And So It Begins

Sept 2004 – An Evening with Colin Baker, Alexander’s, Chester

They say you never forget your first Doctor Who convention. I’d met Colin at another event and got on really well with him. I’d always wanted to do a convention because I remember sitting at one as a fan feeling very segregated from the guests and the action, the organisers whipping the guests away from the paying customers and keeping them to themselves. I wanted to do something very different, where fans would not only get to meet their idols but feel like part of the event. I wanted the fans to feel as important to the convention as the guests, and I thought an evening with Colin was a good place to start – and so Fanslikeus was born.

I was to interview Colin, and I was terrified. I got my hair done, bought a new outfit specially. On the day I arrived at my co-producer’s house to get ready and his boiler had broken. On hearing I couldn’t wash my hair I did the logical thing and flew into a big female panic. Fortunately my team rallied round by filling a bath with water from the kettle, and with Colin only thirty minutes from the house I emerged a delightful lobster pink. Colin and I squeezed into my Ford Ka with my co-producer and we spent twenty minutes tooling round the car park while Colin looked for spaces.

The show went really well once I relaxed, and that was how I caught the bug.

Nov 2005 – An Evening with Gary Russell, Alexander’s 

Not many people turned up for this, but we made the best of it and had a cracking night. I remember Gary Russell saying how the new series would be no good and what a poor piece of casting Christopher Eccleston was. Never take horse racing tips from this man.

Around this time we toyed with the idea of shooting a fan film of Who. For the lead role we managed to interest a young, virtually unknown actor who went by the name of David Tennant. We set up a five minute flying meeting in the pub with him as he dashed between jobs. When he texted to say he was on his way I dived into the loo to do my make-up and, when I dived out again, he had said a few words to my co-producer and flown off. Had I known he would go on to be possibly the most popular, and certainly the fittest, Doctor of all…well, I probably would have taken even longer to do my face.

30 April 2006 – Who at the Cavern 1

I got the Cavern involved when we stopped in on an all-day pub crawl and the owner, Bill, happened to be in. Very cheekily I accosted him and asked him if we could have the Cavern for nothing for a Doctor Who event, and he told me to come back tomorrow when I’d sobered up. When I did he said I could have the back room for nothing; his only request was that we collect money on the day for the Alder Hey Imagine appeal, which we were more than happy to do. Now all I needed was guests. Having already worked with Colin I knew he would be as good as his word, and being a gentleman, he came to headline for the charity. By chance I bumped into Eric Potts, who had been in Who only the year before and leapt at the chance to do a convention. DWAS put me in touch with Debbie Watling and I knew Rob Shearman, who was happy to come aboard. Fanslikeus was also the first group to get Eugene Washington, which I managed by e-mailing every actor in that week’s Who in the Radio Times. I’d like to say it was a stroke of genius that his episode aired the day before the event but it was actually a stroke of luck.

The morning of the event one of my helpers – Scott – had promised me faithfully that he would be there at 7am to ferry K9 and its owner, Dale, over to the Cavern. 8am came and went and Scott wasn’t answering the phone. I had to phone a hackney cab to take me, K9 and Dale over to Liverpool. The taxi driver’s face was a picture when he saw K9 coming in, but the Hackney’s wheelchair access was a blessing.

We arrived at the Cavern somewhat stressed but OK and were let in to the back room with an hour to go to showtime. The room was perfect for a convention except for the fact that no-one had cleaned it since it had been full of drunks the night before. My friend Sandie found the Mr Muscle and got stuck in, and between us we cleaned up and got chairs out. At this point Jamie suggested we test the sound and video. The Cavern’s sound man was J, who had been in on the preparations from day one and knew his schedule inside-out. On asking a member of staff, I was told it was J’s day off and he wasn’t coming in – and no, nobody else knew how anything worked. Thirty minutes to doors open. Finally someone produced J’s number and in an act of human charity he was there in ten minutes. We opened on time and all went well. The event passed in a flash and I was hooked on doing more.

