and it always stuck with me - and he's a local hero in Manchester, having taught at the University of Manchester while continuing his work on developing the computer after the war ended. (I won't provide much more lest I spoil anyone who wants to see the movie, but his story needs to be told - I'm happy it's now going to be told to a wider audience.) Although I am a low-level Cumberbitc.. (Ah, wait. I can't. He hates that.) A... ahem, member of the Cumber-Collective.. there we are - I had a definite interest in the film itself, outside of my interest in its star.
So what does this all have to do with U2, you say? Allow me to explain.
In 2011 on U2360 I did a very stupid thing. I went to 11 shows, but instead of just enjoying the concerts, I spent many a show worrying if I was in the right place, worrying about whether I should be in the GA line or at the hotel or where they came in to the stadium or my GOD where would I need to be because.... because I had to meet The Edge. (Some of you reading are probably shocked that I have not met The Edge, I know. But alas, I have not.) You see, I know lots of people who have met The Edge. The Edge is lovely, they tell me. The Edge is amazing, they'd have me know. A gigantic fan like me must meet him, there is simply no alternative. I let that get into my head in a very bad way. Everyone else meets The Edge and he isn't even their favourite. What if other people meet The Edge and I don't meet The Edge? That can't happen. This whole thing will be a disappointment if I don't meet The Edge. The goal is not, in fact, soul. It is MEETING THE EDGE. I was basically 12-years-old again inside my own head.
In a misguided attempt to make this happen, I mistakenly put some trust in people I barely knew. I thought that in my heart someone would help me out or throw me on a bone - give me some piece of information to help me achieve this dream of mine, because they'd already met him many a time, and it would finally be my turn.
Well, no. It most definitely was not my turn. That in and of itself I could accept, but what actually happened wasn't pretty. I was lied to, nearly crushed, given misinformation... things that some of these so-called 'fans' did lest I take up 10 of the seconds they needed this tour to add to their extensive rosters of 'time spent with members of U2'. After all, they are good friends with Bono by now. Bono knows them and he loves them, and he would miss them if they didn't show up this tour.
I let this get to me - far too much. How could people be so damn cruel? Why wouldn't anyone help me? These are U2 fans. It's not supposed to be like this. As someone who was a huge Oasis fan who knows Noel Gallagher because I was lucky enough to meet him while he worked for another band in the early 90s (again back to Manchester), some of my greatest joys were to bring a few deserving fans backstage with me when I could. I was convinced someone would return the favour - it's that "U2 Karma" of which I often speak. It has to come around for me someday, why wasn't it happening?
Let's face it. Most people who are gigantic fans of anything would nearly kill to meet their idols, and people do some really crappy stuff to others to make this happen - some of it on purpose, but a lot of it without meaning to. It doesn't matter whether you're into sports, music, film, television... our lust for a brush with fame makes us do some very silly things.
So let's get back to Mr. Cumberbatch.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Toronto International Film Festival, it turns the entire city of Toronto into one huge Hollywood North come September. All the absolute biggest stars, the ones who will win Oscars in February are there. It's a bigger deal than Rob Ford - and people flock to it from all over the world. Known unofficially as the "people's film festival", it also unfortunately attracts people who I like to call 'fame whores'. It doesn't matter who it is, if they're famous, they want their autograph and a picture. They need to push and shove to get it, and they'll do whatever it takes, including inflicting unapologetic bodily harm on others. I knew this going in - this was going to be like all my nightmares rolled into one. So what the hell was I doing?
Herein lies the difference. I would not see this trip as a failure if I did not meet Benedict Cumberbatch. Of course I'd love to, but I was by no means going to kill myself trying. What I was going to do was bust my ass for tickets to the second screening of The Imitation Game. It was going to be even harder than getting tickets for U2. And getting into the premiere? That would be sweet, but that would be like working at Bletchley Park and trying to figure out what the Nazis were saying to each other circa 1939.
Thus began my non-musical journey. After near defeat because I gambled on a seat sale before the TIFF schedule came out (as Sherlock would say - idiot), the movie didn't end up screening in the first four days (thanks Telluride). I was going to be able to change my flights but I only had two days of vacation left. How on earth was I going to do this mid-week? I figured out that I could leave after work on Monday night and arrive at midnight, be in town for the premiere in the event of a miracle as well as the next day for the second screening, and return home Wednesday night, going back to work on Thursday. My schedule would be crazier than Cumberbatch's, but I could do this thing. I didn't let it get me down, and about an hour after the schedule was released I had an evening flight booked to Toronto on September 8th.
It was a stressful wait between plane ticket and TIFF ticket, but soon enough August 31st rolled around - single ticket day - a day where movie fans are left cursing the whims of the TIFF website every year. It had been known to crash and crash hard, leaving a lot of people feeling that a better alternative was to camp out overnight in Toronto at the box office, internet be damned.
