Saturday, 7 May 2016

Em-Con 2016 - A Detailed Review

Guests met and discussed in this review :-

• Austin St. John (Jason from “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers”)
• Peter Davison (5th Doctor from “Doctor Who”)
• Sylvester McCoy (7th Doctor from “Doctor Who”)
• Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra from “Doctor Who”)
• Catrin Stewart (Jenny from “Doctor Who”)
• Shaun Parkes (Zachary Cross Flane from “Doctor Who”)
• David Bradley (Walder Frey from “Game Of Thrones” and Argus Filch from “Harry Potter”)
• Joe Altin (Pyp from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Ian Beattie (Ser Meryn Trant from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Dominic Carter (Janos Slynt from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Hannah Waddingham (Septa Unella from “Game Of Thrones”)
• Lew Temple (Axel from “The Walking Dead”)

Two quick notes before we get started...

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With that being said, let’s dive in...

Two days removed from my first ever appearance at “Em-Con” (that’s “East Midlands Con”), I’m ready to sit down, gather my thoughts, and explore the wonderful, wacky day I had. “Em-Con” took place over the weekend of the 30th of April and the 1st of May (I was there on May 1st only), in the wonderful Motorpoint Arena, Nottingham. This was my first time at “Em-Con”, my first time at the Motorpoint Arena, and I believe my first time in Nottingham as well, so everything was shiny and new, which is an interesting comparison to last weekend’s “Wales Comic Con”, where everything was familiar and held previous memories. This was Lee and the Em-Con team’s third version of the event, so I went in with high expectations, but also expecting some teething issues. Obviously, companies such as “Showmasters”, “MCM”, and even “Wales Comic Con” have been doing this a long time, so they’ve had years and years to tweak their system and listen to attendee feedback. The line-up for the event was surprisingly stacked for a company that’s been around for such a short time and consisted of big names such as Walter Koenig, Austin St. John, David Bradley, and former ‘The Doctor’ actors, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy. Walter and Austin were particularly big wins for Em-Con as both are quite rare guests...and I imagine come with quite a hefty price tag too.

As predicted, Em-Con was a great event and I had a lot of fun, especially with the guest interactions, but it did have some teething issues, which I’ll get out of the way now so that we can enjoy the more positive aspects of the convention for the rest of the review. Firstly, oh good Lord, the selfie charges. I know that selfie charges are creeping into conventions all around the United Kingdom right now (curse you, America!), so it’s something that we’re all going to have to deal with, but they’re a right pain in the fucking ass. If you’re meeting 10 people and all are now charging £5 for selfies, that’s an extra £50 on top of what you’d have been paying a couple of years ago. I absolutely understand and agree with selfie charges if an attendee approaches the guest and wants a selfie without actually paying for anything, as that’s quite cheeky and the guests need to make money, but I feel that if you’re paying for an autograph already, a quick three-second picture shouldn’t come with an additional charge too. It just comes across as greedy. If I must pay for a selfie, I think £5 should be the maximum amount charged. It’s not a professional, studio quality picture you’re getting; it’s not taking up a lot of the guest’s time. It’s a swift snap with a mobile phone. For instance, Peter Davison (who is a bigger name) was charging £10 for a selfie, or £5 if you were getting an autograph as well (it’s called a ‘combo’ package). That seems fair to me, even though I dislike selfie charges on principle. However, when someone (*cough* Austin St. John *cough*) is charging £30 for a damn selfie, something is clearly wrong with the system. For those keeping track, a selfie with Austin St. John cost the same amount as a professional studio photo. That’s simply ridiculous. Why would anyone even bother getting a selfie for that price? That’s greedy, and quite frankly disrespectful to your fans that could have travelled hundreds of miles and already spent a lot of money just to get to you. If you are going to charge £5 for a selfie, be like Joe Altin. He came around the desk to take the selfie (so that you’re stood next to each other instead of leaning over a desk), he was appreciative, and he checked that the picture turned out well. To put it simply, he cared. More on that later.

Secondly, communication. I’m talking about a very specific example here, as overall I think Em-Con’s communication was good, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Case in point: Miltos Yerolemou. Now, I know Miltos a little personally, and he’s one of the most friendly, energetic, passionate men I’ve met. Just a sweetheart of a man. Miltos was scheduled to attend “Wales Comic Con” and “Em-Con”, but had to pull out of both after being cast in “King Lear” in Manchester. That was in February. While Miltos didn’t cancel straight away as he was trying to arrange his schedule and see if it was possible, he did give both conventions a couple of weeks notice that he wouldn’t be attending (I won’t reveal my source, but it’s as reliable as it gets). “Wales Comic Con” announced Miltos’ cancellation, Em-Con never did. They still haven’t, actually. I had friends that travelled 200 miles just to meet Miltos, only to arrive at the venue on Saturday morning and be told that Miltos wasn’t there. You need to communicate cancellations with your attendees. To be fair to Em-Con, I believe they communicated every other cancellation as swiftly as they could, but you need a 100% success record with situations such as this. People had paid for studio photos, people had paid for ‘water dancing’ classes (read: sword fighting), and were showing up expecting Miltos to be there. That’s unacceptable.

