Culture

London: Spotting celebrities and famous faces

The Sweeney premiere in London

Jostling to see the stars – The Sweeney premiere in London

Spotting celebrities is great when you’re on your travels but I never make a deliberate detour to seek out the rich and famous.

But recently I’ve begun to wonder if I enjoy it more than I think.

Last week in London I stumbled upon the British film premiere for crime thriller, The Sweeney on my way to a Chinese restaurant.

Crowds jostled for positions next to the red carpet at London’s Leicester Square to catch a glimpse of their film heroes including Ray Winstone, Ben Drew (aka Plan B), Damian Lewis (Homeland) and Allen Leech (Downton Abbey).

Winstone was resplendent in a cream suit and black shades (yes, it was night time) looking every inch the movie star.  Plan B looked smart but street-wise and was mobbed by adoring fans whilst co-star Hayley Atwell shimmered in a glamorous turquoise frock.

Ray Winstone and Plan B

Red carpet – Ray Winstone and Plan B

As I stood watching the arrival of the film’s talent, heralded by flashing police lights and sirens, it became a game of ‘spot the famous face’.

Earlier in the day, I’d been to a launch event at London’s Savoy Hotel for work.

After the event, we took the wrong turning and ended up in the Ballroom where a band were sound checking for that night’s charity dinner. They were playing what we thought were Queen cover versions. “That looks a lot like Brian May,” I quipped jokingly.

It was only when we were ushered out that I saw a big sign with the evening’s running order.

Blimey, it had been the real Brian May and Queen doing the sound check, proving that accidental encounters can take you to unexpected celebrity places!

It set me thinking of my previous unexpected brushes with famous folk and made me wonder how easy it is to seek out your favourite stars…

Starry starry heights

My first starry-eyed experience was in the 1970s when I was sightseeing on London’s Kings Road. Out of the blue, actress Julie Christie, then at the height of her Hollywood fame, walked past with her latest boyfriend.

She was smaller than I’d imagined and was a figure of wonderment with her long blond hair, floppy hat and fashionable clothes. Nobody dared approach her – they simply stopped and stared silently as this perfect vision of womanhood floated by.

This was one of the very rare times I’ve seen a celebrity shopping. These days it’s even harder – celebrities are bundled out of their black limos into posh boutiques for their own private shopping experience whilst the public are kept at bay like retail lepers.

Even hanging around outside the Vivienne Westwood and McQueen stores in London has never bagged me a celebrity sighting.

There was one exception, however, when I spotted Blur guitarist Alex James striding nonchalantly down Oxford Street in London. A fantastic coup.

Royal flush

One of the best chances of seeing famous folk is to get up close and personal with royalty.

They have fixed tour schedules, attend the big society events (Goodwood/Ascot/Wimbedon) and go on walk-abouts in public.

Simply turn up at a big royal occasion and fight your way to the front of the handshake line behind the yellow tape.

Some royal fans take this very seriously – so get there early. They will have been in their sleeping bags overnight to get the best spot – you have been warned!

Royals at Olympics

British Royals at London Olympics

One of my earliest royal sightings was accidentally seeing the Queen being driven through the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Sadly, all I saw was her immaculate white-gloved hand waving from the car window to the crowds as she sped by.

The Diamond Jubilee, Olympics and Paralympics have meant that it’s been a fabulous year for royal watchers. Royals and celebrities were two a penny at the London Olympics…

The Murray-Fededer tennis final was packed with royals, famous actors, pop stars and politicians from Prince William and Kate Middleton to David Cameron, John Hurt and Cliff Richard.

No wonder lesser mortals couldn’t get a ticket!

Lights, camera, action…

Film premieres are some of the best places to see ‘A list’ movie stars from Hollywood to New York and London to the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals.

I’ve stumbled across numerous red carpet events in London’s Leicester Square by complete accident. A couple of years back I found myself standing next to the crowd barriers at the Miss Potter film premiere.

Renee signs autographs at a London premiere

Renee signs autographs at a London film premiere

As I strained my neck to see what was going on, film star Ewan McGregor appeared in front of me and started chatting to the crowds. He looked me straight in the eye and smiled. I could have fainted.

As he strolled around the crowds signing autographs, I became strangely fixated by his crocodile skin shoes.

