I think I’ve been a fan all of my life. It goes along with my generally obsessive personality. It began with Roy Rogers (and Trigger, because what little girl can resist the heart-thumping attraction of a golden palomino)… and progressed through Ivanhoe (Roger Moore – I hearted you!)… Sir Lancelot (William Russell – I hearted you too!)… to after-school serials on CBC television… The Terrible Ten (from Australia – oh how I longed to live in Ten Town) and the Canadian equivalent of parentless children running amok in a Fort Somewhere in the Wilderness – The Junior Forest Rangers.
Then there were the Beatles – discovered when I was about 10, and hitting puberty. I loved Paul. Straddling the chasm between childhood and teenagerhood, I wrote a story about a Fan Who Loved Paul, and whose greatest ambition was to meet him – and become his friend. And so it was… my heroine’s dreams came true… and as her great reward for becoming his friend, Paul invited my heroine over to his house (which he, of course, shared with the other three Beatles), and because they were, by now, close and special friends, my heroine was invited to share Paul’s bed.
It was all completely innocent. I was still a child, with no inkling whatosever about sex. I had the emotions, but none of the knowledge of the follow-through. I had no idea what sex was. My mother hadn’t had The Talk with me yet… and so when I showed her my story, she was aghast.
“You can’t write that!” she gasped (good Catholic Women’s League secretary that she was).
“Why not?” I asked, in complete and utter innocence. After all, my best friend and I had sleepovers all the time. If I spent the night in her double bed (her parents were very practical and had planned ahead for her eventual marriage), we giggled, we read books aloud together, we sneaked magazine articles under the covers about The Beatles (her father was a classical violinist and The Beatles were banned from their house)… in short, we shared our secret lives.
It was only natural that my heroine would be invited to Paul McCartney’s bed, for the most intimate of relationships, as seen through the eyes of a 10 year old who hadn’t yet discovered what else went on between the sheets.
My mother wouldn’t actually tell me the specifics of what was so morally wrong with my story. She made it quite clear, however, that young girls did not go to bed with pop stars, end of.
I crept away, deflated. I understood, but not really.
Some months later, we had The Talk, I hit puberty with all engines running, I finally understood what my mother had meant. This was the 1960s, you have to remember, and it was the middle of Saskatchewan, which reminds me of a joke:
Q: If it’s 12 noon in New York, what time is it in Saskatchewan?
OK now that everyone on the Canadian prairies hates me…
Back to puberty.
In late 1964, I discovered The Man from UNCLE, at about the same time. Outwardly, my first love was Robert Vaughn (Napoleon Solo), but that was only because my best friend (the one with the father who was the classical violinist) loved David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin). And being best friends, it was not a good idea to both adore the same secret agent. Inwardly, I secretly lusted after Illya, with his black crew-neck sweaters and his blond hair, cut in a weird style that nobody else on tv, in films, or in music, sported.
Every Thursday night, Illya would enter my house, in glorious black and white (my friend Jill had a colour tv but we were not very well off, so we didn’t). He would stay for an hour, playing second fiddle to Napoleon, cracking dry, witty jokes in a pseudo-Russian accent, never getting the girl (unless the girl was played by Jill Ireland, who was his then-real-life wife), getting captured, tortured (yes!), rescued, and returning to UNCLE HQ unruffled and unphased, ready for next week’s adventure.
Illya was my friend. So was the actor who played him – because when you’re ten, you don’t really differentiate between the two. Not really. Fantasy is reality. Of course David McCallum lived, breathed, and spoke Illya Kuryakin-ish, all day and all night, in his Los Angeles home, and the fact that he had a wife and three kids was just incidental.
My dad drove us to California in 1966, to see Disneyland. We stayed overnight in Malibu Beach. I’d heard Malibu Beach was where the movie stars lived. I looked for David McCallum. I didn’t see him.
When we drove through Los Angeles the next day on our way to Anaheim, I posted a large sign in the back window of the car. HELLO ILLYA! it said, in very large, almost-12-year-old handwriting.
My father made me take it down after an hour or so, because he couldn’t see the traffic on the freeway behind him.
Later on that year, I lost interest in Illya. I’d found The Monkees. They were on television. They played guitars (and drums, in the case of Mickey Dolenz). They sang. One of them was English. My heart melted.
I decided I would start a fan club. My friend Jill, and my other friend, Cathy, set it up. We made Jill the president, under a pseudonym, because her father was still a classical violinist and it wouldn’t have been very good for his daughter to have been known about town as the President of Saskatchewan’s Monkee Fan Club. Cathy was the treasurer, because she knew how to spend money wisely. And I was the secretary, because I wanted to do all the work.