Finally, studio photos. Well, this might not be a problem yet, I’ll have to wait until the downloadable .jpeg versions are ready before knowing for sure. Basically, I had five professional studio photos at Em-Con. Two in photo area A and three in photo area B. The three from photo area B turned out perfectly. The two from photo area A are dreadful. As in I’ve never seen worse studio photos in my life dreadful. While the photo area B ones are well-lit, perfectly in focus, and everything you’d expect from a photo that cost you £10-£30, the ones from photo area A are dark, the contrast is all off, and they’re blurry. Now, I’m not going to get too annoyed about this yet, as this could be an issue with the printer, not the photo. I’ve bought high quality .jpeg versions of my photos before and printed them through Tesco or Asda, only for them to be delivered darker and blurrier than the ones that were printed for me at the event. If this is a printer issue, I can live with it as the high quality .jpegs are free at Em-Con after the event, which is a big plus for them as they usually cost £4-£5 each elsewhere. If this is a photo issue, it’s nowhere near good enough and I will be asking for a partial refund on both that were taken in photo area A because my camera phone pictures are a significantly better quality. I’ll keep you updated once the .jpegs are available.

Now, let’s look at the positives instead, as there certainly are some! Firstly, the crew were all terrific. All the photoshoots I attended ran on time, which is very, very rare at conventions. In fact, it’s so common for things to be running late, it has its own name, ‘Con Time’. ‘Con Time’ runs 15 minutes behind regular time. I’ve attended over 60 conventions in my life, and I can count on one hand the events where everything started more or less at the allotted time. Kudos to Em-Con for this. It makes planning your day a lot easier. I have O.C.D., and I plan things down to the letter. I create a detailed plan for myself for every convention, which is broken down into 15-minute intervals. I know what time everyone’s photoshoot is, even if I’m not getting one. I know what time all the talk panels are, even if I’m not attending. This is simply to know when the guests I want will be away from their autograph table (barring their lunch break). If one photoshoot starts 20 minutes late, it has a domino effect. Sometimes a very stressful one. I cannot overstate how important it is for things to run on time if you have a lot of people to meet, which I inevitably always seem to. In addition, it was clear that Lee and the team tried really hard to make the event as great as they possibly could. They brought in numerous Daleks, Cybermen, a zombie cage (with live actors playing zombies), the Impala from “Supernatural”, a TARDIS, many other vehicles, many other displays and photo opportunities, most (or all?) of which were free. Let’s not lie here. Em-Con don’t have the budget of a Showmasters or MCM. They can’t bring over Michael J. Fox or Sigourney Weaver. So they’re clearly trying to make the show as great and unique as possible in other ways, which is nice to see. You don’t need to bring in Michael J. Fox as long as you’ve got some decent guests and are trying as hard as you possibly can. That’s the most any attendee can ask for. For a third-time event, it was impressive.

Furthermore, the Motorpoint Arena is a great venue. It’s big, but not too big. There’s plenty of space to move around without being squished, there’s a nice, wide aisle way in the middle of the main hall, and you can stretch your arms without knocking into people. I’m not used to many conventions where it doesn’t feel like a cattle market, so this was a pleasant change of pace. The entry queues were also fantastic. Doors opened promptly at 10am, as scheduled, and we were through and in to the venue within 60 seconds. Very, very impressive. I’ve mentioned before that the crew were fantastic, but a particularly large shout-out has to be given to a few people. Firstly, to the relatively short man with glasses running around the photo areas, you were terrific. Funny, relaxed, and organised. The crew member with Joe Altin was also great, as was the crew member with Dominic Carter. I’m usually running around at conventions so much that I barely register individual crew members unless I know them already, but all three of these stood out as particularly lovely or efficient. However, as I’ve said before, every crew member was terrific at this event. Not a rude or incompetent person in the bunch.

There was clearly more good than bad here, but it’s my duty to offer constructive criticism where I feel it needs to be addressed, so I hope the communication issues can be addressed for the future. The selfie charges is usually down to the guest, not the convention organisers, so that’s more aimed at the convention scene as a whole, and the photo quality issue might not be an issue, so time will tell with that one. Overall, from an organisation and efficiency standpoint, Em-Con did well. Especially for a company still in their relative infancy.

