Part One: The Letter
Remember Hurricane Earl? I mean, "Hurricane " Earl.
Three or so weeks ago. Friday night, 6-ish pm.Candles had been procured. Batteries allocated.
Waiting for what was supposed to be some baddie of a hurricane which was just turning out to be mostly hot air.
A little bit of wind, a little bit of rain. Some excitement still in the air, anicipating more. Almost wishing for more!
I mean, we had prepared.
Nonperishable goods and bottled water languished on the counter.
I was twittering. Tweeting.
Stuart handed me a few pieces of mail.
No return address.
Well, I have been blogging about England for months now. And I have internet friends over there. Maybe a letter from a blog reader? People do send me pieces of anonymous mail from time to time.
A little bit of wind outside. Stuart watching the weather channel in the background.
I ripped open the envelope.
Embossed in black on heavy white cardstock.
This guy? From that movie I like?
Part Two: Back Story
I guess I never did tell you much about seeing Toby Stephens in The Real Thing when Beth and I went to London.
And meeting him.
And how maybe I had left a little gift for him at the Old Vic when I arrived in London.
Because, well, it's kind of embarrassing, is the thing!
I am pretty uncomfortable with the whole idea of celebrity. I don't like the worship that goes with it, the that-person-is-better-than-everyone-else-because-of-the-job-they-have thing. It makes me cringe.
So to be going out of my way to see this actor-person, well, I was kind of horrified by it! As you know, I had been so enthralled by the story of Jane Eyre when I saw the film, and then got so interested in Charlotte Bronte and all the Brontes and then by extension that period English Literature.... well, seeing that one film had opened up a whole world of literature to me that I had frankly never been interested in before.
It broadened my world.
And it was Toby Stephens's performance that did that. I have seen several of the other adaptations of Jane Eyre and none of them have the same magic. If I had seen them first, I simply would not have been compelled to read the book in its entirety the day after. I would not have devoured everything I could find on the life of Charlotte Bronte.
That kind of, well, let's call it what it was--- obsession, had not happened to me before. It gave me even more to connect with Beth about. It made me feel smart. It made me want to read books that had been written over 150 years ago. It was unprecedented and it really took hold of me, as you witnessed month after month, right here as I blogged about it and started the Bronte Along.
I was so thankful for this new world that had been opened to me, that I actually sent Toby Stephens a little care package well before Beth and I planned our trip to London.
And I felt like a Complete Crazy Person for doing so! I had never written a fan letter before but I felt compelled to do it. And I just tried to have a sense of humor about myself and go with it!
I wrote to him basically what I just told you. And sent some gifts.
Part Three: The gift
Then somehow Beth and I were going to Actual London and we were going to see him in a play!
The week before we left , I stitched up a miniature version of the Unicorn *Hearts* Moon project from my book.
It helped me to manage the about-to-travel anxiety, the stitching did.
Plus, my unicorn is always a comfort to me. He is silly and sweet and he makes me smile.
I called the little unicorn Ciabatta because he had this perfect loaf-like shape at the bottom.
And the moon, well. I called her Jowly. For obvious reasons.
I packaged them up with a few other gifts for Mr. Stephens and brought them with me to London. I dropped them off with the person manning the stage door the night before we were to see the play.
Part Four: The Real Thing and The Stage Door
I have already blogged a little bit about the first of two nights that we saw the show. About the celebrities we saw and all that.
And you may remember Beth's post about it in which talks about pressing up against Rupert Penry Jones and she briefly recounts our meeting Toby Stephens afterward.
Official publicity photo of The Real Thing from The Old Vic.
Now, my account. We watched the play from ridiculously good seats. Separately, because that is all we could get. I was in the second row, Beth in the fourth.
The theatre was gorgeous on the inside. Narrow, but deep and with way-up-high balcony seats. One of those ornate rooms that I can't help thinking looks like a wedding cake. You know, swags of ornament on the walls that could be molded sugar, curtains in heavy fabrics like folded fondant. I think I remember tassles and pressed tin but of course, I could be making any of that up. That's how memory is, isn't it? No matter, that's how the room exists in my mind and that's the story I am here to tell.
We settled in and waited for the play to start. Tons of people, excitement. I was in Actual England. About to see a play at The Old Vic.
I have to admit, I mostly like musicals and I usually get bored watching non-musicals. But this was not boring. It was crackling with energy and wit. Funny, thoughtful, sexy, emotional, smart. Funny.
Toby Stephens with costar Hattie Morahan.
Dude, I was sitting just feet from this.
The play was perfect.
And Toby Stephens was perfect in it. He had been hand-picked by the playwright Tom Stoppard to portray the main character, after all.
Until recently, I didn't even know this was a thing, but did you know that you can sometimes meet the actors at the Stage Door after performances? I was there and I had to at least try, right? Embarassing as that is? And it is, very.