06 May 2007 – Who at the Cavern 2

For the second full convention we became a little bit more ambitious, with more guests. It was the first time we had Sophie Aldred, who is as lovely offstage as on. I remember for her panel none of her video clips would work; as I died slowly of embarrassment the ever-valiant Sophie saved us by leaping to her feet and re-enacting her famous Dalek battering.

It was also my first time working with the wonderful Toby Hadoke (of whom more later) and the first time Charlie Ross was asked (bullied) into MCing the event for me. Charlie became a regular for me and did an amazing job. It was also the first appearance by the godfather of Doctor Who, Terrance Dicks. This event was remarkable because there were no major disasters; learning from our mistakes, we checked the Cavern was clean. Everything went so smoothly that we ended up celebrating our success with a number of adult beverages – I remember at the end of the event being a little worse for wine in the back of a car with Anneke Wills as we tried to direct Tim Hirst back to the hotel. The morning after the event we realised that we had forgotten to pay the hotel and the cash on us was £20 short. Everyone emptied their pockets and we coughed up in coppers…by a couple of pennies the event just broke even.

04 May 2008 – Who at the Cavern 3

Not one Doctor but two this time, in possibly the best line-up of guests I’ve had yet. I would say that, though, because we had Peter Davison, my personal hero and fantasy object. After much chasing, as the Mounties say, I finally got my man! I’d met Peter in the October when he gave me his address and phone number and told me he’d do the gig. Six weeks later, with Peter advertised as attending, I’d still had no word from him. Beginning to sweat, I chased him up and got an e-mail two days later. I was so nervous I closed my eyes as I clicked on the e-mail and had to take a deep breath before I could open them. Thanks be, he was coming – and he asked for my phone number! I had dreamed about that moment since I was a twelve year old girl. I’ve always prided myself on running these events for the fans, but if I’m brutally honest guys, getting Peter was all for me and I was going to enjoy every moment of it. The rest of the guest list was also amazing: Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, Richard Franklin, Terrance Dicks and we also had the last ever convention appearance by the brilliant Barry Letts, who was a lovely man, a gentleman, and a purchaser of very cheap rail tickets.

The morning of the event I was very nervous, even more so as I was going to go on stage with Peter. I had the backing of a fantastic team who kept me mildly sedated. I knew Peter was arriving about two o’clock. The morning went perfectly. As we drew closer to two my heart began thumping. I was petrified. My phone rang and Peter Davison’s name was on the screen. I had to hand the phone to my good friend Jon because I had suddenly – and uniquely – lost the use of my mouth. Peter was lost and Jon & Jamie had to find him and direct him to the Cavern’s underground car park. He arrived, he was great. For one moment it was just Peter and I stood in the car park discussing terms and what was going to happen during the day. He was lovely and I relaxed.

However, when I came into the Green Room I was much ribbed by Colin Baker. “Peter!” he called, “You do know she fancies you, don’t you?”. Thanks Col.

The Green Room was a hive of activity and I had to make the harsh decision of chucking out some people who shouldn’t have been there. It was the first time I ever had to be strict as a convention organiser, but that Green Room was full of hangers-on. When I first started doing these events, there were people who said that it would never happen and that I couldn’t pull it off. One of the happiest days of my life was Cavern 3, seeing those people paying for seats at my event.

This event introduced the Dr v Dr Quiz, which both Colin and Peter took very seriously. At one point I wondered if I’d made a mistake; the last time I saw two Doctors this angry with each other, one of them was the Valeyard. But it worked like a dream, and it became something of a tradition in my events, with Colin my regular champion.

I had to lead Peter onstage. I’m not proud of this, and it was purely by accident, but my hand somehow came to rest on Peter’s lower back. Ten seconds after I realised this, I became aware my hand was still there. In footage of the event I can now see that Peter leaps onto that stage like a greyhound out of a trap, but we had a fantastic panel and Peter even sang Button Moon, which he had never done live before. He told me afterwards that he had a lovely time, and that he really appreciated how I looked after his family, and he told me he’d work with me again. I’m still waiting. I haven’t changed my number, Peter…

Interlude – Summer 2010

Allan and I had exchanged nods a few times at the local monthly Doctor Who group. This time we all made it through the meeting and carried on to a nearby pub. As the beer continued to flow and everyone descended into a state of advanced drunkenness, a member of our group took offence to the way I was standing and started bawling me out. I stood in the middle of a dance floor getting yelled at until Allan staggered across and charmed me over to him with the simple words “What are you doing with that dickhead?” Like all good chat-up lines, the key was in the timing.