So, let’s get into the actual play-by-play of the day, shall we? Yes, that’s right, all the above was just the introduction. To my faithful readers, what did you expect? To my new readers, when I say ‘detailed review’ in the title, I mean it. I offer you energy drinks and cookies to keep you alert for the remainder of the review.

My friends Clare, Kim, and I departed a surprisingly crisp Gloucestershire at 7am on Sunday morning, ready to arrive at the Motorpoint Arena at just after 9am. In a shocking and unexpected turn of events, everything went to schedule! What kind of bizarro world have I entered here?! We left pretty much on time, we got there pretty much on time, and we were in the entry queue right around the time I wanted to be...someone pinch me? I have insomnia, so I can’t be dreaming...hallucinating, perhaps? We queued, we entered. I’m sure you’re aware of how these things work. After getting inside the venue, the first thing I did was head over to the photo tickets area to buy my studio photo with Neve McIntosh, who seemed too rare and too lovely to pass up the opportunity. I saw the merchandise kiosk next to the photo sales area, so made a mental note to collect my gold pass perks a little later in the day (a pen, an Em-Con art print, etc). Later in the day, of course, I forgot. I never did collect them. Shangel, you’re a fucking moron. Should have got them then. Really should have got them then. In my defence, I was too excited to enter the main hall and start meeting the guests.

My itinerary for the day was relatively easy compared to the chaotic schedule I’d written for myself the previous weekend for “Wales Comic Con”. This was partially because I had a gold ticket for Em-Con and could therefore queue jump in the photoshoots and partially because “Wales Comic Con” had double the attendees and therefore double the queue lengths for the guests. I had five studio photos to get through – “Game Of Thrones” group photo, Joe Altin, David Bradley, Austin St. John, and Neve McIntosh, in addition to twelve autographs to get through – Austin St. John, David Bradley, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, Lew Temple, Shaun Parkes, Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, Joe Altin, Dominic Carter, Ian Beattie, and Hannah Waddingham. With a gold pass and seven hours, I was fairly comfortable with my goals. This event was particularly odd for me in that my usual photographers, Hannah and/or John, were both unavailable for this event. My substitute photographer, Dom, pulled out 12 hours before departure. This left me with nobody to take my pictures with the guests at the autograph tables, barring the crew members. Thankfully, as I was travelling up with my friends Clare and Kim, Clare graciously offered to take them for me between various autographs and merchandise hunting of her own. That was one stress out of the way! As I intended to meet Austin and David first, and didn’t need selfies with either of them, Clare and Kim went off merchandise hunting, while I looked for David Bradley and Austin St. John. Austin wasn’t at his autograph table yet, but David was. Just as I was thinking of a plan of action for meeting David, I spotted my friend Gareth, so chatted to him for a while before queuing up to meet David. Now, Gareth and David have a unique bond anyway, as Gareth had a studio photo taken with David years ago that went viral. The “Game Of Thrones” fans amongst you will recognise it as the one where Gareth and David are looking at a copy of ‘Wedding Planning For Dummies’. It’s hilarious and totally unique...or was #CopycatConning.

David Bradley: Where to start with David. For a ‘bigger guest’, David is very talkative. As far as I could see, David was the only guest all day who had a big queue from opening until an hour or so before closing. He’s played an important role in three separate, huge fandoms (“Game Of Thrones”, “Doctor Who”, “Harry Potter”), so it’s no wonder he’s a popular guest. Yet, he still takes the time to talk to you. Ironically, my longest conversation with David took place later in the day (more on that then), but this one was still decent. I always take a little while to warm up at conventions, so the first guest I meet is always a touch more awkward than the rest, but David was a great first choice because he’s already such a talkative and friendly man that it puts you at ease. David confirmed to me that “Game Of Thrones” has overtaken “Harry Potter” as the fandom which he gets recognised for the most and the one which people talk to him about the most. Gotta be honest, I thought “Harry Potter” would still be ahead at the moment, but that’s not the case. I guess it’s because Walder Frey played such a huge part in arguably the biggest moment in the show’s history thus far, the Red Wedding. Before the convention, David was confirmed by HBO as returning for season six, so I told him that I was excited to see him back and see what the show has in store for him, especially as the show and the books are basically up to the same point now. This is where David may have, accidentally, let out a little spoiler. It’s not really a spoiler, but if you don’t want to know anything at all, skip this bold section – *mild spoiler warning* David said it was great to be back in the same set with pretty much all the same people as when he was last in the show a few years ago. However, he did say that there was someone new working with him, who he wasn’t expecting to be there. My personal speculation is Jaime, as the show might do Jaime’s Riverlands arc from the books *end of mild spoilers*.

