Sunday, 7 October 2012

Thursday at the National Portrait Gallery

When I was first asked to do a talk and book signing at the National Portrait Gallery, it was February 2012, and October seemed a very long way away.  However, time has a habit of moving on and before I knew it, I was travelling to the city with my mum and dad, clutching my 6000 word speech in my hand.

My mum and I at Russell Square, one of my favourite parts of London

To say I was nervous would be an understatement.  When I was a teenager I took acting lessons and various public speaking courses, but that was really the last time I'd ever done anything like this, so as we sat in Foyles' restaurant, it was all I could do to choke down half a croissant and pray that I could make it through the day.

My lecture on the Billboard!  Who would ever have thought it?!

We arrived at the National Portrait Gallery at 12 pm and were amazed to see the billboard outside with my name on it, and details of the lecture.  For seventeen years I worked a day job I disliked and would dream of being a full-time writer, whilst doing endless hours of photocopying.  Who would have ever thought I'd one day see my name outside the National Portrait Gallery?  And yet here it was, for all to see.  It was, to say the least, a very surreal experience.

Me outside the huge gallery.  Deep breaths!

Inside we were met by the wonderful staff who were to look after me during the afternoon: Mary and Catherine.  I really can't thank them enough for being so wonderful to me, as without their calm and caring attitudes, I'm pretty sure I'd have run out of the nearest fire door.

Me doing the soundcheck in the empty theatre... But not empty for long!

By the time we arrived at the gallery theatre, there was already a small line of people, waiting to be let in, and after doing a sound check and familiarising myself with the fabulous theatre, I sat down to get myself together and calm my nerves.  The doors weren't supposed to open until 1 pm but at 12.50 a gentleman came in to ask if he could open the doors early.  Apparently the line had by then stretched all the way across the large hall, down a flight of stairs and into the book shop, which was quite a way from the theatre.  The man estimated that there must be about 50 people lined up, but when the doors opened, it became extremely clear that there were many, many more and by the time the doors closed, all 150 seats were taken; it was standing room only and people were being turned away as there was just no room left in the theatre.  Needless to say, this was a terrifying but absolutely wonderful sight.  These people had come to see me talk about Marilyn; it was quite literally a dream come true.

As I was sitting waiting to go on, a beautiful young woman approached and introduced herself to me.  She said that she was on holiday from New Zealand and had been thrilled to discover that I was speaking at the gallery.  She told me that I was one of her favourite authors, and she just had to meet me.  This was absolutely amazing, to think that someone from New Zealand loved my books and wanted to see me.  We chatted for a while about Marilyn and Carole Lombard before it was time for her to take her seat.  Then it was 1.15 and it was time for Mary to introduce me to the stage.

I remember walking across the stage and the light being on me, and Roger G Taylor's beautiful Marilyn portraits being projected behind me.  Everyone was clapping and I made a little joke that perhaps it was too late for me to run away now.  Everyone laughed and it was at this point that I knew I was going to be all right.  That the people who had come to see me were on my side and there because they wanted to hear what I had to say.  That was a great moment for me because after that I was able to relax and enjoy the next 35 minutes, talking about how I became a fan, what started my fascination for Marilyn's trip to England and the ups and downs of writing a book about Marilyn's life.  

People laughed at the funny parts, gasped at the more serious ones, and at the point where I started to sum up what Marilyn means to me, the entire audience were silent.  I could have dropped a pin and it would have sounded like an explosion, such was the silence in the theatre at that moment.

My mum, dad and myself, posing for the camera.  It was so nice to have them here on my big day.

Once I ended my talk, the lights went up and there was a huge round of applause, which made me so happy.  I was relieved it was over, but I had enjoyed speaking so much that I felt like a million dollars.  Once I had exited the stage, I was met by friends and family before being whisked off to a lovely, calm space next to the book shop, where people began arriving for me to sign their books.  I don't know how many I signed, but it was a lot and I achieved my dream of having a line of people waiting to meet me.  What a thrill that was!  

I think I'm somewhere behind all these people!

I met so many interesting people, including readers who had travelled from all over the UK to see me; friends; my publishing team; the wonderful curators at the Gallery and so many more.  I can't begin to tell you just how many hugs I received, and was over-come when I was presented with gifts such as a book from the gallery staff; a big gift bag of goodies from my friend; a typewriter charm from my parents and some beautiful bath essence and perfume from Marilyn's favourite London perfume shop, Floris.  I felt like a superstar and I still can't believe that it actually happened.

After the signing was finished, we went into the Marilyn exhibition which is just lovely.  Full of photographs of Marilyn from various points in her career; it is small but perfectly formed.  There were a great deal of people in there and everyone seemed to really enjoy the items on display.

Gabriella and I have a laugh while I'm signing her book.

And then it was time for everyone to go their separate ways, and we found ourselves in the Gallery Restaurant with my literary agent and friends, talking about the day and enjoying a laugh.  The day went so quickly, it is as if it was over in the blink of an eye, but it will definitely be one I remember forever more.  My feet were covered in blisters by the time we got back to the station, but I don't care; it was all completely worth it and if I could turn back time and live the day over and over again, I really, truly would.

Suzie, me and a reader pose for the cameras.

I'd just like to end by thanking everyone from the gallery and those readers and friends who came to the talk from near and far.  You all made my day; my week; my year and I will never forget how very special you made me feel.  It truly was a dream come true and one I will remember for the rest of my life.

Thank you!!!!


Linda J. Alexander said...

Sounds like you had a fantabulous time, Michelle ... & you deserve that & so much more! I believe we're looking at the birthing of a new literary superstar. Hugz your way!

Linda J. Alexander said...

So happy things went well for you, Michelle. You deserve this, & so much more. I do believe we're watching the birthing of a new literary superstar! Hugz ... lots of them.