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Postcards from London: Star Gazing

            I lived in London for over a year before I saw an actual celebrity.  Here I was, living in this international city, close to the suburb of Hampstead, where such people as Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton were rumored to live.  But not once did our paths cross, so I never had a chance to give my knowing nod of recognition and be the ever cool, unfazed civilian I always hoped I’d be in such situations.

            I once heard that Johnny Depp had been sighted near Oxford Street.  Be still my heart!  I’d been out there many times, but alas, no quirky, enigmatic actor sightings for me.  I became resigned about the whole celebrity spotting thing.  What did I need with it anyway?

            Which is why, I guess, when Hugh Grant walked right in front of me, I didn’t recognize him.  That and the fact that I wasn’t wearing my glasses.  My journalism classmate and I were attending a rather dry presentation about the Leveson Inquiry—investigations into British Press conduct involving multiple instances of phone hacking.  A panel of experts sat at the front of the lecture hall, taking questions from the audience.  A man hurried in several minutes late and sat down in the front row.  “That’s Hugh Grant,” whispered my classmate.  “No it’s not,” I said dismissively, but she insisted.  Sliding my glasses on for a closer look, I realized that she was absolutely right.  And all of a sudden it made sense, given that the actor had testified at these public hearings and had strong opinions about the press.

            And now, here I was, sitting casually in a small lecture hall, just a few rows away from Hugh Grant!  No big deal, he’s just a person.  I’m a person.  Two people, concerned about press regulation.  It made perfect sense we’d be in the same room together.  I noticed a number of heads were turning his direction throughout the lecture.  Predictably, phone cameras were coming out, trying to capture a candid shot or two.  I rolled my eyes.  This is a serious venue, let’s all try to act like adults, shall we?

            At intermission, several students approached him for a photo.  I would never be so predictable.  Instead I stood at some distance, casually trying to get a picture with my notoriously inadequate phone camera.  Then as we were standing around with our cups of tea and cookies, a number of people tried to strike up conversation with the celebrity.  Hugh was tolerant, but I imagined that he’d spotted me across the room, secretly longing for my superior wit and company.  If he were more bold, I thought, he might dare to cross the room and approach that mysterious foreign woman, perhaps secretly desiring to reenact Notting Hill or Four Weddings and a Funeral.  Let’s face it, it’s always the Americans who end up capturing his heart.  He was just being characteristically British and shy.

            During the rest of the presentation  I amused myself framing up Hugh Grant with my camera phone.  My predictably bad photos each featured a tiny, unidentifiable man wearing a blue sweater.  We never did exchange words that day.  He simply returned to his humdrum celebrity life, while I casually told my friends about the day I had a cup of tea with the stars.

           — Wendy Sherer

Photo credit: Daria Dergacheva