03 May 2009 – Who at the Fab Cafe 1

Pissed again! We went to see An Audience with Colin Baker at the Fab Cafe in Manchester. Mike Joyce, the owner of the Fab, knew me from being on the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) committee and invited me to this event. We got talking and I told him I was without a venue, as the Cavern had changed their hire policy. He was looking for someone to produce Doctor Who events for him, and gave me carte blanche and a budget to put an event on. It was different for me having to run everything past someone else rather than being my own boss, but I could relax and not worry about meeting any shortfall with my own money, which has happened in the past. Mark Strickson, my good old mate of twenty years who I had met while bladdered in Manchester, was in the country and available so I signed him up. Also I worked for the first time with Frazer Hines and Sylvester McCoy. The ever-magnificent Colin Baker came back and I matched the Doctors up with their companions. The Doctor vs Doctor Quiz returned with Sylvester taking his first victory.

I hope Sylvester won’t mind me telling this story, but he was not very well at this time and the pain left him a little short-tempered. Little did he know I was also feeling a little out of sorts, as there had been a recent death in the family. Sylvester had been told the wrong time for his panel and he was hanging around and feeling off-colour. Finally his patience ran out and he snapped at me, at which I burst into floods of tears. Instantly he transformed into my knight in shining armour, comforting me and making sure I was OK. He was lovely for the rest of the day – and ever since.

This was the first time we did after-show entertainment where I asked a lot of local comedians who were Doctor Who fans to do a bit of stand-up for me, Who-related or not. I was overwhelmed with the generosity with which they gave up their time. Michael J Dolan, Chris Stokes, Graham Goring, Charlie Ross, Don Woodward and John Cooper, I thank you for a wonderful job. Mark Strickson compered and, at twenty minutes a set, he had plenty of time to find a few pints during the acts. The footage still exists of Mark finding his clipboard more and more confusing as he announces each comic.

A good night was had by all and we ended up dancing the night away at the Fab Cafe disco.

Nov 2009 – Who at the Fab Cafe 2

This event was a challenge as it came hot on the heels of the first Fab Cafe event. It was a great pleasure to work with the much-missed Mary Tamm, ever the lady and very respectful about my NHS work; I remember her saying to me, “you are the real workers, not us”. She also sent one of my underlings out for her specific brand of coffee because she wouldn’t touch instant. I couldn’t help wonder what she’d have made of the stuff in our hospital vending machines.

May 2010 – Who at the Fab Cafe 3

Who at the Fab 3 was the first event I organised that was attended by my hubby-to-be Allan, whom I introduced to the glamour of showbiz by asking him to carry boxes of Big Finish CDs up and down stairs all night. The event went very well, as I was able to explain to him later.

I really enjoyed producing events at the Fab and would like to thank Mike Royce and Phil Perry for giving me such a unique opportunity and a free hand to produce without money worries. I was lucky to have that experience and I always love going back to the Fab Cafe (Portland Street, Manchester, quiz nights Wednesdays at 9) for a few beers and a catch-up.

In 2011 I didn’t do an event. Instead, Allan and I became engaged and so I had a much bigger event to plan: our wedding. Or so he thought…

30 July 2012 – Who at Hoylake

The Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool was doing a show about my favourite football team, Liverpool Football Club (YNWA). I was offered free tickets and went along for an evening of footy-related badinage. After several bottles of red wine I got chatting to Phil Perez, a local actor and the manager of Jack Rabbit Slim’s in Hoylake. He turned out to be a science fiction fan, and as we were swapping stories I told him about the events I had produced. He was immediately keen to get one set up on the Wirral. Under the influence of booze we traded phone numbers and by the time I stumbled home the venue was booked.