Later he was followed up the red carpet by Hollywood star, Renee Zellweger and a long list of British supporting actors including Emily Watson and Bill Paterson.

I was amazed how easy it was to get up close and personal with these big names. I’d seen fans chatting to Tom Cruise on TV at similar events but never dreamed you could get this near to your favourite actors.

Another star watching tip is to look out for films being shot on location…

When I was first living in Newcastle I went to watch the film Stormy Monday being shot on the Quayside. The film’s director wanted thousands of local extras for a big band parade sequence so I turned out to make up the numbers.

As everyone focused on the big procession in front of us I glanced behind me and Sting was standing just a few feet away. Our eyes met, he smiled and then turned to go back into his dressing room in a nearby building.

The fact that nobody else spotted him made this a special moment.

Theatre Land

John Simm

Take a decent camera – Tammy meets John Simm in fuzz-o-vision

From Broadway to London’s West End, theatre land is a happy hunting ground for encountering thespians.

Another surefire way of spotting an actor is to wait dutifully by the stage door, theatre programme and pen in hand.

This can, however, result in some toe-curling, embarrassing experiences – you have been warned!

As a teenager I waited for actor John Lynch after a performance of the RSC’s Nicholas Nickleby – with a red rose in my hand.

As Lynch emerged (wearing headphones), I approached him nervously and he stopped to chat – but it was embarrassing in the extreme.

I’m not sure who was more uncomfortable – him or me.

It was proof that some actors are actually quite shy in person. Another that falls into this category is the British TV and stage actor, John Simm.

After watching him in Speaking in Tongues at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, I was surprised to see the actor (Life on Mars, Dr Who) emerge from the shadows of his dressing room door.

After fighting off fanatical Dr Who fans (mainly obssessive guys who hadn’t seen his play) he made a bee-line for me and nervously autographed my programme.

John Simm autograph

Spot the squiggle – John Simm autograph

I muttered a few inane pleasantries as he struggled to make eye contact. A lovely guy but surprisingly shy and reticent.  I later read that he’d been plagued by a stalker-style fan so perhaps that explains why.

Funny thing though, I wasn’t even in the autograph queue. I was simply waiting for a cab!

Stage door

A good ploy is to hover around your theatre of choice at the end of a play when the stars come out and leap into their VIP cars.

After one night out on the town, I happened upon Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean) signing autographs outside the theatre where he was performing.

It was hard to miss him – he was surrounded by screaming teenager girls!

Orlando Bloom signs autographs outside London's Duke of York's Theatre

Orlando Bloom signs autographs outside London’s Duke of York’s Theatre

Unexpected theatre sightings are some of the most satisfying.

After a London production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I was surprised to run slap-bang into Hollywood actor Christian Slater as he was making a brisk exit out the theatre’s back door.

Many years ago, I had another ‘bumping’ experience during the intermission of Educating Rita.

Former Dr Who, Tom Baker, slammed into me in the theatre bar. He was apologetic, larger than life and surprisingly friendly.

Actors also love going to see other actors – ‘luvvies’ love other ‘luvvies’.

Last week, actress Miriam Margoyles sat a few rows behind me at an Edinburgh Festival play.

Lynda Bellingham (Loose Women) was within ear-shot of me at a London performance of Cabaret a couple of years ago. Whilst actor Derek Jacobi was in the bar when I was at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle last year… and so it goes.

Musicians are trickier. The best options are 1) turning up at the stage door before/after sound checks; 2) getting on the VIP list for the after show party and 3) meet-and-greets (often offered as competition prices by event sponsors or newspapers).

I remember being delighted to secure an after-show invite for one of my favourite bands, Pulp.

Although half of the band did eventually turn up, singer Jarvis Cocker and the two guitarists never showed. We were left talking to the drummer – a lovely guy-  but not quite what I’d had in mind!

TV world

No prizes for guessing that TV world is a happy hunting ground for spotting celebrities. BBC TV Centre in London’s White City is a great place to see the talent as it arrives for work.

Recent sightings have included Bruce Forsyth on his way to Strictly Come Dancing and footballer Robbie Savage heading off to be interviewed.

Look out for smart black cars ferrying top stars like Robbie Williams, Take That and celebrity interviewees.

