Has it been a year? How can it be if I still have my dog-eared Rick Steves’ London on my end table? Sure, it’s buried beneath a precipitous “To Read” pile, but, still, it feels like I just unpacked it. The thing about travel is that it becomes a part of you in ways other human experience can’t. In two rich weeks, walking that town, its lovely byways and bridges, at all hours of the day and night, I felt like a Londoner. So looking forward to going back at the first opportunity. It’s Damian’s home turf and that’s an attraction, sure. But, more than that, London, to me, feels like a calmer, quieter version of New York, more amenable to those of us not so tough anymore. A place full of just as many rich experiences, but that doesn’t feel like it would kill you if you stayed too long.
Exactly a year ago, London is where we saw Damian on stage in The Goat. Let’s take a trip back, shall we?The times I can see Damian in person are few and far between. It was at Damianista’s urging, i.e. pretty much taking me by the hand and flying me out to NY, that my first “sighting” and “meeting” even happened. (I have no idea what those quotes mean or why I used them, just go with me here) I vacillate often between “I’d be fine if I never saw him in person again, good riddance to that level of stress-filled gut-wrenching fangrl angst” to “Fine, I’ll see him on stage or something, but no reason to talk to him privately, is there? Can’t we be normal people for once and just go home and not talk to him?” to “OMG, when are we going to see him again, in what circumstances, for how long, can we possibly have it go longer, and what if…etc. etc. etc.” Truthfully, I spend about equal parts brain energy on those three states of fangrl-ness. Quite similar, in fact, to the brain energy allocation of an average 17 year old girl around prom time.
So, when we heard about The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? coming to London and started talking about it, there I was, torn among those three states. “I’ve got a sister right outside London,” I said. “I can stay with her!” And maybe take a couple weeks and see London, make like I’m 19 again, but, this time, somewhat have the money to do all the London things I’ve never had the chance to do. “Make it about London and not just about him,” said the part of my brain reserved for how crazy all THIS makes me look, justifying the insanity of all THIS by diluting it with a legitimate sight-seeing trip to a legitimate world capital city with loads of things that interest me anyway, even if it weren’t Damian’s home town.
It all started clicking into place. Damianista, as is her wont nearly always, was IN. So plans were made. And Damianista came up with a brilliant idea of a gift to give him when we see him. “What do you mean when we see him?” I was still asking. “How about if you go and see him and leave my very much weaker constitution at the gate? Surely the stage experience alone will require some rest? You can tell me all about it after,” I said. “No,” she said, “when WE go see him, WE can give him this thing WE’ve gotten for him.” I knew my protests were for naught, and I proceeded to want to help put together the gift, but, as is her wont, she did all the heavy lifting. All I did was fly the package over the pond, get it to the framer, and voila, there we were assured that we wouldn’t be visiting Damian Lewis empty-handed.
All thanks for setting up the meeting go to Michael, Damian’s personal assistant in London, for making initial arrangements, and to Rosie, one of the theatre managers at Royal Haymarket, for being our very kind host while we visited.
Arrangements were made, I set off for London, and, by gosh, saw it all, and then some. Not to say that there is not more left to see or I couldn’t spend another glorious two weeks visiting all of these places again. It’s a great town. Sort of a marriage between NYC, with its food, theater, and fun neighborhood-centric ethos, and Washington D.C. with its history and art collections, all available for the price of a tube ride. Really not a complaint to be had, walking everywhere or jostling for standing space on trains, fueled by nothing but coffee and the occasional train station pasty (London is not a town you want to go carb-free), spending hours and hours with history and art, often ending my days near the Thames, having late afternoon libations while the same refrain of that one Clash song played in my head whenever I saw that river.
One late night, I passed by the part of the south bank where Damian and Helen had that VogueUK photo shoot and where the scene of Hector on the phone in Our Kind of Traitor was filmed. So, yeah, London means The Clash and Damian in nearly equal measure to it meaning Churchill and the Blitz, the Royals and the Tower. Such are the interesting ways one’s brain gets divided up into neat neighboring compartments.
Damianista got to town the day before we’d be seeing the Thursday matinee of The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Theatre Royal Haymarket. She picked up our gift for him, we met and set off to deliver it to Rosie at the theater before the show.
Now, guess who we happened to run into at stage door as we were delivering the package? Helen McCrory! We nearly didn’t recognize her at first, this tiny woman in a big hat, chatting away with some other women. When we did, the chat was soon hijacked over to us: who we were, what we were delivering to Damian. She was so sweet and so very normal, with a captivating directness to her, carting boxes of shoes home for her kids, talking to the other women about the pronunciation of her daughter’s name (turns out we all have been pronouncing it wrong), her wanting to get home since her daughter wanted to try singing and had to go to lessons.
