I’ve attended pretty much every Bafta TV awards ceremony for the past twenty years but I have yet to learn one big crucial lesson – never arrive early.
My pathological fear of being late for anything means my taxi is always one of the first to roll up at the end of the red carpet, and there’s no shame like the shame of that long, long cushioned walk where all you can hear is the sound of the blood rushing in your ears while hundreds of TV fans and showbusiness writers realise that you’re no one worth bothering with.
Still, arriving before everyone else has its compensations. Loitering before the doors to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane opened last night (I decided not to make that solitary walk of shame after all), I caught close-up glimpses of the polished and the famous.
David Harewood stunned us with his beauty (and that suit! Oh, such style), so much so that I could hear one woman in the crowd screaming “DAAAAVVEEEEEEED!! DAAAAAVEEED!” It sounded like she was drowning and needed his very specific rescue skills.
Having found a friend to lead me into the theatre, we ended up on its packed outdoor balcony, clutching plastic glasses of champagne as we leaned over the railing, watching the arrivals, and in my case, spotting bald patches on actors’ heads.
After queuing for what seemed like three hours for the loo, I said a quick hello to Amanda Abbington, who I like a lot and who should have her own Mr Selfridge spin off with Miss Mardle, and took my seat, watching as Ant and Dec took selfies (they looked delighted, and this was before they’d even won two awards). We were told to put our mobiles to silent and a producer made the standard plea to winners – keep your speeches short. You won’t have seen it on television, but there was a little countdown clock on the lectern, ruthlessly timing those emotional outpourings.
It’s always a long night. The television broadcast is two hours, but we were in our seats for three hours, with just a warm bottle of water and a box of three teeny-tiny chocolate representations of the Bafta mask to keep us from passing out from hunger.
There were surprises, there always are: Sarah Lancashire not winning best actress for Happy Valley, and the little BBC4 comedy The Detectorists taking best comedy, with a bewildered-looking Matt Berry winning for C4’s Toast of London.
There were poignant moments: best actor Jason Watkins dedicating his award for The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies to his own late daughter, and Clive James, his voice hoarse and ravaged by illness, still showing that spark and twinkle as he accepted a special award, though on film, as he was too unwell to attend.
And throughout a young ‘reality’ star sitting in the row in front of me was highlighted by the glow of her mobile as she checked Instagram pictures of herself taken on the red carpet. Have some manners, love.
Later, at dinner in the gigantic Great Room at the Grosvenor House hotel, I congratulated a delighted Steven Moffat, clutching the Radio Times Audience Award for Sherlock, and had a few words of commiseration for Keeley Hawes, best actress nominee for Line of Duty, though she didn’t need them. She and her husband Matthew Macfadyen (who told me he has yet to watch his own Enfield Haunting, currently on Sky Living) were happy and chatty.
So, after eating a full three course dinner at 11pm (“smoked daube of beef” mmmmm) we stumbled into the night, running the gauntlet of the kind of people who wait outside hotels for hours, clutching autographs books. Though not for the likes of me, obviously.