I also ran into Jason Donovan (literally – we got stuck in a swing door) when he was leaving BBC London after doing a radio show.

In London BBC Radio One’s entrance is also a great place also to see musicians and bands coming in to perform sessions or be interviewed. There’s often a queue of fans outside waiting so be prepared to wait around.

En route

Famous people do one hell of a lot of travelling.  Airports can be a good place to keep an eye open for famous faces although they’re more likely to be in the VIP lounge and Business Class.

Once I saw singer Paul Young checking in at the British Airways desk London Heathrow for a flight to Paris.

Buses are the worst place to spot the stars.

But you may be surprised to hear that a few months ago I did see the British band The Duke Spirit on the omnibus to Clapham, together with guitar cases and drum kit. Perhaps their record label is cutting back on expenses during the recession?

Sightings of musicians walking around town are also tricky. But I did once see my favourite American muso, Andrew Bird walking down Shepherd’s Bush High Street to the Empire where he was performing that night.

Andrew Bird

Bird sighting – Andrew Bird

I was sitting in the window seat of an Italian restaurant and nearly choked on my pasta!

My friend Dave, a frequent visitor to New York, tells me that celebrity sightings are relatively common place in Manhatten. He’s seen Woody Allen taking his afternoon walk in Central Park whilst TV’s Late Show is a good place to see the stars when they come and go.

Looking for famous people can require patience a bit like waiting for Godot.. but sometimes you can strike lucky.

So who’s my ultimate target? Ryan Gosling… now you ask. But he ain’t gonna be an easy catch.

I’d be interested to hear about your celebrity sightings too…

Tammy’s top tips

So how do you catch a famous face without acting like an obsessive celebrity stalker?

Generally, it’s easier to spot famous people in their own celebrity bubble – at film premieres, expensive night clubs, super-posh restaurants and VIP after-shows.
The Sweeney gala

Arrive early at film premieres to grab the best spot

  • Film premieres – these are brilliant forums for fans wanting to rub shoulders with their screen heroes. In the age of the internet and social media it’s much easier to find out about these events in advance if you want to hunt down your favourite star.
  • Awards ceremonies and film festivals often have red carpet events too so look out for London, Cannes, Venice,  Sundance (Utah), Toronto and Berlin openings and galas.
  • Spotting famous actors on films in production is difficult as there will often be a closed set.
  • Do your homework – a Google search will throw up a whole host of websites like Mark Meets and Premiere Scene with great information on celebrity events, premieres and TV appearances.
  • Theatre Land – waiting by the stage door after the show is still the best tried and tested way of grabbing an autograph or seeing your stage favourites.
  • Be warned… some big stars may resort to elaborate queuing systems and barriers. Remember the furore around David Tennant in Hamlet at London’s Donmar?
  • TV world – it’ hard to predict the comings and goings of big names but waiting by an entrance and gleaning local knowledge can ensure that you’re in the right place at the right time.
  • Royal watching – think society events, the royal’s favourite sports (equestrian events, Wimbedon, Henley Regatta) and walk-abouts. You can find out about royal schedules on the Buckingham Palace website. Horsey events are the royal family’s natural territory so think Ascot, ‘Glorious Goodwood’, the Badminton Horse Trials and high profile equestrian events.
  • The ‘after show’ – grab yourself a VIP list ticket for the after-show party if you want to hang out with musicians but this only works if you know somebody working on the event.
  • Many small-mid scale music gigs have opportunities to meet performers after the show. Here’s Tammy giving Simone Felice a hug after his gig at Newcastle’s Cluny venue.
Simone Felice

Tammy with Simone Felice from The Duke and the King

  • Posh haunts – upmarket night clubs are the natural home of football superstars, reality TV personalities and wannabe models.  Upmarket restaurants and club bars like London’s Groucho and The Ivy are popular with actors and film stars.
  • Book signings – ideal if you want to meet an author or celebrity with an autobiography. Great for catching up with Katie Price but not so brilliant for A-list names. Plus you’ll be forced to buy the dreaded book and may also be charged an entrance ticket.
  • Be prepared – Don’t forget to take your camera, a pen and something to be autographed.
  • Avoid your local supermarket, the gym (unless it’s one endorsed by Hollywood A-listers like Ryan Gosling), budget hotels (Travel Lodge, Econolodge) and public transport.

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