She very kindly let us take a pic with her. I took a couple shots. She looked at them, then grabbed my phone, started clicking away and we squeezed in for another pose. She said she had a way to make us look like we were all seven. LOVE HER! Then she apologized for not being able to take off her hat due to terrible hat hair. She very warmly shook our hands and we were off to see the show. What a treat on top of a treat!
After we saw the show, we met up with Rosie again, this time so she could escort us to the room where we would meet Damian and could watch as he opened the package.
So, Rosie leads us through the maze of stairs behind the scenes at Royal Haymarket and we’re lead into a kitchen-y sort of space with some ikea-looking chairs and a pile of books on a side table. Is it just me, or do you, when entering a new room, gravitate towards whatever books or other reading material are laying about in that room? Never fails, such stuff always catches my eye. On closer inspection, we saw that it was a pile of books by and about Edward Albee. Meanwhile, Rosie had gone to fetch Damian, closely followed by Damianista hearing him approaching in the hallway. I quickly put the books down and steeled myself up for impact. His first words after cordially greeting us? “Oh, you brought your Albee books.” Hehe, so fun for him to think we carted our Albee books over to meet him.
Must admit that seeing him this time was far less nerve-wracking than the first time I saw him in NY, with a room full of handlers and such. This time it was just him and the two of us and it was like he had invited us into his personal sitting room for a nice chat. And chat we did, about a variety of things: the play (how exhausting it must be), his Guardian interview, a bit about Bobby Axelrod, a bit about meeting Helen earlier and Peaky Blinders.
He asked us about our collaborators, how many we had, who they were. He said it’s a good thing that multiple people are blogging, and that it’s great to blog about one person, lots of folks have fan blogs, but we take it further by making it a bit literary and a space where we can be creative. Why, thank you, kind sir!
It was a very pleasant chat, which went by very very quickly. Rosie had told us earlier that he was tired and needed to rest between the matinee show and that evening and he did seem a bit under the weather, but, still, just as charming and friendly as anyone could ever be. (We learned later, of course, that he was nursing an issue that actually kept him from performing that Saturday’s show, just two days after this meeting… rendering us all the more grateful that he made time for us even when he wasn’t feeling well!!) The time came for him to open the package and voila:
So, here’s what we did, rather, let’s be truthful here, what Damianista did. 🙂 She found playbills for every single stage production he’s been in from Rope and Romeo and Juliet in 1993 to The Goat in 2017.
It was a months-long search, from Amazon to Ebay to rare theatre programme stores in the UK. She found all but two playbills. Then, she had a digital print company take photos of the covers of the playbills and put them all together into a poster. For the two missing playbills, she gave the printmakers online photos of the productions. Damianista then sent the finished poster to me and I carried it over to London and dropped it off to be framed. Damianista also brought over all of the playbills she found and gave those to Damian along with the poster.
He loved his gift and said he was, at the moment, finding things to hang on his walls after a renovation, and this poster would be going right up. He flipped thru some of the playbills with Rosie, and we had the chance to eavesdrop a bit on them sharing their memories of folks they’ve worked with in the past. He sighed seeing himself in Romeo and Juliet and I remarked “You were just a baby!” He said, “Yes, the same age Archie (who plays his son in The Goat) is now.”
Damianista had to remind me of this next bit, because I have no memory of it. I sense I may have fainted while still standing and looking reasonably normal. As Damian flipped through the playbill for Much Ado About Nothing, he came upon the following page and started reading the speech out loud. Vapours…leading to my temporary amnesia apparently.
Needless to say, we were over the moon! Then, sadly, seemingly seconds after it started, the visit came to an end. The remainder of the evening, punctuated by a fabulous dinner at Bull & Last, was spent skipping around town like we were on a cloud, which, of course, we were.
We saw the evening performance the next night and could not resist another brief visit afterwards, this time with the rest of the fans waiting outside stage door. We’d forgotten to get our programs signed the day before, you see; we weren’t being greedy, honest! 🙂 This time we managed to also meet the lovely Jason Hughes and Archie Madekwe as well.
Before giving us his John Hancock and letting us take selfies with him, Damian slipped to us that the poster was already hung up at home. Another cute tidbit: I wrestled with him a bit for the selfie, saying I wanted to be on his right because that was my good side. He wouldn’t have it and said “Don’t worry, you’ve got three good sides” and snapped the adorableness you see below.
In short, in case you had any doubts, Damian in real life is just as he appears in interviews: a charmer, a gentleman, a prince among men. Also, captivating, sweet and decidedly very normal. 🙂
Can not leave this post without a hearty THANK YOU to Damianista for sharing this entire dream! None of it would have been possible without her energy, enthusiasm, and sheer endless capacity to keep it all going stronger and stronger every day. Love ya partner!! <3<3<3