February 10 2012
John Castle was keen on the arts. He visited the latest exhibitions, followed the ballet and was a regular theatregoer. His first love, however, was the cinema, and he indulged this passion by attending premieres with his friend Jenny Gill.
Jenny, a film editor at Pinewood Studios, had known John since they were undergraduates at Oxford. The two had kept in touch by teaming up for the occasional first night. And it was after the opening of Steven Spielberg’s War Horse that Jenny told John she had been given a pair of tickets for the Baftas, the annual awards ceremony of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, held at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
John salivated at the prospect of attending. The Baftas are the British Oscars, a night when the glitterati pose for the paparazzi, present themselves with awards and then adjourn to a sponsored party after the show to congratulate each other on their performance that evening. For John, it would be a unique chance to meet and mingle with the stars of the silver screen.
On the Sunday of the awards, John, immaculately dressed in his dinner jacket, picked up Jenny in a black cab, arriving – as the invitation had specified – before 5pm. The heavy traffic meant that they were a few minutes late, but it didn’t seem to matter. Despite the throng of television networks, photographers and fans crowded outside the Opera House, the red carpet was unoccupied except for John and Jenny, whose lack of celebrity rendered them invisible. Furthermore, once they had made it past the black-clad bouncers, the theatre was half-empty too.
It was not until well after 6pm that the first round of “stars”, many of whom their agents would have had difficulty in recognising, began to filter in. The whisper was that the properly stellar Helena Bonham Carter had arrived, although John and Jenny could not see her because they were seated right at the back of the second-tier balcony. Slowly, as more genuine celebrities appeared in the stalls, their names were hissed back to the nonentities in the gods.
It was 7pm before the theatre was full and the curtain rose. Host Stephen Fry bounced on to the stage and told a few left-wing yet politically correct jokes, and 10 minutes later the first award, for Sound, was presented. An Editing award, which interested Jenny but not John, followed; then came awards for Costume Design, Film Not in the English Language, Production Design, Special Visual Effects, Short Film, Animated Film and Make-up and Hair.
Jenny, who had been obliged to attend scores of similar events, was getting restless; she had had nothing to eat or drink since lunch and it was impossible to pop out for a break. It was, she remarked wittily to John, “like watching greasepaint cry”. John smiled, so as not to appear uncool, although his heightened sense of anticipation still had him on the edge of his seat.
The presentation of the major awards did not disappoint, and Jenny perked up, but it was the exclusive post-awards party in Leicester Square that John was really looking forward to. At last, at 10.30pm, they escaped the theatre and walked across the West End to the bash. Once more, their arrival was skipped by the paparazzi and scrutinised by beefy sentinels before they could liberate a glass of fizz and take stock. And it was quickly clear that there was no chance they would be able to engage with a famous victor, or even a loser. The party was full of industry insiders bunched together congratulating and consoling each other, with nary a star to be seen.
The couple did manage to squeeze into a conversation between a part-time producer, whom Jenny had met briefly on the set of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and a B-list actress now starring in an advert for hairspray. Eventually, the producer stopped talking about her career and shouted across the hubbub to John, “Are you in the business – can you help to finance my next movie?” And he yelled back, “No, I’m afraid not. I’m a coalition MP.”
And for a brief moment the room went quiet, like the still that follows a car crash, before – or, at least, this was how it seemed to the star-struck politician – every left-wing luvvie in Britain turned and glowered at him.