Have you ever spotted a gaggle of teenagers inexplicably standing outside a hotel in an extremely excitable huddle? Or witnessed young men and women wildly weeping because they’ve spotted a celeb on the street?
These are the people we tend to label ‘superfans’, that select few who’ve crossed the line between adoration and obsession and go out of their way to get that bit closer to their idols. There’s little they aren’t willing to do to breathe the same air.
To the outsider like Harry Potter actor Tom Felton – who met a few dedicated individuals for BBC3 documentary Tom Felton Meets The Superfans earlier this week – such enthusiasm and obsession can prove difficult to understand. But when you’ve spent your teens going to extremes, it’s easy to see how someone slips into that totally devoted state.
Superfans aren’t ‘freaks’, as Felton discovered on his travels. In fact, they’re just like you and I.
Much like Harry Potter superfan Steve (whose Boy Who Lived basement shrine was visited by Felton), I was picked on in secondary school. “Being the small skinny nerd who loved to dance and didn’t play baseball” made Steve the prime target and I found myself in a somewhat similar position just a decade ago.
My own experience resulted in my leaving full time education for a year, during which my parents were desperate to see me happy. They were so desperate, in fact, that they were more than willing to find the time and money to bring me to Manchester to meet my favourite band, McFly, at an album signing.
Little did they know, they’d set me on a road to superfandom that would involve waiting for Busted outside hotels in Dublin and later the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, another trip to Manchester to meet McFly, an endless number of concert tickets, hoards of merchandise and even – I hang my head in hindsight-induced shame – staying with friends in the same hotel as the band on one occasion.
Why did I do it? Well, to fill a void, if I’m honest. Daniel Radcliffe hit the nail on the head when he explained to his former co-star in the BBC3 doc: “You account for a large part of somebody’s life”.
Potter superfan Steve identified with Harry because he too felt like an outsider. Another of the boy wizard’s fans, Jade – whom Felton encountered at a convention and decided to meet with for a chat – said it was the opportunity to “escape into their world” amid a battle with depression that sent her down the superfan route.
For me, McFly and Busted songs about being “the loser kid” rang true, while Danny Jones’ Not Alone became the most therapeutic track any depressed 15-year-old girl could listen to. The urge to tell the people who wrote the songs just how much they’d helped quickly became uncontrollable.
“What separates the passionate from the obsessive?” Felton asked. I’d argue it’s that need to find a connection and feel as though you’re a part of something bigger. In the past 24 hours, One Direction fans have found comfort and support among their fellow Directioners, and the same can be said when it comes to other fan groups. They almost function like a family.
When I went back to school and made new friends, my obsessive love for Busted and McFly began to wane. Within a year I was barely listening to them any more and my teenage bank account was back in the black.
Ten years on, with my confidence restored and my priorities as close to straight as they’re ever going to be, I look back and chuckle at my teenage self, wondering how on earth an average girl thought devoting herself to people she didn’t even know was a good idea.
And I do it all while rationally and calmly counting down the days to that McBusted gig I have tickets for in April…