Friday, 30 November 2012

Destination Star Trek London

Conventions are bizarre things, bringing out the very best and very worst in fans. The United Kingdom hasn't held many large conventions celebrating Star Trek, though there have been a couple of exhibits in past years and I was at the London Hilton Hotel con back in 2007, where I met the Gorn in a lift. In the public consciousness, conventions are events for weird unemployed obsessives who dress up in cheap costumes and have Aspergers. This is largely untrue. In my opinion, these sorts of things are no different to football fans dressing up in team shirts and chatting about their favourite team down the pub, and if the event I just took part in demonstrates anything, its that there is just as big a following for my favourite television show as ever.

My photo with Brent Spiner
 - he was very amusing!
Destination Star Trek London is something of a bizarre thing to have actually happened. With no series on the air since 2005 and the last film over three years old, I thought that Trek fandom was destined to small gatherings in the corner of local town halls, as it was for my stand at the recent "DEF-CON" event in my hometown. When I discovered it earlier this year, I couldn't quite believe that there was enough interest to warrant an event of a scale that it was bringing in all five TV Captains as guests, including Patrick Stewart and William Shatner! It took a couple of days of research and investigation before I decided it wasn't a wind up and I quickly bought tickets with my good friend Ian Pidgley and my parents, all of whom wanted to beam down to the ExCel exhibition center on October 19th.
In the Captain's Chair... we got
 to play on the Enterprise's bridge.

It became clear this was more than about the series leads, with stars from all of the franchise booked to appear. My Mum's long-time favourite Michael Dorn (the Klingon Worf) was gonna be there, as was Mr. Data himself, Brent Spiner. To non-Trek fans, this would be all irrelevant hype over mostly unknown actors, but trust me when I say that DSTL was shaping up to be a very special event for Trekkies and Trekkers.

The Five (six) Captains on stage!
And it was fantastic. Travelling down on the train on Friday morning, we spent a lot of time queuing, first for mediocre goody bags, and then to actually get into the large convention floor, which took up several of the ExCel center's large halls on one side, filled autograph tables, photo areas, a KLINGON ZONE cafe that had statues and Borg Cube wedding cake, plus a prop and costume exhibit and (over-priced) merchandise stands. With over 10,000 people at least on the Saturday alone, the place was very crowded, but full of fans in costume and Starfleet uniform, which was initially a peculiar sight, but by the time we left on Sunday, it was weird not to see anyone wearing a combadge during the train journey home.

One of the talks - this one with some
of Deep Space Nine's cast members.
Our tickets enabled us to attend several of the Q&A talks by the stars, spread across a couple of stages, the center point of which was the Five Captain's Opening Ceremony, which Ian and I went to. For the first time in Europe and only the second time ever, all five Captains were together, chatting to the audience - one lucky fan also had them all sing him a happy birthday! But the ceremony was hosted by John Barrowman, Doctor Who's Captain Jack, making it six Captains. John brought a great deal of fanboy giggling and cheeky comments, especially when Scott Bakula signed his ass after a question about the most awkward autograph. Several fans of Barrowman made clear to me their jealousy at seeing this.

Ever the galactic pimp, I pulled two
Klingons, a pair of Orion Slave Girls
and... Q.
Friday night climaxed with the KLINGON MONSTER PARTY. So epic in it's hype that it requires capital letters. The hall next to the convention floor was turned into a nightclub featuring a bouncy castle, lazer-quest tag, with live music from Klingon actors JG Hertzler and Robert O'Reilly. Tickets were an extra £25, and though it began as a slow evening, once enough people started turning up, a typical deafening-music-with-bright-lights-and-scantly-clan-women-dancing club atmosphere established itself whilst everyone posed for photos with those in impressive costumes.  I was even lucky enough to meet and have pictures taken with Deep Space Nine writer Ira Behr, and the creator of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, Ronald D. Moore. 