Also my personal speculation, but I’m expecting Walder Frey to get killed off this season...perhaps that’s just wishful thinking on my part, but it’s about time someone offed that foul, loathsome little cockroach. We talked about “Game Of Thrones” and “Harry Potter” for a while longer before I drew attention to Gareth and David remembered the photoshoot that the two took together. As a threesome (...I just had strange mental images as I typed that...), we discussed the wonderful world of Twitter, viral photoshoots, and chatted a little more casually, before myself and Gareth both thanked David, shook his hand, and departed. Still one of my favourite guests ever. If you get the opportunity to meet David, do yourself a favour and go for it. Guest type = Conversationalist.

*Goes to copy and paste my explanation from other reviews*

“But Shangel, you’re speaking in riddles! What the feck is a ‘responder’?”

I’m glad you asked, random voice in my head.

A few years back, after attending many conventions, I devised a system whereby to categorise my experiences with guests and their level of interaction in order to compare the quality of my experiences across conventions and time. I have O.C.D., shut up. The following three types were found :-

·        The Responder: This type of guest is often polite and friendly. If you ask them a question, they’ll happily answer. If you comment on something, they’ll respond or smile gratefully. However, they won’t carry the conversation forward, you have to. These are the most common type of guest, and this is what you expect when meeting someone at a convention. This is a great category to be a part of.

·        The Groucho/Big Guest: There are two aspects to this category. Firstly, you have the groucho. The groucho is there for monetary purposes or is generally just having a bad day, or is a bit of an ass. If you meet enough people, one of them is bound to be an ass! The grouchos aren’t interested in conversations above a few words. They’ll say ‘hi’ (sometimes they don’t bother with that), sign, say ‘bye’ (sometimes), and you’re on your merry way. Of course, in certain situations this is relevant and expected, which brings me to the second part of this category, the big guest. Some guests are going to be insanely popular. Such as Stan Lee at LFCC ‘14, who had an entire building to himself basically. When you get a huge queue like that, the guest can’t take a lot of time with everyone. If they did, many people would go home disappointed at not getting to meet them at all. Therefore, the convention company and the guest want to get through as many people as possible. You cannot have a huge guest and expect to get above a minute with them, which is perfectly fair.

·        The Conversationalist: This is easily my favourite type of guest. They’ll answer your questions with a smile, ask you questions in return, and are happy to chat for an extended period of time (extended = above 2-3 minutes), regardless of where the conversation leads or how long you’ve been talking. Obviously, there has to be some cut-off point if there is a queue behind you, but you leave the experience feeling euphoric and like you gained a lot more than just the autograph you queued for.

Feel free to let me know your experiences with guests in the comments! You can even borrow my categories to label them, like jars on a shelf.

With David met, myself and Gareth headed over to say “hi” to Dan, a friend of ours who happens to be the agent for a number of guests, including Ian Beattie and Andrew Lee Potts from this particular convention. You can find the Facebook page for his guests and their apperances here. I still need to meet Ben Hawkey and Fintan McKeown, bud! Get them to Cardiff, Wrexham, or LFCC! Dan even managed to add Dominic Carter and Hannah Waddingham to his growing list of “Game Of Thrones” actors. More on those lovely people later. Check out the page, like the page, and keep your eyes peeled for when his clients will be attending a convention near you in the future.

Austin St. John: While Gareth chatted to Hannah Waddingham, I headed back over to Austin’s autograph table, where he was now sat, looking relaxed and flirting with his crew member. Now, while Austin was perfectly nice and talked for a couple of minutes, this was the only guest I met all day that was a bit of a letdown. What you must keep in mind is that I was a huge “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” fan. MMPR, Star Wars, and wrestling all entered my life right around the same time when I was very young, but I believe that MMPR just about beat the other two. Therefore, Jason from MMPR was my first ever hero in life. As a three or four year old child, I wanted to be Jason. Incidentally, the Pink Ranger, Kimberley, was my first ever crush in life. Me and a whole generation of people. Austin was a friendly guy, but it was clear that he was there for monetary purposes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure most of the guests are to some extent, but they at least try to hide it a little better. £30 for a selfie? C’mon, dude. So, we chatted about MMPR, we chatted about conventions allowing Austin to stay in touch with people from the show, even 20 years later. We discussed the imminent movie reboot, and Austin joked that it would have been harder to concentrate on set if Rita was played by Elizabath Banks in the original television show. We also discussed the adult mini-sode with Katee Sackhoff and James Van Der Beek, “Power/Rangers”, which Austin wasn’t such a fan of. He thought that it was very well acted and technically looked brilliant, but he thought that it wasn’t the message that the Power Rangers was all about, and wasn’t a fan of Zack, the Black Ranger, being a drug addict – “a bit too stereotypical”. Ironically, Austin’s views perfectly mirrored those of Jason David Frank, the original Green/White Ranger and his arch nemesis. I asked Austin why he took 15 years out of acting to become a paramedic, and the conversation took an unexpectedly dark, intense turn, as Austin started talking about 70% of the people he tried to save dying, talking about obese people, and talking about transitioning from a fictional hero to trying to be a real one. It was very admirable of him to do that, so big kudos to Austin! The conversation we did have was pleasant enough, I just got the vibe from him that he was more interested in flirting and making money than he was meeting his fans. I could be wrong, but that’s how I felt. Austin asked if I wanted a selfie before I left. I explained that I didn’t need one, as I had a professional photo – for the same price – later in the day. £30? For a selfie? A-no, thank you. Guest type = Responder.