Jack’s was a lovely little venue. The event was my first collaboration with Allan as co-producer and so the first where someone was actually looking after the budget! The lovely Colin Baker, who has always been a great supporter of my events, was first to sign up. I also tracked down Chris Jury, who seemed somewhat surprised by my interest but agreed to come nevertheless. Looking to expand the guest list, I turned to my very good friend with Chris Guard. We had hardly ever talked about Who but would text each other whenever LFC (YNWA) and Fulham played. A musician as well as an actor, Chris offered to bring his band and, on being told that I couldn’t pay for them all, gamely volunteered them all to share one family room in what a presume was a sort of tuneful heap. Andy Cartmel also came and always supports the events, although charging us for a bag of apples on his expenses was a bit much. He must have thought so too, because he left them behind.

The DVD of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy came out the day after our event, which was definitely according to plan and not in any way another enormous fluke. Thanks are due to our lovely friends at Who at Blackpool for managing to get the DVD to us for sale on the day; again, not something I managed to think of myself, since I had somehow failed to realise that most of my guests had been in the same episode until they pointed it out.

On the day we arriving at Jack’s at the startling hour of 8am with two hours to go. The venue was locked and deserted: not a cleaner, a manager, no-one in sight. No panic; we’ll get breakfast and come back in a bit.

Forty minutes later we return. Fans are already queuing. The band is waiting to start their sound check. My friends and relations are standing around with chairs and equipment waiting to set up, and the venue is still resolutely locked. A moment of panicked lateral thought: can I relocate the convention to my back yard? Fortunately, Phil answers the phone. He is not happy to be out of bed. He’s not happy? The cleaner, who was supposed to open up, has phoned in sick. Just like all those years ago at the Cavern, I dragged him in, and once again the place is a disaster. Scott, Alex and cousin Mark get down to cleaning the spilt beer and splashed vomit and, with only the briefest of tantrums from Guardy, the show is ready to start.

It was a brilliant event. My future in-laws had their first convention experience. My father-in-law, who had resisted any invitation to join in by protesting that it wasn’t his scene, came for an hour and stayed for the whole event, even joining us for the meal afterwards.

Speaking of the meal…we dropped in first for a pint at the White Lion. The only surviving guests were Mark Strickson and Colin Spaull. We had a private room booked in Kuki’s restaurant with the wine supplied at cost. I made sure Colin and Mark never had an empty glass. I also made sure that I kept up with them. All I know after that is that when we retired hurt (leathered) we left poor old Mr Strickson there with Kuki the mad chef. The next day he texted to ask how he had got himself on a train to Huddersfield. Four years on we still haven’t quite been able to piece this together.

The next year we planned to return to Jack’s. Between our wedding and mum’s diagnosis we’d had a busy and stressful year, but I really wanted to raise some money for Cancer Research, so we did a mini-convention. No Doctor, cheaper tickets, but sales were respectable and everything was going fine until Phil Perez called me at ten o’clock at night around the middle of May. He couldn’t host the event; they’d been asked to do Hoylake’s Festival of Firsts, which was likely to be more profitable. Instead he offered us the choice two venues in Birkenhead, which was like being turned down for a mortgage but offered a choice between moving into a rugby club urinal or a second-hand coffin on a council tip.

A crisis meeting was called – Allan and his parents, Alex and I all descended on the Hilbre to brainstorm. Drink after drink, idea after idea, everything we could think of was shot down until we realised we were going to have to cancel. Overhearing, the Hilbre’s owner, Josie, said – why not have it here?

14 September 2012 – The Floral Pavilion, New Brighton

The blushing bride and the steaming groom finally tie the knot! In a beautiful room at our favourite theatre, we had a humanist wedding in front of our family and friends, who then proceeded to give Allan so much alcohol that he ended up literally unable to work out which end of his body is supposed to use the toilet. We had a great day with fantastic music and then the darkness descended and somewhere there are photos. That’s all I know.

