By TAMMY BLANTON
LONDON, England —
The atmosphere was electric and the crowd was eclectic as an international hodgepodge of fans, young and old, proved the far reaching grasp The Rolling Stones’ music has, its influence spanning generations globally.
Happening around me was the world premiere of the Stones’ new documentary, “Crossfire Hurricane”, taking place at the Odeon Mezzanine Theatre in Leicester Square, London, Oct. 18. I was more than fortunate to grab a front row spot at the red carpet, where I shouldn’t have been that day.
My last full day in London began at Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard, followed by a brief trip to King’s Cross Station. For you Harry Potter fans out there, this is where to find platform 9 3⁄4 for passage to Hogwarts’ School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Consigning myself to visit Westminster Abbey, the site of dozens of royal funerals and weddings, lastly being the marriage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, I boarded a train toward Leicester Square at noon.
The British Film Institute had been having a large film festival for the past two weeks in the square, with an average four premieres a day. Monday, Dustin Hoffman was in attendance for “Quartet.” Tuesday, I saw Ben Affleck promote his new film, “Argo.” Wednesday, it was Helen Hunt. Once again, the familiar metal fencing had been dragged out and I wondered who was set to appear that night as I passed through.
I approached a man sitting inside the barricades and asked which premiere would take place. The man, incidentally named James Dean, replied that it was the Rolling Stones’ world premiere and all four members were to arrive between 6 and 6:30 p.m.
Dean introduced me to John Elvis Newton, a local professional photographer and explained Newton could get me past security. Surely enough, within five minutes, a Secret Service-looking man in a black suit with an earpiece arrived and said I needed to leave.
Newton was able to convince the security detail to let me stay.
The next six hours were spent chatting with Newton, passers-by and other photographers behind the fencing. At one point, a man walked past in a Cleveland Indians sweatshirt. I received a thumbs up when I yelled, “Yay Cleveland!”
At about 5:30, I was interviewed by a woman from the Rolling Stone’s website. She spied me across the way and came over, asking if I’d like to leave a video message for the band, before asking me some questions. Newton was interviewed as well.
Massive speakers had been set up around the square. At 6 p.m., the music began to blare, attracting an even larger crowd. The music continued to play until the Stones arrived.
Now, we had been told by security that the band’s limousines were to pull up directly in front of us at 6:30 p.m.. That was not the case, as the first car dropped Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards in a different area. They were followed shortly by Charlie Watts and Sir Mick.
Some of the photographers in my area were lucky to receive autographs from Keith Richards. In seconds, my section became a violent sea of people. Fans were pushing, shoving and practically climbing on one another to stick their book and pen out. One elderly woman later told me she was elbowed in the head by the man behind her, who also stole her pen and used it to get Richard’s signature, before handing the pen back to her, after the mob rush subsided.
I had very high hopes of snagging an autograph, but you can’t always get what you want. Sir Jagger was circled so tightly by security, no one in our area shot a single picture of him. If you’ve ever seen his clothing at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s easy to tell he is not a large man by any means, especially when surrounded by an entourage.
I was able to snap some clear shots of Wood and Richards, along with Jagger’s ex-wife, Jerry Hall, and Liam Gallagher of the band Oasis. I also have some great footage of the group making their way up the red carpet, captured mere minutes before my camera died.
Rumors started flying that the next limo in line harbored the one and only Sir Paul McCartney. Once again, a crush of people made their way to my section. Bracing myself and standing my ground, I saw it was not Sir McCartney, but Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth, of “The King’s Speech” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary.”
By this time, any hopes of using my camera were long gone. It was almost 8 p.m. I had been on my feet, standing there since practically noon. No food, no toilet, no sitting. This was my last chance for an autograph and I was taking it!
Calling after Firth in solitary, I was told by everyone around me not to bother; his wife was already half way up the carpet. I was determined. I was not giving up. I continued to yell, “Colin! Colin, please!”
Minutes later, Firth made his way to my section. Friends and family can attest to my freakishly long arms, which I stretched out as far as possible, toward Firth. Seeing the number of books in front of him, he hollered out in anger, “There’s too many! There’s too many!”
In the end, I did get my satisfaction. After reviewing my tape, I realized I had stuck my arm so far up in the air, blindly aiming at anything, that I had indeed, taken viable raw footage of all four Stones, including the elusive Sir Jagger!
My newly acquired Colin Firth autograph, framed and mounted, provides a daily reminder of my being in the right place at the right time. I’ve also been able to identify myself in the background of a few paparazzi pictures I’ve found on the Internet.
“Crossfire Hurricane” will continue to premiere around the globe for the next month. I will continue to visit the Stone’s website daily, ever hopeful that my video message to the band isn’t swept up off the floor by the editing department’s janitor.
“Crossfire Hurricane” debuts Nov. 15 on HBO.
Blanton is a former Ashtabula resident.