The Pilgrimage started for me on Friday night, when I met up with a couple of the site regulars for a meal at TGI Fridays in Reading. It was also the first time we got to see the early press coverage, as the Basingstoke Observer had us as front page news with the headline “Fans flock from across the globe to Basingstoke”. It was almost like being an actor reading the opening night reviews as a bag full of copies of the Observer was passed round.
Thankfully I didn’t overindulge too much, and was up by 7am next morning to make final preparations for pilgrimage itself. As I had a house full of guests, it was a job in itself getting every up and out in time (I had arranged to meet with Anne from the council at 8.30am at The Anvil). However, we all arrived in time and started setting up the screening room and registration desk. I have to admit, at this stage my stress levels were reasonably high worrying whether everything would be ok.
By about 9.45am, most people had arrived, including Simon Shore and Patrick WIlde (and it was quite a thrill to meet them at last, since I had so many email and telephone conversations with them during the run up to the event). However, no sign of any of the cast!
At 10am people started taking their seats in the screening room. I went through my first big ordeal of the day, introducing the film and then Simon and Patrick stood at the back of the room for the first few minutes with me, and then we slipped out the back entrance once things were in full swing. Stacy had still not arrived at this point, but her mum was sitting in the front row!
I wasn’t particularly worried about whether any of the cast would show, since with Patrick and Simon there, they could field pretty much any question during the Q&A, but as it happened this wasn’t a problem since Stacy arrived shortly after. We chatted for a short time and then Stacy joined her mum in the auditorium.
I stayed in the foyer and busied myself with a couple of admin jobs and then spent some time with Simon and Patrick asking them all the questions I could think of.
Another moment of panic came half way through the screening when the projector ‘tripped’ stopping the film. Apparently this was caused by something on the film (possibly dirt) cutting out the projector to stop any damaged to either the film or projector. After a bit of running around and consultation with the projectionist, the film was back on and the incident was soon over.
As the movie wrapped up, I again had to go through the nightmare of speaking the crowd (you may gather that the limelight isn’t my favourite place to be standing) – but that soon passed and the Q&A session was underway. And what a session it was! Great questions and even better answers from Simon, Patrick and Stacy. (I will, at some stage soon, transcribe the Q&A session so you can appreciate how good it was).
The Q&A over, everyone gathered in the foyer were autographs were collected, pictures taken and I even got interviewed by the Basingstoke Gazette. (This resulted in a piece the following Tuesday where – probably at my relief that the screening and Q&A went well – I have a smile which looks like I’ve swallowed a coat hanger).
Then we were on the coach and off to lunch at the Millstone Pub, and the first of our locations on the pilgrimage. Upon our arrival, a buffet of filled rolls and fries was laid out for us and the weather was just glorious. Many of the group sat out on the green (the same spot John had a drink with his model girlfriend Christina while Steven was drowning his sorrows).
I then assisted the Meridian TV crew by holding the reflector whilst they interview Simon Shore against the background of the railway arches (where John & Steven meet clandestinely – “It’s on then”)
Our time at the Millstone was soon over, and we had to climb aboard the coach once more (leaving Simon, Patrick and Stacy to enjoy a few more drinks. – Actually, they were there till at least 10pm that night, so make that *several* more drinks!).
We arrived at the Vyne School, which was used for the majority of the shots of the Belvedere School. We didn’t have long there, but headed straight to the library, which also offered a good view of the courtyard. It was at the Vyne School that Meridian TV caught up with me. I wasn’t particularly nervous by this time, as I think I’d got that all out of my system by the time the Q&A was over – so although I would normally hate the idea of appearing on camera, I quite enjoyed the interview.
Back on the coach once more, and we were off to Down Grange, the scene of the school sports field. The bench (where John & Steven sat at the end of the movie) came in for the most attention, but obviously locations were all around us – the track itself and the road Linda drives along as Steven walks up to her after the final John scene.
Next stop on the tour was a hot 20 minute drive to Overton where John’s House was located. Nick, the owner’s son let us in round to the back garden (and quickly ran off to put his shirt on!), and I must say I think we were all quite taken aback by the sheer size of the place. You don’t notice the tennis courts and huge lawns in the movie – but they are there! Opposite John’s house we spotted the fence Kevin crosses when he discovers Steven in the pool with John. Another photo opportunity!
Back to Basingstoke, and one of the jewels of the tour – Steven’s house in Foyle Park. Even I hadn’t expected quite the warm welcome from Pat Holton, the owner, who invited us all in – literally – in to the house, where we immediately recognised scenes such as the kitchen, lounge and, well, pretty much everything! (BTW, Steven’s house is now on the market at 240,000 pounds – any takers? It’s lovely!)
Pat also sold sets of the behind the scenes postcards that she had produced, and kindly donated 1 pound from the sale of each set to Freedom Youth. (Pat, you were simply the best host of the day!)
Back on the coach for the final leg to War Memorial Park, where many pictures were taken around the Ice house (the public toilets in the movie). The bench wasn’t there, as it was a prop in the film – but you could still just make out the word GENTS above the door of the hut, and as it’s never been a public toilet – that was an original bit of GR memorabilia!
From there we walked into the town centre and caught up with the last remaining sites including the top of town, the El Passo driving school and the Link camera shop before finally stopping at Palmers wine bar, where the upstairs bar had been reserved for us.
We chatted and exchanged our stories for some time (at least a few hours) before we all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
It was a day to remember. I really enjoyed it, and was probably more pleased than anything that everyone who came seemed to get so much out of the day. It was definitely worthwhile – and whilst the final total isn’t in yet, I believe we have raised approximately 1000 pounds ($1500) for Freedom Youth, Basingstoke’s gay youth support project.
Thank you to everyone who came along, helped and supported the day. It was great.