|Benedict Cumberbatch at Sherlocked © Sandra Franklin|
The timing of the event attracted criticism, short notice for overseas fans and a very unfortunate clash with the London Marathon, meant that many hotels were already full and those rooms left were horribly expensive. I can only imagine that it really isn't easy to get the likes of Bendedict Cumberbatch, Mark Gatiss, Andrew Scott et al all in the same place at the same time, but I understand the frustration that was vented by many who couldn't attend.
Friday 24 April finally arrived. I boarded the train, full of excitement and anticipation, dragging a case brimming with photography equipment and cosplay and destined for the ExCel centre in London, my home for the weekend. Friday was registration day and the chance of a sneak preview of the displays and stands. The queues were well managed by cheerful event crew and it didn't take long to collect my pass, find some friends, and head into the exhibition area. The London theme was certainly evident, a full size London bus, black cab, red post box, army tank and front door of 221B Baker Street had all been transported into the hall, like a fleet of impossible ships in a bottle. Nestled between them was the BBC shop, traders stands and a Sherlock museum corner displaying props and costumes from the recent episodes.
Friday night was the first of the party nights and sadly the biggest disappointment of the weekend. With the promise of 'Two themed party rooms a night, overlooking the Thames with the London skyline in the background', I donned my PVC, tucked my riding crop under my arm and headed off for the Irene Adler's Boudoir/The Underground themed event. What greeted me looked like a 1980s wedding reception, a sad, tired conference room, no theming at all, curious brown balloons tied to tables, a cheesy DJ in the corner and lots of confused looking attendees. There wasn't even a view as the blinds had been well and truly drawn. After 10 minutes or so, many of us left and headed back to our hotels wondering how the entertainment had gone so wrong. Saturday was apparently the same, with a lonely soul posting a picture of an empty room on Facebook, with a caption of 'Where is everyone?'
|Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss at Sherlocked © Sandra Franklin|
Despite the disappointment of the previous evening, I sprang out of my hotel bed on Saturday morning, excited to discover what adventures lay ahead. I assembled my Hound of the Baskervilles costume, my Femlock friend grabbed my lead, and off we bounded back to ExCel. The clash with the London Marathon led to some curious glances and one lady asking me 'are you going to run the whole way like that?'
Each day was a bit of a balancing act with talks taking place on two different stages, six photo-shoot sessions running simultaneously and guests signing autographs in between. Everything was tightly managed by ticket type and group, those who'd paid a whopping £3,000 getting priority. Most of the event crew coped admirably with the masses of people with masses of questions and provided excellent assistance to those with disabilities. Waves and waves of excited fans filled the massive ExCel hall with the sound of accents from across the world and the almost subliminal loop of the Sherlock theme tune.
Our very first stop was a photo shoot with Jonathan Aris, who couldn't be more different than the unloveable Anderson he portrays in Sherlock. Jonathan was charming and dashing, enthusiastically greeted us and seemed very laid back amongst all the hustle. One of the things I love about conventions is the chance to meet the supporting actors that never normally receive much attention and I came away with a new admiration for all of the cast who took part in Sherlocked.
Next came the biggie, my photograph with Benedict. Looking chiseled and immaculate, he politely greeted each guest, complying with requests for pointing poses, holding stuffed toys and lightly placing his arm around fans' shoulders. Suddenly it was my turn, Benedict held my lead, looked quizzical for the camera, and in a literal flash it was over.
We bounced along from shoot to shoot, signing to signing meeting Una Stubbs, Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, Rupert Graves, Andrew Scott, Clive Mantle, Lars Mikkelsen, Lara Pulver, Louise Brealey, Elizabeth Coyle, Louise Breckon-Richards and Arwel Jones, all of whom were a joy to meet and took time to say hello and admire the multitude of costumes worn by cosplayers. I say admire, but Moffat just looked at me and exclaimed 'why?'.
The talks were divided over two stages, the main stage impressively decorated as Sherlock's living room, it really was one of the best looking sets I've seen at any convention panel talks. The second stage hosted the lower key talks, which were still well worth attending, if you happened to have a handy time-turner or TARDIS with you. Moffat and Gatiss kicked off the panel sessions together, appearing very relaxed and comfortable in each other's company. Moffat throwing back his head in laughter as Gatiss entertained the crowd with Americanisms straight from a TV chat show, 'I've done this little show called Doctor Who, pause for applause'. Benedict's panel, although more reserved by comparison, was captivating, despite Benedict fighting a cold. He talked of how normal it seemed to be there with us all, but that he would never get used to being spotted whilst shopping, mentioned his excitement at soon becoming a father and was bemused at the thunderous applause for having got married. He fielded the crowd's questions well, throwing in a Chewie impression and using his Smaug voice to announce he was not a performing monkey. The odd naughty word slipped out, but who could possibly not forgive him.
Andrew Scott followed Benedict's session, very different, but utterly brilliant. Andrew is cheeky and delightful where Benedict is polished and polite, but both fantastic viewing. Watching Andrew on stage, it is hard to imagine just how he transforms into the chilling menace that is Moriarty. Warm and funny, he won everyone's hearts by talking about how fabulous he thought fans of the show are, to much applause. But in true Jim style, he left us with an instruction not to get nervous or worried about anything, we'd all be dead soon so it didn't matter.
|Andrew Scott at Sherlocked © Sandra Franklin|
Despite the lack of Benedict, Sunday was probably the highlight for me. There were noticeably fewer attendees which made it much easier to move around and not to mention cooler, which certainly went down well with this hound in a corset! We started the day with Jonathan again, now feeling like old friends, just time to grab an autograph from him before he kicked off the main stage sessions with Rupert. They were followed by Andrew and Mark, which I felt was the jewel in the crown on the whole event. Irreverent, wicked and razor sharp, they really should have their own late night chat show. Topics hurtled from scripts and filming, to gay marriage and integration. We learnt that they ARE both beach body ready, even if it is Morecombe in the winter and that yes, Mark does shave for Sherlock, but he's not telling you where. It was the session I hoped would never end and I have bruises from where my corset fought with my laughter-racked body.
As a seasoned convention goer, it was a delight to see the second stage reduced to standing room only for the cosplay parade. My hound scuttled along with Femlocks, Watsons, Irenes and Moriartys abound. The grand prize went to a very worthy Mary, every inch of her costume stitched, dyed and beaded by hand.
All too soon, the end neared. Just time for one last photo shoot, with the awe inspiring Mark Gatiss, who I think we had all well and truly fallen for over the weekend. Greeted with a 'hello again puppy', he grasped me firmly by the lead and generated the picture that still has me laughing days later.
I staggered to the tube with a grin on my face, fighting my way through spent runners who had completed the marathon that afternoon. Yes I was exhausted, yes it was expensive, yes there was lots and lots of queuing but this is all par for the course in the world of fandom. Apparently there were nearly 7,000 of us there over the weekend, but what was really special was that I have never heard so many people say it was their first ever convention. Not only that, they had flown from Japan, Germany, Poland, Chile, America and Australia to worship at the doorstep of 221B Baker Street. So Sherlock definitely does teach us patience as we wait for episodes, wait in queues, wait for the next titbit, but it also teaches us the value of newly forged friendships, comfortable shoes and that sometimes, just sometimes, a bit of magic can leak out of that TV screen.
You can find more photos of the Sherlocked event in glorious technicolor on the official Sandra Franklin Photography page here All photos property and copyright of Sandra Franklin Photography.