From Book to Icon: Meeting Christopher Lee
This publication would concentrate on Hammers time at Bray studios and would be launched at the Cine Lumiere in London on Oct 12th . At the launch there would be screenings of rare Hammer movies and plenty of guest stars popping in throughout the day .
There was no way I was going to miss this so I booked a flight and accomodation for myself and my best mate Brian and eagerly awaited the big day.
Flash forward to Sept 2002 when Juan announced , on this very site , that Christopher Lee was conducting a private signing .I couldn't believe my luck . I had just purchased an original poster from " To The Devil A Daughter " . So , I packed it up and sent it down to Juan . Then I noticed that the signing was to be on the very day I would be in London for the book launch.
I e-mailed Juan making him aware of this but not really expecting too much..........The next day to my delight and astonishment , I received a reply telling me to come along and have my poster signed IN PERSON .Now , I can tell you I read this at about ten to midnight having just finished work . I rushed upstairs and woke the wife and kids , I could'nt help it.
Suddenly October the 12th was turning into a HUGE event and the countdown was on. Friday 11 Oct 2002 , my plane arrived at Stanstead airport at about 3 in the afternoon . Brian and I made our way to The Union Jack Club hotel in the heart of London .I had already explained to Brian that I would be leaving the book launch the next day for a couple of hours . As envious as he ( understandibly ) was , he wished me luck.
Friday evening was spent in a terrific pub called " The Duke Of Sussex " near Waterloo .We stayed there until the early hours having a ball.
Now I must confess , I fancy myself as a bit of a singer and I was in the party mood so I decided to show the nations capitol what I could do .Luckily ( for me anyway ) it was a Karaeoke night with a great atmosphere. Four songs later and more than as many beers , we realised that we'd better get some sleep .( For the record , the patrons were treated , or subjected , to my renditions of Delilah , They Can't Take That Away From Me ,The House Of The Rising Sun and New York New York ) So , after an extremely tasty burger , it was off to bed.
Oct 12th at last . Brian and I arrived at the Cine Lumiere at about ten in the morning . It was filling up with fans and organisers . I bought my copy of the book ( featuring a cracking shot of Christopher Lee on the cover ) and got two more for some friends ( you know who you are ).
The first film to be shown was The Plague Of The Zombies then the stars arrived.
I went back into the main foyer just as Hazel Court walked in . I shook her hand and told her how happy I was to meet her . I mentioned where I was off to later that day and she asked me to pass on her best wishes to Christopher Lee ( to my shame , I forgot.....it was a big day ) .Then Jimmy Sangster strolled in followed by Jaqueline Pearce . The next couple of hours were something of a blur as I rushed around meeting the stars , having a chat , getting autographs and taking pictures .Not to mention keeping an eye on the memorabilia stalls ( you never take enough cash to these things do you ? )
As usual with celebrities of this era , everyone was extremely charming and only too willing to sign anything and discuss there favourite films .
I was having a great time but there was even better to come .
I began to check my watch . I was to be at Juans for 3.30 and I did'nt want to be late so , just before two , I excused myself and left .
Juans directions were excellent and I found myself outside his house far too early ( at 2.30 to be exact ) What to do know ? I don't want to be rude and knock the door an hour early . Maybe I'll go for a short walk .Then my mind was made up for me as someone came out of the house and opened the front gate .
We both looked at each other " Juan ?"..." Matt ?" " Yes " i said " It's nice to meet you ".Juan explained that Colin would be arriving shortly and that he was nipping out to the shop for a minute , so I accompanied him. As we walked we chatted about our backgrounds and proffessions . It was then that Juan reminded me what had happened to the last Scottish policeman Mr Lee had met . The Wickerman was never far from my thoughts. " I know , my collegues were all joking that I should be wearing an asbestos suit " Juan kept on grinning at the thought of a Wickerman reunion.............fine , as long as I don't end up as firewood .
When we got back Colin was there with his wife Janice . We introduced ourselves and Juan took us inside .
Now it's at this point that I must add , I was trying my hardest to be cool . I think I managed it but my insides were churning .I was going to meet my idol very soon .The man whose films I have loved and cherished for over 30 years , a true star .
Once inside I could see the amount of memorabilia from the fans .Juan had carefully laid each item out and labelled them for signing .Suddenly Colin realised that he had left his copy of Tall Dark And Gruesome at his hotel , the very book Mr Lee was to sign .A taxi was summoned and Janice popped off to retrieve the cherished item .
