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Star Wars - A Musical Journey At The O2 Arena
There must be an unwritten rule of costuming that states "any changing area MUST have an ambient temperature of at least 35 degrees Celsius".
This changing room was hot and cramped and it's never good to be sweating before you've even got your helmet on. We had to share the room with the Rebel Legion (who did a great job throughout the evening), getting changed in shifts. Who would have thought the Empire and Rebel Alliance could share space so cooperatively? But we did, with me making an appearance as a TIE fighter pilot with the UK Garrison. The event: "Star Wars - A Musical Journey" at the O2 arena.
I arrived on time at the O2 to be greeted by the always-impressive sight of a large squad of Stormtroopers marching through the crowded indoor streets that surround the huge arena. It was reminiscent of the Sandtroopers marching through the narrow streets of Mos Eisley. What a sight. Fearing I would be the last out, I hurried to the changing area. All was good though. There were several other troopers still getting kitted up as well as our Vader for the night.
There were hundreds of very surprised faces as our team of troopers headed out to meet our colleagues, passing the packed out clubs and restaurants that surround the arena. As I arrived at the exhibition space and paired up with my fellow TIE pilot, we were instantly swamped with people wanting their pictures taken with us. Every few seconds it was a new person and a new pose, trying to work out where the camera was and making sure we kept it fresh, as though each picture was the first one of the night. Soon we were on the move, heading off to the main concourse, to greet the visitors of the O2 as they entered the dome. As soon as we stopped walking, the assault continued - photo after photo, pose after pose, and me grinning like an idiot from ear to ear the whole time. One lady came running over to have her picture taken with us. "You guys have THE BEST job in the world" she said, and she was so right.
About an hour and a half after we left the changing room, one of our spotters (un-costumed members of the team who act as security and a pair of eyes for those of us with limited visibility) informed us that the organisers of the event had kindly offered us a number of tickets to see the concert but that we would have to return to the changing rooms now if we wanted to take them up on the offer, so we formed up in pairs and marched our way back to the changing rooms. We had all thought we would miss the concert and I know I speak for everyone there when I say that we really appreciated the kindness of the organisers.
Back in civvies, we entered the arena and took our seats. Watching and hearing the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing the music from Star Wars was an experience I won't forget. We only saw the first half as we had to be back out in armour soon after the intermission, but I was glad we got to see "Duel of Fates" and "The Imperial March" which got a loud cheer from our contingent.
Another quick change later and I'm marching, once again, back to the main concourse dressed as my Imperial alter-ego. By now the place was heaving as clubbers arrived for a night out and diners finished their meals and left the restaurants. More photos ensued - groups of lads looking for a good night out, cheering as we posed with them and girls out celebrating their friend's birthday wanting a picture with us because we "look well hunky"! A couple of bottom pinches and a kiss later and it's apparent that ladies love a man in uniform, even (perhaps, especially) that of an Imperial Pilot. Luckily everyone behaved themselves and left with smiles on their faces.
Soon it started to quieten down a little as people got to where they were going. We just had time to relax for a few minutes before the concert finished and the arena emptied out and the madness continued. Suddenly it was busier than ever, and with the constant flashes of so many cameras I was extremely grateful for my tinted lenses. Slowly, the torrent turned into a trickle and eventually the arena doors closed. Once again, we formed up into pairs and paraded, for the final time, through the "streets" of the O2.
Once back at the changing rooms it was a case of waiting turn until there was space to get changed. Looking around the room I saw lots of smiles on tired faces as stories were exchanged and costume hints and tips traded. Then the never-ending goodbyes, as you work your way around the room chatting and shaking hands until next time.
I'd forgotten how hot the changing room was until me and my colleagues left the backstage area to be greeted by a very welcome cool breeze. As we wearily trudged through the same streets we had marched down soon before, suitcases and kit bags now in tow, it felt strange to hardly get a second glance from passers-by.
No longer a Pilot of the Imperial Navy, now I'm just some guy with a suitcase and messed up hair.
But I still have that big smile on my face.