The odds were definitely stacked against me, but I truly believed that I would somehow get a ticket, no matter what. I rolled into work early that Sunday morning where I have multiple monitors and a cracking fast internet connection. The TIFF ticketing system assigns you a numerical place in line and shows you how many people are in 'front' of you. So I took a deep breath and clicked, right when the clock struck 9am Eastern.
Number bloody SEVENTEEN. I stared at the screen. Seventeen? Seriously? My husband was on the phone with me as a backup, and having clicked at the same time, he ended up somewhere in the four hundreds. I couldn't believe it. With a number this low, I'd beaten out a ton of people who camped outside on King Street, it was incredible. The premiere was still unavailable for purchase, but there would be absolutely no problem getting tickets for the second screening for myself and two of my Sherlock-fan friends who I met, wonderfully enough, through U2. (One being Sarah Stone, who if you remember I mentioned in an earlier blog post, having sent me Edge's setlist from East Lansing.) It felt great to be able to get tickets for Sarah and her friend, and I a few frantic clicks later I officially had a date with my pals for 3pm September 10th at the Princess Of Wales Theatre. We'd be seeing he who plays Sherlock on the BBC on the big screen, in a movie I couldn't wait to see.
I'd still done some more research around TIFF to see how one gets into a movie premiere as I'd always dreamed of going to one in my life. The movie premieres at TIFF almost always have Q&As with the cast/director, so how amazing would it be to see Benedict up close and to hear him talking about his movie? Pretty damn amazing, I figured. But a ticket to the premiere was not going to be easy, especially for a movie starring Mr. Cumberbatch, the British darling of TIFF. They release more tickets at 7am Toronto time up to and including the date of the screenings, so I diligently got up at 4:56am local to click around the TIFF site and cross my fingers, only to admit defeat at 5:03, trying to get back to sleep for an hour before work. I did this for a few days and royally wrecked my sleep schedule with nothing to show, but I had to try. I also thought that if I couldn't get a ticket I would try my hand at the rush line. Rush is either the most triumphant or heartbreaking thing one can do - you wait in line for hours only to be told 10 minutes before the movie whether you get in or not, depending on how many empty seats were in the theatre. There were no guarantees, but if I could just get four hours of sleep and get downtown by 6am, I could be right up front - not really my idea of fun, but if I really wanted to go....
I then wondered how much a ticket to said premiere would go for on the secondary market. It was a risk, but it was worth investigating. On Kijiji (the Craigslist of Canada) there were a few greedy people selling pairs and quads for in excess of $300 each (face value was just under $60) refusing to sell a single. There was no way I was going to pay that much - I might just have to settle for the second showing and gaze upon Cumberbatch from afar, as I was still wary of the whole red carpet experience. I scrolled through a few more listings and there it was. A single ticket, $120 - cash only - meet in downtown Toronto. This had to be the real deal. A modest price, a face-to-face meeting (the only way to do these things - emailing money is a baaaaaddd idea kids) and a single ticket. The person who was selling it was just a legitimate lover of TIFF, not even a Cumberbatch fan, just looking to recoup a bit of cost to cover all the movies she was going to - it turned out that her friend couldn't make it on the Tuesday night so she was selling her ticket for her. A few emails later I had an exchange set up between the seller and another U2 fan friend who works in downtown Toronto (thanks Drea!) the next day at noon. The ticket deal was completed flawlessly thanks to her, and I couldn't believe how lucky I was. I was going to the premiere of The Imitation Game, and he who photobombed U2 would be there as well. Pinch me.
Days and 2000 miles later I was waking up at my airport hotel, and getting ready to go downtown to drop my bags at my new hotel and meet my friend for the ticket she'd got for me for the premiere. (I was also having a great hair day, let it be known.) Those who have ever travelled with me know that I am a resolute planner, not for lack of spontaneity which I still enjoy, but I always know where I'm going and how to get there - I hate wasting time figuring out public transit and the layout of a city - I've researched it all before I get off the plane. I've also been to Toronto countless times and know the city quite well, so this would be a breeze right? Not so. My short trip between my friend's workplace and the box office to collect the tickets for the second showing turned out to be an absolute comedy of errors. I dropped a pile of change on the floor while trying to buy tokens, I went down to the subway platform and watched a train pull up before realizing I needed to go to back and get a transfer, and I got off at the wrong subway stop. At this point I was laughing at myself. I had a great sleep - what the hell was wrong with me?
When I figured out where I was after having got off a stop too soon, I decided to just walk to the next stop to catch my streetcar. It was only a few blocks down, and it was a nice day. I was nearly at the stop for the streetcar when I decided, just for fun, to walk behind the theatre on King Street and the building where the press conference for The Imitation Game was going to be in a couple of hours. I didn't imagine I'd see anyone, I just wanted to scope things out in case we decided to try to catch a glimpse of he who is almost too productive (in comparison to that band we enjoy) after the press conference.