Patrick Stewart was a real gentleman
 and spoke of how he appeared as
 an apparition to Brian Blessed.
Because hes EPIC.
Day two started at our hotel, the TravelLodge next to the ExCel center, but Ian and myself were soon sitting down for the "Stunt Show" that was included in our ticket and involved an impressive performance of parkour freerunning. Despite their uniforms, it wasn't really Star Trek, but an enjoyable diversion before Scott Bakula's (Captain Archer) talk, in which he described how Archer was supposed to found the Federation over the course of the series. A real highlight of the day was the Patrick Stewart talk. Hes a Shakespearean actor I greatly admire and he hasn't aged in decades. A great speaker providing some interesting anecdotes, especially of how proud he is of The Next Generation and slyly noted that his life is "an ongoing contravention of the health and safety laws". Very entertaining and memorable.
My Dad with his DS9 hero,
Andrew Robinson.
Later it was time to get autographs and photos - meeting some of the actors. My Dad is a big fan of Andrew Robinson who played the Cardassian character of Garak on Deep Space Nine. I also walked up to his table and said Hello. He was a sweet man who shook my hand and genuinely seemed happy as I thanked him for playing one of my favourite Star Trek roles. I admire the novel he wrote about his character called A Stitch In Time, which my Dad has subsequently read. Michael Dorn, the actor who played the Klingon Worf was my Mum's target and she strode up to him to shake his hand and later had a photo with him. Ian was keen on getting his Deep Space Nine poster signed, so got to meet Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) on Sunday. Very happy for him. As for me, I got an autograph from legendary actor David Warner, a delightful gentleman who told me his son was called Luke and that it was "a good name". My parents also bought me for my upcoming birthday an autograph from Brent Spiner, the man who plays my favourite character, Lt Commander Data and he was also someone I shared a photo shoot with - he even fistbumped me! A very funny guy - he should have been a comedian instead of an actor.

One-thousand and eighty of us
fit into the Main Hall - and it turned into
 a conference of Starfleet officers through
the ages. Plus a Klingon or two.
There was much talk about the Costume World Record on Saturday evening where many cosplayers and fans came together to set a new highest number of people in Star Trek costume in one place. Though I understand the need not to let any old visitor with a Starfleet sticker badge inside, I felt the strictness was taken ludicrously far, initially denying me because I was wearing black Converse shoes with my otherwise officially licensed uniform. The queue staff inspecting us allowed my Mother and Ian through to the main hall, but my Father (dressed in an Odo Bajoran uniform with the hint of blue jeans underneath) and I were asked to leave the queue. My righteousness wasn't exactly going to let that stop me from taking part, so I bypassed the inspectors and simply walked into the hall - handing in the record attempt form, legitimating my participation. The word was no. I therefore went anyway!
With Ian and my Mum at the
costume record attempt!
It all smacked of double standards when we saw several fans in non-costume t-shirts, not least my friend James in the The Tenth Doctor's long coat with a Voyager gold uniform on underneath, and my Dad with his blue jeans was allowed in when it was clear more people were needed to break the record. Still, aside from that the record attempt was fantastic, and created a terrifically positive atmosphere of camaraderie as it was announced that with 1080 attendees, we'd broken the record!

The beautiful Nana Visitor
Sunday was the final stretch, and it began with the talk by Avery Brooks, who came across as a very deep and thoughtful man - definitely living in the stars - but the epitome of Star Trek's exploration of the Human condition. I got the last of my autographs, including Dominic Keating (Lt. Malcolm Reed) who to my amusement had definitely been drinking the glass of champagne next to him, whilst his co-star Anthony Montgomery (Ens. Travis Mayweather) sitting with at the table was a great laugh, even calling my Mum 'beautiful', which was very sweet. Nana Visitor, who played Major Kira in Deep Space Nine signed a photo I had and she kindly posed for a photo with me. A lovely woman with a real sparkle in her eyes.

He is not a merry man!
Its Michael Dorn.
Our final talk of the convention was by Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway). She praised the English for being so graceful and polite - even the worst of us are probably not comparable to some Americans - and proclaimed that a Voyager character she wanted to see admit to being lesbian was Seven of Nine. There was always so much sexual tension between Janeway and Seven... The talk over, I legged it over to the photo booth just in time for a shoot with Michael Dorn, who came across as a reserved but amiable fellow (in contrast to the passionate character of Worf he played!).

I was interviewed by the BBC
about the event and my
favourite Captain (Picard).
Following one final look around, the four of us left the ExCel center, taking away some more goody bags on the way out, and got the train home. We all had a terrific weekend. The event wasn't perfect logistically, but the experience of socializing with fellow fans, meeting some of my favourite actors and writers, plus the activities on offer, were worth the expense and the queuing! Some of you faithful readers might find it difficult to understand the appeal of conventions like this - especially just from a memoir and some videos - but I'm never again going to have the opportunity to enjoy such a special celebration of my favourite television series quite like Destination Star Trek London. It was Fascinating.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, brings back lots of good memories. Thanks for posting so many photos and videos too. LLAP.


Any comments? Questions? Observations? Let me know!