Diary of a Press Launch

5 JUNE 2007


Huge sign

It’s a sunny afternoon and the Birmingham Hippodrome, biggest theatre outside the West End, is gearing up to announce the cast of its 2007 pantomime. Anyone passing the theatre is already getting advance notice because a large sign thrusts forth an unmissable poster sporting John Barrowman in costume as Aladdin, with glossy smile and shiny lamp to match.  And Daleks. Yes, the Daleks are making their pantomime debut. A genie versus the Daleks?    

Inside the recently re-furbished Hippodrome, things are hotting up and, to go with the press packs and posters, the staff are serving  refreshments. There’s even a large dish of Fry's Turkish Delight. Very eastern promise.

The appearance of the cream cakes eerily hastens the arrival of the press and soon the foyer is crowded with media people checking equipment and making small talk.  I nonchalantly help myself to a bar of Turkish Delight.

John Barrowman is late for the 3:30pm press call and apologises profusely.  He’s already done one press launch today for the RAF International Air Tattoo, nearly 100 miles away, and experienced an exhilarating but stomach-churning flight in a Hawk jet. After a supersonic flight that involved loop the loops, being late is understandable.  I'd probably have been torn between my bed and my en suite toilet so I’m impressed at his being here at all, never mind his chipper appearance.

The launch kicks off with a photo call outside.  John and the cast emerge into the sunshine in colourful costume, with a Chinese dragon for company, and suddenly things are in full swing, shutters snapping and zoom lenses sliding in and out like the central column of the TARDIS in flight.

John, panto-perfect in red velvet leggings and embarrassingly gold boots poses with his fellow actors and they patiently smile again, and again, as the photographers swarm.  A diminutive photographer, I shamelessly worm my way to the front of the press corps. The other photographers simply continue shooting over the top of my head.  If the sun goes in one of them can use my head in lieu of a tripod.  

John being interviewed live for BBC local radio

Preparing for a live interview with BBC
local radio. Photo: Aranhe

Then a forest of microphones is thrust in John's face and there is a short audio media frenzy of questions. Afterwards he is guided back inside to face the rest of the press but stops briefly in the foyer to sign autographs and pose for photographs for an elderly couple.

The journalists are separated into small groups for the print interviews and I wait patiently in the corridor into which, occasionally, filters John's exuberant laughter.  Between interviews, he emerges for an impromptu live 'drive time' interview for BBC local radio. Leaning casually against the stairwell railing (not many people can pull-off ‘casual’ in gold boots) he charms the cheeky lady reporter and she insists on a final live, noisy kiss. He bursts out laughing, pronouncing the kiss more slobbery than that of his dogs. Fortunately she seems unoffended and has indeed been spotted fondling the dogs in the foyer.

Finally I and my web site colleague join the last press group waiting for John. The other reporters know that John is a judge on a current reality TV show but are unsure whether the show is "Grease is the Word" or "Any Dream will Do".  We put them right.

John enters the room,  joins the circle of journalists, and a round of questions begins. The lady  next to me asks her question, and then he looks at me. Despite having earlier confidently pointed a camera into his  face for ten minutes, the reality of sitting three feet from a performer whom I admire immensely and who is also incredibly good-looking with eyes that I suddenly find have the ability to empty my brain of all thought when I look into them…   My colleague leaps into the breach and asks the final question.  Then John leaves for yet more interviews – this time for TV. 

John answers questions from the public at a "Friends of the Hippodrome" presentation. Photo: Teresa Marsh

The final event of the afternoon is a presentation for the Friends of the Hippodrome. There is a sneak peek at the impressive 3D visual effects that will be used and arachnophobes without a sense of humour should steel themselves now.  The Emperor (Masashi Fujimoto) reduces the audience to laughter with a rapid-fire stream of Japanese.  Birmingham audiences aren’t shy and soon start shouting back things like “Mitsubishi” and “Number 23 with noodles”.  John gets his first experience of the forthright Brummies in the question and answer session and some banter ensues.

Afterwards, John signs autographs in the foyer, to the delight of the assembled crowd,  He explains that he doesn’t  have much time and will sign for the children first. John’s big sister swiftly steps forward, raises her voice and in short order organises the crowd. The foolish adult fan who impatiently steps forward retreats rapidly when she fixes him with a jaundiced stare and announces “You’re not a kid!”  

Eventually the adults get their turn, there are a few hurried photos and then John dashes off for phone interviews. As the happy crowd slowly disperses, I catch my breath and take stock. Lots of photos? Check. Something to write about? Check. Melted bar of Turkish Delight in my bag? Check. Marks out of 10 for journalism?  I guess I should talk to him next time.  

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John will head the cast of ALADDIN at Birmingham Hippodrome from Wednesday 19 December 2007 to Sunday 27 January 2008.

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