Next up, two former versions of ‘The Doctor’, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy. I met up with Clare and Kim again, as Clare also wanted to meet them both, before heading over to Peter Davison.

Peter Davison: I actually had a studio photo with Peter, Sylvester, and Jemma Redgrave a week earlier at “Wales Comic Con”, but didn’t have time to get Peter and Sylvester’s autographs (I got Jemma’s though!). As I knew that Peter and Sylvester were both at Em-Con the following weekend, their autographs went to the back of my priority list. I have a confession to make. When it comes to the classic “Doctor Who” episodes, Peter was my favourite. That’s right, it wasn’t Tom Baker. It was Peter. While I greatly prefer the revived version of the show from 2005 onwards, I do have some affection for classic “Doctor Who” as well. After talking about classic Who for a while, we started discussing “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot”, which is a 30-minute comedy starring Peter, Sylvester, and Colin Baker, revolving around the three former Doctors trying to get into the 50th anniversary special. Peter wrote the whole thing and it’s absolutely hilarious. There are so many cameos from “Doctor Who” actors and production staff, so many laugh out loud moments...I urge you to check it out right after finishing this review. Even if you’re not a Whovian you’ll get a kick out of it. If you are a Whovian, you’ll appreciate it anyway.

I can confirm that Peter is mulling over the ideas for a sequel, but is undecided at this present time. I hope he gets around to making another one! We also discussed conventions as a whole, as Peter gets to hang out with Sylvester, Colin Baker, and other “Doctor Who” actors that he might not be able to without them. His daughter, Georgia Moffett, was in Doctor Who’s “The Doctor’s Daughter”, and played a cloned daughter of the 10th Doctor’s. The 10th Doctor was, of course, David Tennant, who Georgia went on to marry. That’s right, people. The 5th Doctor’s real life daughter married the 10th Doctor, who played her father in the show. Furthermore, Peter (real surname ‘Moffett’) told me that his son is good friends with Steven Moffat’s son. I swear, “Doctor Who” is one big incestuous family. I love it. I grabbed a picture with Peter at the autograph table, which only cost £5 as I bought an autograph. Totally worth the money, and a lovely conversation to boot.  Guest type = Responder.

Sylvester McCoy: Mad as a hatter. Lovely, hilarious, friendly, but undeniably mad. Later in the day, I saw him chasing a little girl around the venue who’d ran away with his walking stick. I should probably clarify, chasing in a funny way, not a “get back here, you little shit!” way. I started our conversation by talking about “An Evening With Sylveste McCoy”, which was a play he used to perform many years ago, which involved stunts, such as setting his head on fire and putting nails up his nose...charming, no? Tell me that’s not loveable family entertainment! Sylvester talked about the show’s existence and what it was like performing dangerous stunts in front of people in a live crowd setting. Some of the clips are on YouTube if you wish to check them out. Then, of course, we talked about “Doctor Who” and “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot”. In many ways it echoed my conversation with Peter, as they have such similar franchise experiences and I’ve always seen them around together. Just like Peter before him, Sylvester was talkative, friendly, and remained standing for our entire conversation, choosing to sign the 8” x 10” on top of his suitcase, which he was using as a makeshift table on top of his autograph table. I don’t know if he simply prefers standing or if he wants to be eye-level with his fans, but it was a nice touch. I also grabbed a quick picture with him at the autograph table for £5. Also totally worth it. You can tell that Sylvester is a convention expert, as he gets the photographer to give him a countdown to when the picture will be taken. That way he can make sure he’s laughing at the exact right moment. The picture turned out great. A seasoned old pro and a right laugh as well. Guest type = Responder.