13 July 2013 – Who at the Hilbre 0.5

What a venue, what a stroke of luck. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe that if you throw enough effort at something then the cards must eventually start falling your way. Last year’s event was superb. Fun company, laughter, and all the old atmosphere back. The Hilbre’s friendly staff pulled out all the stops with their breakfast, barbeque and Gallifreyale on tap. For once nothing went wrong. The only story I can tell you is that I loved the sight of Doctor Who celebs and organisers all piled high with bottles of wine from a car boot at the hotel as we prepared for a lovely Indian meal at a bring-yer-booze establishment. Poor Toby Hadoke was taken to task by the manager for trying to order side orders for a main course, as apparently you don’t buy much in the way of customer service if you’re not paying corkage.

All of which brings us to…

28 June 2014 – Who at the Hilbre

The past ten years have been a journey, a learning curve, and a thrombosis waiting to happen. But I have made a few good friends, a few excellently-chosen enemies, and a few cold hard quids for charity. I hope every attendee has had a good time at my events, and I hope I’ve helped put the fun back in fandom. I don’t know if I will manage another ten years – by about the fifth you’d essentially be funding my divorce lawyer – but thank you to all who have bought tickets, all the great guests who have attended, and these select few people who have made it possible: my poor idiot husband Allan, without whose patience, wise words and financial strictness (I wanted four Doctors this year) these events would be impossible to run, as opposed to merely incredibly inadvisable; Jamie Guest and Jon Eke, who have worked on every single event over the ten years and always been unfailingly supportive (except Jamie); Paul and Kathy Griggs, who keep the guests comfortable and topped up with happy juice; John Ross, who gets hammered with requests for website updates day and night, and Sally Kew; Alex (I have seen autograph queues fall apart, but I have never seen one so well-behaved – guests included – as when Alex Nolan is in charge. He has never watched an episode of Doctor Who but does it for friendship of Allan and me, and he was instrumental in finding the Hilbre) and his long-suffering Charlie; Dan & his wife, for helping the events run smoothly and fetching guests; Sandy and Ryan, who have helped a few times when not having important nursing to do (Sandy is famous for once phoning Mark Strickson after seeing him in A Christmas Carol and saying “I didn’t know you were a proper actor, I thought you’d just done Doctor Who” – Mark thanked her and bade her a merry Christmas); my mum and dad for their endless running around and rescuing, and for my mum’s catering skills; my father-in-law Peter, who is always on hand with helpful advice (“Abort! Abort!”) and his amazing driving skills. We couldn’t have done it without him last year after my brother-in-law Robert got food poisoning. Speaking of which, special thanks to Mike Bell, who has helped in all the Wirral events, but last year he went above and beyond, greener than the Jagaroth but lasting the whole event only to miss the after-show drinks. Those two fine gentleman got food poisoning after eating the fish at the Hilltop pub on Black Horse Hill in West Kirby, so be warned. Thanks to Andy Smith, Brian Gorman and Scott Burditt for their help on the early events. The luminaries of Who Blackpool, Dave and Kath, always come and support the events, supply cracking raffle prizes and I always get a birthday present as well, which is very much not to be sniffed at. Thank you to Karen and Paul at DWAS for fulfilling the most obscure briefs for my videos, be it a countdown to Kylie or Doctor Who set to will.i.am (Allan’s favourite appalling noisemaker). Thanks be to two newbies in the fold, Glen Allan who helped with editing and our fantastic trailers, and our newest recruit / victim, Paul Grant, who has been fizzing with ideas and has done all the lighting today amongst much else. A big thank you to my splendid interviewers: Charlie Ross, who has been at most of my events and worked hard and always done a good job; Toby Hadoke, again giving up his time to interview, MC and do whatever else is thrust upon him; and special thanks to John Cooper, who has always done a fantastic job for me. Last but not least, big thanks to Mr Colin Baker, who has done nearly all of our events. We never get tired of hearing his tales and he is always welcome. Many thanks as well to Mr Spaull, who is always on hand to give us advice and alcohol and advice that is slightly tainted by alcohol.

Last but by no means incidentally, a big thank you to you all for coming and giving us a reason to put these events together, and for all your generous contributions to the charity fund each year. Thank you for keeping us going. Here’s to the next twelve incarnations, the next twelve anniversaries, and the next twelve months.

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