I was good. I phoned up CJME and CKCK radio and got myself interviewed on the air by the evening DJ’s. We got invited down to answer the phones during one of the radio shows, but we had to politely decline, first of all because we were completely underage, and secondly because we didn’t think Jill would be able to explain it to her father. We had a mailing list, we sent out photos, club cards, bio sheets…
And then I discovered that Peter Tork’s family lived in Regina. It came as a complete shock. Nobody important lived in Regina. But Peter Tork’s family did – because his dad was a university professor, and he’d taken a temporary position at our university.
Peter Tork had a sister who was about my age. I found out where she lived (not difficult in a city of less than 100,000), and I sent her letters. I telephoned her. I kept her on the line for hours at a time, talking about her brother. Anne – if you’re out there – I apologise from the bottom of my heart. Your patience, for a 13 year old, was unparalleled. Never did she tell me to Eff Off and Get a Life. Never did she belittle me for considering her brother someone To Die For. Never did she complain about my calls.
I don’t know if she just naturally had a kind heart, or if she’d been told to be nice to her brother’s fans, or if she was intrigued by the idea of being younger sister to a very big star.
The relationship ended when our club was declared illegal by the TV network that carried the series. We couldn’t continue. We had to hand our files over to CTV, and we were Out of Business.
The experience, however, was one of those life-changing things that stays with you. I learned about fans. I was one, so that wasn’t a big deal. But I learned about seeing things from the other side. I got letters from young girls, who wanted me to pass their missives along to The Monkees. I got letters from girls who were in awe of ME, because of what I was doing. I got letters from girls who wanted to me to set up meetings for them, who would do ANYTHING to meet the objects of their attention.
I have to stop at this point and say that I was never the kind of fan who would do ANYTHING to meet their idol. My story about Paul McCartney had as its theme friendship, and that was how I always viewed my idols – as my friends. Because, after all, I knew them intimately, didn’t I? I read everything that was written about them in fan magazines… I listened to their music, I watched their TV shows, I saw them in films… they had entered my life, and so it was only natural that I believed – conversely – that I had entered their lives.
If we met on the street, I believed we would be instant and complete buddies.
Fast forward a few decades. After a number of years being married to a radio news broadcaster (see, I did actually fulfill one or two of my adolescent dreams of being associated in one way or another with fame), I rediscovered my childhood passions. I’m not sure why this was. Perhaps it was just time to re-visit. The moon and stars were in alignment.
I rediscovered Illya. David McCallum. There had been a movie on tv – The Return of the Man from UNCLE. I was transfixed. What had happened to him over the intervening years? What had he got up to? I found a fan club, and a fan magazine. I got in touch with the president of the fan club. Explained I was a writer, and a fan from the start. Got a gig writing for the fan magazine which lasted about 10 years.
I wrote a letter to David McCallum. I got an answer back. I was gob-smacked. It was fabulous. And I felt complete. I wanted nothing more. I had been Acknowledged.
I was in frequent touch with the magazine’s editor. She would relate stories to me about the letters she got from fans. They sounded hauntingly familiar. But they were not written by adoring 12 year olds. They were letters from women my age, and they would do ANYTHING to meet their idol. And they meant it.
Fast forward another few years. It’s now 1995, and I have just discovered Sean Bean. Yorkshireman. Odd accent. Appearing in something called “Sharpe” on PBS. Lightning flashed, thunder boomed, beacons flared in my consciousness. WHO IS THAT MAN? I said to myself – and I set myself on a quest to find out.
The adventure was a lovely journey. I felt like a teenager again. It was the dawn of the internet, and I set up a website. I contacted his publicist. The publicist knew nothing about the internet, but was willing to help. He dragged Sean down to an internet cafe in London one day, and together they spent hours going over my modest effort.
And I got letters. Emails. Snail mail. Women who wanted me to set up meetings. Women who related their fantasies about what they would do to Sean, if they ever got their hands on him. Women who wanted to correspond with me, because I was like a link to Sean, and they felt like they were touching him, if they touched me. Even if it was only in cyberspace.
I travelled to England and met Sean on the set of one of his films. It was hilarious. He had no idea I’d be there – Sean’s publicist had set it up, but had decided not to tell him in advance.
I was standing in the background with my friend Julie, watching all morning while he filmed “Extremely Dangerous” beside a canal in Manchester. I finally approached one of the film’s producers and asked whether he’d introduce me, as I didn’t want to make an idiot of myself.
He was quite amused, and said, “Carpe Diem!”… and then disappeared for lunch.
Julie, who speaks Latin, helpfully translated it for me. “Seize the day,” she said, knowingly.
We went for lunch. And when we came back, we waited where we had been told to stand. But none of the other crew appeared.
The only other person standing in that area was, in fact, Sean Bean. He was lounging against a brick wall, looking for all the world as if he was waiting for a call on his mobile.
I don’t know what the producer had told him. But he was alone.