By this point, it was approaching midday, so I headed over to the photoshoot area (photo areas ‘A’ and ‘B’ are right next to each other, which is convenient), ready for four back-to-back photos. One thing I loved about Em-Con is that Lee created a very detailed layout map for attendees, which made finding things very, very easy. Have a look...

Pretty cool, right? Everything you can think of is right there in front of you.

When it comes to photoshoots, there’s not much to say. They’re a very simple process. You queue, you get to the front, you say “hi”, smile, the photo is taken, you thank the guest, you leave. Nice, easy, relaxed, organised...usually, anyway. The first surprise of the day came during my first photoshoot, with Joe Altin. I believe I was the first person in Joe’s photoshoot and when Joe saw me, he recognised me, even though we’ve never met! That was awesome. Due to there being 15 minutes for photoshoots (some more than that), I had some time to chat with Joe before the picture was taken. I instantly liked Joe very much because of how humble, friendly, and appreciative he was. He’ll shake your hand, hug you, thank you, and acts more like a mate than a ‘celebrity’. Total legend of a man, and one of my favourite guests I’ve ever met. We talked about our string of bad luck in meeting each other so far, with Joe having to cancel a “Wales Comic Con” event before, while I missed “Destiny Rides Again” last December. More on Joe later. The photo was taken, it turned out great, and I rejoined the same photo area queue as David Bradley was right after Joe. David’s started just a little later than expected because David needed a quick break, but everything was done and dusted before the allotted time was up. Another great photo! It actually turned out better than the photo I had with David at “LFCC” last summer. It’s my new favourite photo with David of the three I have. Once again, I rejoined the back of the same queue straight away as right after David was the “Game Of Thrones” group photo with Joe, David, Ian Beattie, Hannah Waddingham, and Dominic Carter. I had a little joke with Ian before the photo was taken, then it was time to bounce straight across to photo area A for my photo with Austin St. John. Once again, everything started on time, and it was a very easy, quick process. Em-Con, like most independent convention companies in the United Kingdom, doesn’t have instant photo printing. It takes an hour or so for them to be developed and then you collect them later in the day. Gareth collected his Hannah Waddingham and “Game Of Thrones” group photos a little while later, we said goodbye, and he departed for the day. Meanwhile, I re-met up with Clare and Kim so that I could get the rest of my autographs done. For those of you keeping track, I had eight autographs left to get before my final photoshoot with Neve at 3:45pm. That gave me about two and a half hours to get the autographs done. No worries!...Right? Neve, not at her desk. Catrin, not at her desk. All 4 of the “Game Of Thrones” guests, not at their desks. Lew, not at his desk. This could get problematic. No worries, Shaun Parkes is there!

Shaun Parkes: I’d briefly walked past Shaun a little earlier in the day and he yelled “Alright mate! How’re you doing?!”, as he remembered me from our meeting the previous weekend. I told him that I’d come over and say “hi” later. Shaun is probably the easiest guest to talk to that I’ve met. An argument could be made for a few others, Joe Altin included, but Shaun is definitely near the top of the list. He can talk for England, he’s always laughing and smiling, and he’s an absolute joy to be around. Hilariously, as we’d talked so much about his career the previous weekend, we had more general conversations, and covered topics such as sci-fi shows, conventions, superheroes, “The Walking Dead”, Andrew Lincoln (Shaun went to drama school with him), David Tennant, Matt Smith, James Bond, fashion, and selfie charges. It was probably my longest conversation of the day and must have lasted a good 10-15 minutes. Plus, Shaun is only a £10 guest and doesn’t charge for selfies if you’re getting an autograph. Go and meet him. He does a couple of conventions a year, and you should all meet him. You won’t be disappointed. Plus, he covers so many fandoms and has worked with pretty much everyone, so he’s full of interesting trivia facts and stories. Grabbed a pic with him too! Guest Type = Conversationalist. One of the best guests to meet on the circuit, bar none.