After the final bows, I scurried out to the sidestreet where the Stage Door was, while Beth made her way out of the front of the theater with the crowd--- and Rupert Penry Jones. We had agreed to meet up in a bit.
There I was, standing under streetlights in London outside The Old Vic, a giant yellow bulb that said STAGE DOOR casting a sunny glow. I was nervous. What was I going to do? Ask for an autograph? I mean, who cares about someone's signature, right? But that's more about an excuse to talk with the person or at least be near them, right?
But I did have my program just in case, and a pen. And half hated myself being out there hoping to meet a freaking actor.
After a while it seemed he would not be coming out. He probably escaped through another exit.
I was disappointed.
And, well, disappointed.
Ugh. Why did I even want to meet him?
Why should he care to meet me? He wouldn't.
What was I going to say? I was probably going to stammer like a fool and feel like a jerk after.
But then, he is just a person, isn't he? With a job that happens to make him well known. Talented, handsome --- yes. But that's not his fault, poor guy.
Part Five: The Meeting
I was all stressed out from the anticipation and the letdown. And I had to pee.
Beth and I met up on the side street halfway between the stage door and the front of the theatre. We walked around to the other side street where the outside entrance to the tiny theatre bar was.
Beth waited outside next to this giant poster while I went down the little stairway to the low-ceilinged room that functioned as the pub. Dimly lit, people at tiny tables. I made my way to the ladies room.
I went back out into the bar, walking toward the exit. There were a few of the supporting cast in one corner. I peered around. Standing just a few feet away from me at the bar was Toby Stephens, talking animatedly with friends.
Beth came down the stairs, I angled my head toward the bar. She nodded and headed off to the ladies room herself. I installed myself near the entry stairwell. This was my chance. But did I even want to take it?
I tried to gather my nerve. I was about to make my move when Rupert Penry Jones and Damien Lewis went up to him. Can't these people just leave already so I can say hello?
My stomach in knots, I pretended not to notice as he hugged the fellows goodbye and resumed conversing with his friends. Across the way, I could see that Beth was in a bottleneck of traffic near the rest rooms, contentedly 'stuck' right behind Rupert Penry Jones.
Screw it, I'm here. I can't back out now. I'm going to do it.
I did it. I walked over to Mr. Stephens, whose back was to me. I smiled in apology to his friend who was facing me and after receiving an understanding nod of assent in return, I placed my hand on Toby's shoulder to get his attention.
Which he did not give!
He must have thought I was one of his party. I stood there with my hand on his shoulder for a few seconds until he (finally!) turned around. When he saw me he raised his eyebrows in a "How may I help you?" kind of look, clearly surprised to see someone he didn't know.
Ugh. I wished I hadn't done it.
But there I was in Actual London, at The Old Vic with my hand on Toby Stephens's shoulder, and ... well... what was I going to do?
I just tried to keep composed as I forged ahead and apologised for interrupting him. I introduced myself, we shook hands. I told him that I enjoyed the play as Beth walked up to us. I introduced the two of them (bizarre, surreal). They shook hands and he turned back to me, running his hand through his mop of hair. I smiled in apology and placed my left hand on his right arm and said, (something like) "I don't have much more to say. I just wanted to take the opportunity to say hello and tell you how much I appreciate your work and loved the play. Thank you." He smiled and thanked me, the three of us said goodbye.
It might have lasted all of a minute.
Beth and I then gorged ourselves on Indian food at the world-famous WingStand Indian Restaurant.
Part Six: The Resolution
Two and a half months after this meeting, I still felt bad for interrupting him. I wanted to feel good about having met him and feel good about myself for having taken the risk to do so, instead of cringing at the thought of it! I mean, I wasn't even able to enjoy Jane Eyre anymore!
I wrote Toby a note of apology. I felt released.
And that was that.
Until a couple of weeks later, when Hurricane Earl was laming out and I got this:
Um, you guys? He wrote back.
And he wrote back so warmly, so appreciatively, so generously.... that it is hardly to be believed.
I kind of want to keep it all to myself, but I know you'll enjoy this, so I will share a few highlights.
He thanked me for the unicorn and moon, which he said his children love. Which of course, makes me happy beyond belief. My silly unicorn!
He thanked me for the other gifts I had included, mentioning each one and what he liked about it. So polite! (Must be that good breeding. You know he is the son of Dame Maggie Smith, right?)
He asked me to accept his 'heartfelt apologies' for not writing to thank me sooner for my first package, and explained that 'an overzealous cleaner had thrown away the box' with my address on it. He thanked me for getting back in touch, which provided him with a way to contact me.
Both sides of the notecard were filled completely, and he even had turned it to the side to add more on the edge! He said he hoped I didn't think he was rude for not talking with me more when we met and that he was sorry not to have the opportunity to thank me in person for the gifts.
I mean, really.
Could you have written out a better letter than this if you had to imagine a reply?
No, you could not.