I tell you. Bloody typical. You spend ages waiting for a celebrity to visit Chilwell Road, and then LOADS of them arrive all at once.
It’s the hottest day of the year, and at 1pm, not far off the hottest time of day on the hottest day of the year. I’m running. Not in shorts and other running gear, no, I’m laden down by my notepad-stuffed manbag, full length trews, a proper shirt and brogues. My face has gone a shade of beetroot. Late.
I get to College House. There’s a huge crowd, but I get through to the security barrier: ‘I’m late, dead late’ I tell the bouncer ‘Please send a message in to Alan, or anyone on the Blue Plaque committee, please, they’re expecting me’. A sceptical eyebrow is raised, and they go inside to check my story. I pant and wring out my sweat-sodden hair.
‘You’re on the list. Come on in’ and i’m whisked into Hollywood Babylon. On Chilwell Road.
Bit of back story. In Issue 19 of The Beestonian, Christian Fox and I wrote a little piece about Richard Beckinsale, pronouncing him one of our illustrious Bestonians. At the end, I mentioned we might be seeing a blue plaque in his honour. End of story, so I thought.
I bump into local author, Alan Dance, in The Crown, last Thursday. I’ve become friends of Alan of late after reading his novel, Narrow Marsh, and commissioning an article from him for the Beestonian. Think I know a fair bit about Beeston? Alan has forgot more than I’ll ever know. He’s an authority, a wonderful source of info. He’s Beestopedia. The Encyclopedia Beestonia. And a great bloke to have a pint with.
He asks me to swear secrecy, then tells me that Hollywood superstar Kate Beckinsale has agreed to unveil a blue plaque in honour of her late father, the brilliant aforementioned Richard. I get an invite, and promise to get along. Which I do, but due to an email screw-up on my behalf only find out where and when it is at the last moment. Hence the unenviable sight of a flustered, sweaty overdressed local journo hyperventilating up Meadow Lane at 1pm.
I arrive, almost kiss Alan with relief, then hit the (non-alcoholic) bar to get rehydrated. As I wait for my iced Schloer, a familar figure stands in a beautiful white suit beside me. ‘Hi’ I say, and I’m about to ask ‘What brings you here?’ when I realise I’m next to Michael Sheen, possibly Britain’s most interesting and versatile actor, who has pulled off uncanny portrayals of Tony Blair, Brian Clough, and many, many more. I’ve long worshipped him. One of my greatest regrets is turning down extra work on The Damned United cos I couldn’t be arsed to trek to Derby where it was being filmed.
Despite the nineteen gallons of Schloer (it’s great! like wine, but you stay upright!) I’ve knocked back, my mouth goes dry. We have a brief chat, and I note he’s in brogues. I congratulate him on this, and he gamely allows a photo:
I then mention The Beestonian, and show him a copy. ‘I’ll take one for the train’ he tells me. Later, I catch up with him again and get this shot:
I’m just filling up on complimentary samosas and satay when I turn to see David Walliams leaning over behind me. I assume I’m still sunstricken, so put this down to a hallucination. He then makes that ‘WoooerrrrrRRRRR!’ noise he does, and I relaise that after just talking to the bloke who portrayed Kenneth Williams in the excellent Fantabulosa, the modern day version of that wonderful purveyor of Polari is behind me. With Kate Beckinsale. ‘The mango chutneys lovely’ I tell them, to grateful nods, though they don’t take up my recommendation, yet Walliams sets about the Schloer like a man possessed.
He even poses for a pic with me, doing my best impression of a sweaty Pac-Man:
Then we’re out to a crowd of flashlights and cameras, to unveil the plaque. The College House Harmonies choir, a group of tiny kids with absurdly talented voices, sing a song that makes Judy Loe, Richard Beckinsale’s widow and Kate’s mum, cry. Even I confess to being a bit wet round the eyes, though as I don’t have eyebrows and it was baking hot, that’s more to do with my particular physiognomy. Still, very beautiful.
Speeches follow, from Kate (who has dashed back especially from filming in Bulgaria to be here) , Judy Loe, Broxtowe’s Mayor Iris White, and friends of Richard. It’s utterly lovely, a really great tribute. Richard Beckinsale always came across as a genuinely lovely man, through Alan in Rising Damp, or Godber in Porridge, and I think that wasn’t far from his real self. An old school friend explains ‘He got a report from school saying ‘Richard will never succeed if he continually strives to try and entertain people’. He proved them wrong there’.
Kate goes off to do a load of press stuff, so I chat to the bloke next to me. He’s immaculately attired, with a disarming charming American accent ‘I’m Kate’s husband’ he tells me ‘oh yes!’ I reply, and wrack my brains. He is some sort of movie mogul, I remember that, so I tell him ‘Real Hollywood weather in Beeston today, isn’t it?’ . To my great relief, he laughs ‘Yeah, but more stars per square yard’. I laugh back. Awkward silence. ‘So. Business good?’ I ask. ”Always good, but good to take a break’ he replies. I nod in agreement, inappropriately ‘C’mon, throw me a bone here. What do moguls do? How do you mogul? You look rich, obviously mogulling pays well.’I ask none of these questions, instead saying ‘I’m a local magazine editor. Can you hold this and smile?’ He obliges:
When I get home I google him. He is Len Wiseman, director of one of the Die Hard film Live Free or Die Hard and the Total Recall remake, with Colin Farrell replacing Arnie. Bizarrely, due to heat-induced insomnia, I sat up last night and re-read the story by Philip K Dick that the film is based on. Utterly coincidentally. PKD would have been proud.
A great day, and a fitting memorial to the much missed Beckinsale. The kids loved Walliams, surrounding him when they got the chance. Judy Loe was charming, and gave me a hug when I gave her a copy of the Beestonian , as did his best friend from school. I met some great people – Beestonians, not Hollywood types. Members of the Blue Plaque committee, members of the Civic Society and the History Society, particularly Alan Dance, Dr Peter Robinson and the lovely old lady who, when I asked her name after she told me she was an avid reader ‘Cameron, my dear, I’m afraid. Though I swear no connection in anything but name’.
First, the Carnival. Then this. Immensely overjoyed to be a Beestonian right now.