A couple of blocks later I saw a woman taking a picture of someone with a big long lens. I stopped. I watched. I'm in Toronto during TIFF for goodness sakes, there had to be someone famous across that street. So I followed the line of her camera, and was surprised to see Allan Leech standing on the sidewalk chatting with fans - outside of a non-marked non-descript building. Leech plays the Irish chauffeur on Downton Abbey. I like him, so I figured I'd stroll over and at least try to get a crappy iPhone picture of him, why not? Fame whore I was not, but when in Rome... I certainly wouldn't be trampling on anyone to get it though. No sooner did I get within 5 feet of Allan when I thought, holy crap - he's in The Imitation Game with he who.... was now walking out of the door a mere 10 feet away.
Yes indeed. It was none other than..
Benedict. Freakin. Cumberbatch.
The most sought after celebrity in town. The one who I never dreamed I'd meet, I wasn't even trying. He who...
He was. Right. Bloody. There.
And as these things go, it was over quickly. With everyone crowded around Allan Leech most people didn't even notice him, and I had almost exclusive access to him for those glorious 30 seconds, only a couple of other people even noticed him. There were only about 15 there at most. He had yet to turn into gorgeous red-carpet-impeccably-dressed-Benedict, he had his newsboy cap on backwards and was dressed casually, but he was absolutely stunning in real life, especially up close. His press people were urging him to get into the car - he had a press conference right away and.... hurry up, Ben, we're going to be late...
People who don't know much about him as a person and who have only seen him in Sherlock would take one look at him assume that he is a stuck-up, upper class Brit who fancies himself as an important ac-TOR with no time for his fans. There would be no way that he'd stop for me. He's too important, and he has places to be. He'd surely jump into the car right now, dreams dashed. It wouldn't be like meeting The Edge. If I met The Edge it would be perfect...
But Benedict Cumberbatch did not do that. I said "Benedict..." and held out my hand, and he stopped and looked at me. I can only imagine the dreamy silly gaze I had upon my face - absolutely identical to the first time I saw The Edge in real life, I have no doubt. He shook my hand and I thanked him for stopping, and with his press people tugging on his sleeve he said "hello - I have to run, I'm so sorry," in that glorious deep baritone that is his voice. There was no time for me to take a photo, but it's one of those things that will be burned in my memory forever - I don't need one to know that it happened. Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch was as lovely as he possibly could have been in that brief moment, he most certainly could have brushed right past me. Those who do follow him know that he's actually a great person to his fans which is part of the reason I admire him. I walked about a block before leaning against a building, feeling quite literally faint.
I had touched the hand of Sherlock... Khan... Christopher Tietjens... bang-on imitator of Alan Rickman... Smaug... or a penguin from Madagascar... whatever it is that he does for you, he gave me a few seconds of his busy day.
That's really all it is when you meet someone famous, and all it should be. You might be lucky enough to get an autograph, or a picture, and if you're really fortunate, a brief chat. But these people are not to be called your own, should not expected to continue a conversation you started with them years ago, and are certainly not meant for you to brag about on Facebook regarding the number of times you've met them, showing off your prowess for being in the right place at the right time.
The way I 'met' Benedict Cumberbatch (and I use that term as loosely as those who 'meet' Bono fifty times because I can't really count those five seconds as having 'met' someone, no matter how much they brag it up) was perfect. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way, and it made me realize that it's the only way I would want to meet The Edge - by chance. If you try so hard to make these things happen, it will end in heartache almost every time, and it's just not worth it.
When you have an encounter with someone famous, treasure it. Especially when it happens as it did to me. Completely by surprise, and hurting no one else in the process. This would never ever have happened the same way twice... had I not dropped that change, forgotten that transfer, or got off the TTC at Osgoode instead of St Andrew - I believe in that kind of stuff, and I apparently was destined to be there at that exact time to shake that man's beautiful hand - and realize something about myself in the process.
I know my true fan friends mean well, still encouraging me to just stick with them and we'll meet him someday, but I know and they know that there are no guarantees. There is no sure thing, no way to 'make' this happen, and I've been kidding myself chasing this dream, thinking that somehow my life would be complete if I was only to meet The Edge.
Even though I haven't met him in person, I did have the opportunity to speak to him on the phone for five minutes back in 2011 - just the two of us talking to each other with no one else in our way, and I got the chance to thank him for 30 years of music. How on earth could I ever top that? I don't need to validate things by being there in person, and if it's meant to be, it will happen - of this I should be convinced.
It took a very special moment on a sidestreet in downtown Toronto to teach me this. The rainbow will find me if it's meant to - I need to quit chasing it.
PS - I did not spell "bomb" wrong in the title. Whoever gets this reference really needs to be in a movie theatre come November 21st (November 14th in the UK).