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An experience well-worth the sacrifice

Maija Gustin | Monday, February 28, 2011

LONDON — An alarm at 5 a.m. is never a pleasant sound. Your body is literally jolted awake and you find yourself faced with the ultimate test: “Do I really want to get up now so that I can do that thing I told myself I really wanted to do last night?” More often than not, the answer is no. Most things aren’t worth that feeling of being cold, groggy and miserable.

The Orange British Academy Film Awards (otherwise known as the BAFTAs) are. The equivalent of the Oscars in the United Kingdom, the BAFTAs are a star-studded annual event meant to celebrate the best in the year of film. And I got to go.

Well, not quite. But at 5 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 13, Observer writer Molly Madden and myself trekked across London in the cold and the drizzle to stand in a queue to get on the BAFTA red carpet. Two and a half hours later, we walked away from the Royal Theatre on Drury Lane with gold BAFTA wristbands and a new lease on life.

After a much-needed nap and a little recharging, we made our way back to Covent Garden to stand in line again, this time for the actual red carpet. The next four hours of our lives would be devoted to celebrity stalking and jostling with crowds for autographs and photos of film’s finest.

The experience was surreal. Waiting on the red carpet was hard. It was cold, it was rainy, and there were no celebrities in sight. I had a brief, disquieting thought: “Is this going to be worth all the trouble?”

I soon ate my blasphemous words. The early trickle of celebrities was slow, but you can bet I perked right up when I saw Rachel Stevens from old favorite S Club 7. And the next major celeb to show up made it all worth it: Rupert Grint, or Ron Weasley from “Harry Potter.”

My first autograph came from Bonnie Wright, the actress who plays Ron’s sister, Ginny. I owe a special thank you to another Observer staffer for giving me the book that is now filled with autographs. Suzanna Pratt, I owe you.

The rest of the night was a whirlwind. Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton walked in together. Tom Ford was standing right in front of me, and by screaming his name, I not only got the first autograph, but started the crowd-wide freak-out as well. Someone asked Jesse Eisenberg to Facebook him, but Andrew Garfield ran past before I could get a picture. I had my second run-in with Colin Firth since I’ve been here. I reached the pinnacle of my childhood dreams when J.K. Rowling was standing five feet away from me (even though I sadly didn’t get an autograph).

I didn’t get to say more than “thanks” to any celebrity, and my voice was hoarse afterwards from screaming their names all night. But it was worth every missed hour of sleep and every ounce of energy used fighting the raucous crowd. It wasn’t about the autographs or the photos, though. It was about the magical energy that raced through everyone in the vicinity of the red carpet as these people, more than mere celebrities, walked past us on their way to Britain’s biggest celebration of movies. To a film-lover and FTT major like myself, just being there was more than enough.