Destination Star Trek London report
|FEATURES - TV|
A detailed overview of a terrific event celebrating Star Trek and its fandom...
Being of a certain age I've been to a few conventions over the years, had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders with various sci-fi and cult TV luminaries, seen things you people wouldn't believe (buy me a beer and I'll tell you a tale or two!), but somehow in all this time and despite being a fan I've never been to a dedicated Star Trek convention, so this past weekend at Destination Star Trek London has been memorable in a great many ways.
Considering the high profile that Trek has consistently enjoyed in the media, pop culture and among fans pretty much since its inception in 1966, and especially since the J.J. Abrams reboot a couple of years ago, it's somewhat surprising that Destination London was the first convention to be held in the UK for over a decade. Judging from the thousands of fans who beamed in from just about every corner of the globe, though, it's not the where that counts - though as Patrick Stewart revealed in his solo talk on the Saturday, he was especially pleased to finally have an event that was only a fifteen minute taxi ride from his home - it's the who, and organisers Media 10 and Showmaster Ltd pulled off the Q of all coups by arranging for all five of the franchise's Captains to share a European stage for the first, and perhaps only time in history.
Arriving early on the Friday, we (being myself and Shadowlocked's resident photographer Deborah Cosgrove, also my resident wife) were shown through to the red carpet press area where the likes of David Warner and Chase Masterson were posing for photos and John De Lancie was holding court, every bit as charming and amiable (and tall) as his onscreen Q persona, and telling all and sundry about his upcoming BronyCon: The Documentary, a film about the equally devoted but more earthly based fans of the show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, due for release this November.
As zero hour approached, the moment the massed fans waiting patiently outside the huge ExCel arena had been looking forward to for more than a few Stardates, I got the chance to catch up with Trekologist Raules Davies, who was every bit as friendly and enthusiastic as he had been during our telephone interview a couple of weeks previously, and we discussed the changing nature of conventions over the years. Raules told me about the Wolf 359 convention he was at in 1999, held in the Lancashire, UK seaside town of Blackpool, where the audience had been listening to Kate Mulgrew give a talk when suddenly a high-pitched voice came over the PA and asked “Miss Mulgrew, Miss Mulgrew, who is your favourite Captain?” Thinking it was a fan, Kate considered the question for a moment before replying that it was Jean-Luc Picard, at which point the doors at the side of the stage opened and Patrick Stewart entered to thunderous applause that continued for twelve minutes.
It turned out that Stewart had been in a car being driven from Yorkshire to Liverpool when his driver happened to mention that there was a convention on in Blackpool, and so the actor had made the not inconsiderable detour to make an unannounced appearance. Hearing all five Captains talk over this weekend, it became apparent, as this anecdote reveals, just how much they value the fans, and while the likes of Stewart may refuse to do any press publicity these days, when it comes to the fans nothing is too much trouble, a philosophy that Gene Roddenberry would surely have been proud of.
Though we were there in a press capacity, we're both fans as well, and so Deb took the opportunity to get her photograph taken with both Avery Brooks (DS9's Benjamin Sisko) and Brent Spiner (TNG's Data). Brooks, who looked cool enough to give Samuel L. Jackson a run for his money in his shades, black leather jacket and matching leather trousers, was everything you could wish for when meeting one of your heroes. As we waited in line we could see him posing with the fans in front of us, greeting every single one of them as if they were the most important person he'd met that day, his smile broad and genuine, even taking the time to smarten up several fans' uniforms before pictures were taken to ensure that they looked their best with him.
As we queued for Deb to get her photo with Brent Spiner, who was every bit as friendly and gracious as Brooks, the true nature of the Trek convention as a family event was brought sharply into focus as we spotted a man putting his young baby into the arms of a Klingon so that he and his wife could have a family portrait to remember. The baby kept looking at the Klingon, then turning away, then looking again as if it couldn't quite figure out what was holding it as we and the other fans around us stood cooing at this magical moment.
Another example of the extraordinary experiences that these conventions can produce came late on the Friday afternoon when Jossie Sockertopp and Sonnie Gustavsson, who had flown in from Skåne in Sweden not only to attend Destination London, but to get married, made it so in full Klingon dress. The happy couple walked up to the altar to the sound of Klingon drums and proceeded, as tradition dictates, to engage in a mock battle to symbolise the struggle of the male and female hearts against each other before exchanging their vows, in Klingon naturally, and then tucking into a wedding cake in the shape of a Borg cube.
For the Trek fan who collects photographs and autographs, Destination London was a dream come true with literally dozens of Trek alumni doing the honours, and though it's not my thing (I'm more a collectables kind of guy) I couldn't help but feel like I'd fallen down a wormhole as everywhere I turned I saw actors from my favourite shows and movies. From Denise Crosby, who was making a rare visit to these shores, to David Warner (The Omen and Titanic are two of my all time favourite movies), to Jeffrey Combs (ditto Re-Animator), Mark Alaimo, Nana Visitor, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, and of course the quintet of Captains, to see all these people in one place, all at the same time was more than a little surreal, but pleasantly so.
Most mind-blowing, though, was the opportunity we had to spend the entire day on the Saturday sitting, watching and listening intently to each of the five Captains, Kate Mulgrew (Voyager's Kathryn Janeway), Avery Brooks (Deep Space Nine's Benjamin Sisko), Scott Bakula (Enterprise's Jonathan Archer), Patrick Stewart (The Next Generation's Jean-Luc Picard) and William Shatner (The Original Series' James T. Kirk) as they gave their solo talks. I'd been lucky enough to witness the five Captains make history as they shared a stage on the Friday night, but individually they were incredible, each giving very different performances, and the synergy of experiencing all five of them in one day was the most amazing feeling of the sum of the parts being so much more than the individual components, and we both came away feeling euphoric, and more importantly, inspired.
During her solo talk on the Saturday, Kate Mulgrew had spoken about being honoured to have influenced a whole generation of women as a result of her time in the Captain's chair, and had appeared genuinely moved when asked by an older woman in the audience how she felt to be such an inspiration. The warmth with which she engaged the room, though, and her insistence on concluding her talk with a question from a young woman, and ending up surrounded by seven girls on the stage, each of whom she took the time to talk to, made it easy to see why she has become such a powerful and impressive ambassador not only for Star Trek, but for women in general.
As Raules Davies said in our interview, regardless of the impact and influence that Star Trek has on society and even mankind, the fans are still given short shrift by those who don't understand the devotion and the passion that we all have for our various geek-flavoured interests. But coming away from the ExCel centre for the final time at the end of the weekend, I doubt that there were more than a handful of people who didn't leave feeling that regardless of their sex, race, religion, or any of the other battle lines that are drawn up to divide us in the harsh light of day, for three days they felt part of something special, felt that they belonged and were accepted for who and what they were, and felt that, like we did, if just a fraction of this incredible experience filtered back into reality, into our lives and the lives of those around us, then the world will be a better place until we can do it all over again.
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