“Carpe diem!” Julie screamed, in my ear.
And so I did.
I introduced myself. I thought that I would be dismissed out of hand, that he wouldn’t know who I was. I blew my first line. I said, “I’m Nona, and I do the internet.” I’d meant to say, “I do your website”… and I was going to add, “on the internet”… but it all came out jumbled.
Sean looked at me, and I fled. I ran away.
Sean came running after me. This interchange has become legendary amongst the fans who’ve frequented my website. I go down in history as the woman who had Sean Bean chasing her through the canal-side streets of Manchester.
I did eventually stop running, got my courage back, and had a really nice – albeit short – conversation with him.
And it was all I wanted. I was complete, yet again. It felt like we were friends. I’d made the connection. I’d been Acknowledged.
Over the years I had three more meet-ups with Sean, the longest and best being an almost-two-hour interview in his trailer on the set of another film in Toronto.
I don’t kid myself. This would not have happened, if I hadn’t been running the website. I still felt like his friend, but I knew that it was a professional friendship, that Sean was doing it because it was a great opportunity to showcase himself online. By agreeing to be interviewed by me, he gave my website “street cred”. The published result was viewed by a LOT of people – including British journalists who, interestingly enough, suddenly changed the way they presented Sean in their stories, so that it was closer to the style I’d used in my writing and direct quotations.
It’s interesting what happened after that in another way. Suddenly, a lot of fans thought it would be nothing at all for Sean to agree to be interviewed by them. They emailed me to ask me to set it up. I forwarded their requests to his agent. I didn’t get involved.
But I realized what had happened. I was “ordinary”. I was a fan, just like they were. But I’d achieved something that they could only dream of. I’d spoken to Sean personally. I’d spent time with him. I’d shaken his hand. I’d drunk tea with him, eaten his chocolates, declined dinner and drinks – because I’d already eaten and if I drank I’d quickly have lost any semblance of coherence during the interview – and to top it all off, he’d given me a lift back to my hotel afterwards.
The reason why Sean had agreed to do the interview in the first place – and he told me this – was because I could be trusted. I wasn’t going to turn into a gooey mass of slobbering fandom. I wasn’t going to embarrass him. I was going to remain professional.
I’m not really involved with the website anymore, though it’s still online. I promised Sean’s fans that I would maintain it as an archive of his career, and I’ve kept that promise. It’s not that I’m no longer a fan – I still get Google alerts every time his name is in the news. It’s just that my life required more concentration in other areas. My focus is now on screenwriting – and because I also have a full time job, my free hours – Time for Me – is severely limited.
I have developed another fan interest, though. My obsessive personality doesn’t allow me to go for long without one. While researching and writing one of my feature scripts last year, I rediscovered a musical interest that I had, actually, grown up with. Their music was on the radio when I was a child, and it’s always been with me. For some reason, when I was writing this script, I allowed that interest to turn into something like what I felt for Illya, The Monkees, and Sean Bean.
It’s been interesting following the fan sites for this group, and actually being in touch with one of the webbos, and also with one or two of the musicians. (Acknowledgement – remember! I crave it!)
It’s also been interesting reading comments from some of the fans – because now we live in an age where people communicate instantly, share their thoughts, their gripes, their fears, their passions. Fandom is no longer a private obsession.
What’s really interesting is specifically reading how some of these fans think of the musicians as their friends. It reminds me of my little story about Paul McCartney. Reality and fantasy, the blurred boundaries, the disconnect that happens because of familiarity… we, as fans, know the objects of our attention so well – at least we THINK we do – and yet the objects of our attention often have no clue who we are at all.
There’s a conundrum on one of the fansites right now because some there feel that they should be given first hand information about what their favourite musicians are up to – rather than reading it second hand via News Alerts or associated friends who are in the know.
When I was running The Compleat Sean Bean, people thought I had an inside track on Sean’s career. I was always the one they turned to when there was a rumour, a new project, the mere mention of a new project. I didn’t really have an inside track. I had a working relationship with Sean’s agent, and I was allowed to email and ask whether a rumour was true or not, and also whether a project was confirmed or not. That was all. Sometimes I got answers. Sometimes I didn’t. I ran the Number One website for Sean Bean on the internet, and Sean never dropped in to let me know what was next on his acting CV.
I remember telling Sean during that famous interview in Toronto that he didn’t really owe his fans anything except a brilliant performance. I believed it then, and I believe it now. It’s the same for everyone who is in the spotlight. Musicians. Actors. Artists. Writers.
You have fans for a reason. It’s because something you have done – a performance, a publication, a recording, a painting – has captured someone’s heart. And has made an impression. Many many times over. And fans should know this. You are a fan for a reason. It’s because something someone has done, has captured your heart. Many many times over.
And you should never let the boundaries blur.