Mr Lees daughter Christina arrived and offered us coffee .This was great I really felt at home .Colin went on the computer to chat to some guys at the site then Juan suggested I give it a go .I instantly recognised Jacob on the screen . He asked me how I was feeling......." OK but a bit nervous " Jacob just laughed . I was in the middle of telling him about the book launch when I heard a very familier voice .I turned around and came face to face with Christopher Lee .I'll never forget it . I stood up as Juan introduced myself , Colin and Janice . As I held out my hand to the great man a little voice inside my head kept saying." be cool , be cool " It was'nt easy . We shook hands and took our seats .Colin , Janice and I all sat on a sofa to Mr Lees right .Christina was oppposite us and Juan remained standing for the signing .
Even now , after the fact , I have trouble believing it . Here I was in the company of my hero just Colin , Janice and me with Mr Lee and his family . Christina and Juan made me feel very welcome and , believe it or not , I was beginning to relax .
As the signing started Juan began to film the event and sort out all the items .I watched as he handed each item to Mr Lee and explain who it was for .Some fans had asked a question and ( this is what impressed me ) Mr Lee gave a detailed response to every one . Considering the amount of items and the available time he could have answered with a simple line but he did'nt .
Then it was my turn . I sat next to Mr Lee ( I'm sorry but how cool is that ) and prior to my signing , presented him with a bottle of Robert Burns Whiskey.
I explained that it was made and bottled near my home town in Ayrshire .
" I know Ayrshire very well " said Mr Lee " I've played golf in Troon and Prestwick"
Then he started to read the poem on the bottle stating that it was a lot cleaner than some of Burns' poetry ( very true )
As I gave him the bottle I told him that I had been a fan for over 30 years and what an honour it was to meet him .
" It's no honour " he said . " Oh yes it is " I replied
" I'd like you to have a wee dram " I said . Mr Lee replied in a very good Scots accent " Ah , a wee dram ( translation.... a small drink of whiskey )
Juan took my poster out of its container and placed it on the table in front of us .
" This could have been a much better film " Mr Lee commented on To The Devil A Daughter . I agreed but added that I thought it was underrated ." You were terrific in it " I said . He smiled and explained that the ending was not what was intended . He then signed in white ink " To Matt , my best Christopher Lee . I was grinning like a Cheshire cat .
I moved over to the couch next to Colin and Janice and looked on as the signing continued .
After an hour Juan turned off the camera and took a break .
I told Mr Lee that I lived near Wickerman country and that I had recentlr visited the locations .
" I stood on the cliffs where you were at the end of the film" I turned to Colin and Janice explaining the 70ft drop to the sea below when Mr Lee replied , " You don't have to tell me , I was there and it was freezing ."
Then it was Colins turn to have his book signed . He sat beside Mr Lee who was impressed that Colin owned a first edition of his autobiography .As he opened it he noticed that it had already been signed....BY COLIN ! . Well , it was his book . We all had a good laugh and Mr Lee said " Well as long as you don't say you wrote it. "
At this point I should explain something . During the two hours I spent in Mr Lees presence I had a tendency to drift . I hope noone noticed but now and again I found myself staring at the great man thinking " It's Christopher Lee " All of his screen personas would flash by..... Fu Manchu , Sherlock Holmes , Scaramanga , Dracula , Lord Summerisle , Jinnah , Count Dooku , Saruman and many , many more . Thankfully at times like these no one spoke to me . If they had I don't think I would have heard a word .
As the signing went on Mr Lee impressed all of us with his knowledgs on everything from geneology to even speaking Swedish !
Then , just after five thirty , the signing was done .
Juan asked Colin , Janice and I to stay and help pack some of the items . Of course we would !
We all sat round the table with Mr Lee .As we started Juan asked me about my plane journey.......MY FLIGHT ! I had to be at the airport in under two hours.
" Oh " said Mr Lee " You should go now . Don't forget it's Saturday night and Stanstead is very far away "
He was right , and something else , I had'nt phoned Brian who was still at the Hammer event .
I gathered my things and said my goodbyes to Juan , Christina , Colin and Janice .
I shook Mr Lee's hand and thanked him for a great day . He smiled and said " Don't be too kind to those criminals " " Don't worry " I replied " I won't "
Juan escorted me outside and I was off and running .
First things first , I phoned Brian on the mobile ." Sorry Brian but I've been busy "....." It's alright , I've been chilling out watching some Hammer films I'll see you at the airport ." he replied .
Well we got there with time to spare .The flight was taken up with stories of the day .Everyone on that plane was well aware of where I'd been .
Now , I've been to many a convention through the years , met quite a few stars and all in all had a great time but nothing comes close to that weekend .
From our night on the town on the Friday to the Hammer book launch the next day right up to an amazing two hours with a certain living legend .
I would like to thank Juan to whom I will be forever gratefull . His lovely wife Christina for making me feel so at ease . Also to Colin and Janice who were a charming couple and of course to Mr Lee.
It's not every day you meet your hero .Most people never come close . I feel incredibely priviliged and will never forget the day I met one of the finest actors in the world , a real gentelman and a true icon of the cinema.....Christopher Lee .