Joe Altin: By the time I’d finished talking to Shaun, Joe was back at his autograph table. I saw signs up for Dominic, Hannah, and Ian saying that they’d all be back from lunch at 1:30pm, so I thought it’d give me a good conversation with Joe and by the time it was finished, the other “Game Of Thrones” guests would be back and I could just work my way down the row. Joe is mates with Lee, so Joe is obviously a big supporter of Em-Con and everything that goes along side it. I must say, coming into the event, even though Austin St. John was my first hero, the two people I was most excited to meet was Joe and Neve McIntosh. I’m a huge fan of Pyp, Joe’s character from “Game Of Thrones”, but even more so I’m a fan of Joe Altin the human being. Just from the interactions I’ve had with him before this event and seeing his personality shine through on social media, I could tell that Joe was going to be amazing. He was. In addition to being effortlessly friendly and cool, Joe is inspirational. He’s always posting about chasing your dreams, staying positive, and being mentally strong. I take such inspiration from Joe on a weekly basis, so it was truly magical to get to meet him face-to-face. While Joe was talking to the family in front of me in the queue, I was sharing a joke with his crew member. One of the children in the family recognised Joe but wasn’t sure what from, so Joe was going through IMDB with the family to discover what it was. Again, going the extra mile. When it was my turn, I chatted to Joe for a while about “Game Of Thrones”, before Joe started writing on the 8” x 10”. After writing a couple of sentences and signing it, he looked down at it, said he didn’t like the layout, threw it away, and started again. Not many guests would do that. Some barely care if the pen is working properly or half running out. I was already impressed with Joe by this point, and we still had another five minutes of conversation to go! We, of course, talked about Pyp’s graphic and devastating death scene (Joe wasn’t called in advance, he found out about it while filming something else. This echoes Mark Stanley (Grenn)’s comments from November last year). Joe also told me the details about Grenn’s death that were left out of the incredible Night’s Watch vs. Wildlings battle. In the show, you see the giant charging at Grenn and the other Night’s Watchmen, then later you see Jon discover Grenn’s body and the dead giant. What actually happened in between those scenes was filmed and then cut from the episode...a fight ensured, with Grenn eventually using his brain and stabbing the giant up through the armpit, one of its weakest points. Eventually, Grenn killed Mag The Mighty, only to have Mag fall on him while dying. That’s how Grenn died. He was crushed to death by Mag The Mighty. GOD DAMN IT! I’m such a huge Grenn and Pyp fan, in both the show and the books, so it was tough to see them leave the show, especially as their book counterparts are still alive at the present time. We also chatted about Joe liking to play widely diverse characters as he can get bored playing the same type of character over and over again.

Finally, I told Joe how inspirational I found him as a human being. Joe told me that he never had the opportunities to go to drama college like most other actors because he came from a poor family. He had to work hard to get where he is now. I also told Joe about coming from a poorer background, a Council house, etc., and that I was just in the final stages of finishing my Master’s degree in psychology and criminology. Ordinarily, that’s not something I’d bring up at an autograph table as I don’t want to unintentionally come across as boastful, but sharing that information with someone who’s been through a lot of similar experiences to me felt normal and needed. It was a great conversation and extended beyond the expected chit chat of the autograph table that can sometimes occur. Absolutely wonderful human being! Definitely, definitely meet him if you get the chance. Also got a picture with him at the autograph table too. One of the most sincere, humble, nice people I’ve ever met, and I’m not just talking about celebrities here, but everyone. Guest type = Conversationalist.

Ian Beattie: As Dominic and Hannah were busy with people, I went over to say “hi” to Ian, who was at his table with a crew member and his agent, Dan. Dan and Ian were wrapped in conversation about conventions and trying to do some in the United States of America. After a little while, the conversation became a three-way one, but I won’t go into specifics as it involved other guests and people being evicted from the building. Anyway, by this point, Ian knows me and I know him pretty well too. We’ve met a few times before, we’ve had some long conversations, we’ve spoken on social media since those things, and he’s a delightful human being. One of my favourite guests of all-time and one of the ones which makes me laugh the most because he’s genuinely bonkers. He’s hyperactive, quite loud, and swears. I can relate. I was chatting away to Ian about “Game Of Thrones”, the coming season, what the show has done for tourism and for Belfast as a larger whole, him missing being part of the cast, especially at this time of the year, and him being an international convention traveller now, before Ian started to sign the autograph. The picture I chose was also Ian’s favourite one, and it was taken by Helen Sloan, who’s employed by HBO to go around the “Game Of Thrones” sets taking various still pictures to be used for publicity photos, etc. Ian was talking about a particular picture she took of him that he’s been trying to get a copy of for years, but Helen hasn’t had the time yet because she’d need to search through thousands of pictures to find it. Ian is trying to convince Helen to turn them into a book that fans can buy as all the photos will be unique, most of which will never have been seen, and they’d make great pictures to be autographed at conventions. I think it’s a brilliant idea! As Ian was signing, he said, “You must have enough autographs of mine to make wallpaper now?”. In actuality, this was my 4th, but the first one I ever got from Ian was stolen as I was leaving “Wales Comic Con 2014 Part II”. It was the only thing that was stolen. My bag was open, everything was there, except Ian’s autograph. I can only assume that someone sneakily opened it and grabbed something at random. After Ian signed the autograph, I was chatting to Dan, and I could see Ian whispering to his crew member. I turned around to see that Ian had signed another one for me for free, and he said, “That’s to replace the one that was stolen, I felt responsible”. I. Love. Him. Furthermore, I grabbed two pics with him at the autograph table – a normal one and one of him behind me in character as Ser Meryn. For those of you keeping track, that’s 2x autographs and 2x selfies for the price of one autograph (his selfies were free if you bought an autograph). Absolute legend every time I meet him. If I’m ever going to a convention and he’s there, I will always say “hi”. You should do so too. Guest Type = Conversationalist.

Just a side note: Every time I write a detailed review, I’m always repeatedly asked one question – “Do you do all this from memory?!”. Excluding talk panel notes, yes, I do. All my interactions with the guests, etc., is all from memory.

Dominic Carter: Dominic was a wildcard guest for me. He was a last-minute replacement for another of my favourite guests, Ian McElhinney, who portrayed Ser Barristan Selmy in the first five seasons of “Game Of Thrones”. This gave me little time to research Dominic and think of some more unique talking points, so coming into the event I knew little about him except his work on “Game Of Thrones”. Thankfully, the ice had already been broken between myself and Dominic, as I’d taken a picture of Gareth with Dominic a little earlier in the day, which led to a mini-conversation before I had to dash to a photoshoot. Therefore, talking to Dominic was so easy! He’s so much nicer than the snivelling douche-monkey he played on “Game Of Thrones”, Janos Slynt. I mentioned to Dominic that I missed him on the show because it’s hard to find such a convincing coward. Usually villains are assholes, but they fight too. Janos was just unlikeable in every way. He ran away from the Wildling battle and hid, he betrayed Ned Stark, and he thoroughly deserved his neck massage from Jon Snow early in the fifth season. Not long after Dominic was cast as Janos in the first season, he received an email from George R. R. Martin himself telling him that he would be killed off during the fourth season (if things got that far), but his character was very important to the story. Therefore, even after Dominic left in the 2nd season, he knew he’d be back in the 4th, which is nice for an actor, as guaranteed future work is often hard to come by. It was a bonus for Dominic to be in a couple of episodes of the 5th season, as he was expecting to go chop-chop late in the 4th. We chatted about Dominic getting to be part of two huge areas of the show, King’s Landing and the Wall, we chatted about what it was like filming in those vastly different locations. He said that the Night’s Watch crew really do feel like a band of brothers like in the show, as the crew and cast members are largely separate from everyone else, filming by themselves in Iceland. He said it took a while to adjust to Stephen (Stannis), Liam (Davos), and everyone else arriving on set as it was such a change for the crew and cast members to have so many new people around. He’s clearly a fan of the show as he said that Janos has travelled more than most characters, but that Tyrion is leading the way, having been to Winterfell, the Wall, the Eyrie, King’s Landing, and now Meereen (amongst others). I love it when the actors are clearly passionate about the show themselves, which shined through in all five of the “Game Of Thrones” actors I met at Em-Con. Finally, we chatted about Shaun Parkes, as he was a few years below Dominic in drama school. Dominic said that his year were all ugly character actors, while Shaun Parkes/Andrew Lincoln’s year were all handsome and stole all the girls from his year. LOLs. Dominic said he hadn’t seen Shaun in many years, so it was great to be sat right near him and get to reunite at a convention. Lovely man, exceeded my expectations, and I got a pic with him at the autograph table! Great experience. Guest type = Conversationalist.

Hannah Waddingham: My third guest of the day that is undeniably bonkers. The first thing to note about Hannah is that she’s much more beautiful than you get to see on “Game Of Thrones”, as her character, Septa Unella, is always dressed head-to-toe in greying rags, with only a portion of her face showing, which Hannah has affectionately named her Bermuda Triangle. Hannah was, also, undeniably lovely. She was infectiously enthusiastic to be there, she never stopped smiling, and she was clearly appreciative of the attendees that met her. Hannah has largely been a stage actress for most of her career, so shifting into a large fandom was a new experience for her. She said that filming the “Walk of Punishment” was both incredible and surreal. It was a boiling hot day in Croatia, so, as you could imagine in that costume, it was hot. Therefore, underneath her greying rags, suffice to say, Hannah didn’t wear much. Furthermore, Hannah literally met Lena Headey (Cersei) for the first time moments before filming their first scene together, the one where Septa Unella talks to Cersei inside the sept just before the Walk of Punishment. Also, speaking of season six, Hannah said, “Spare a sympathetic thought for me later in the season”...I’m speculating that Cersei might not forget her treatment at the hands of her captors last season. At least the Lannisters don’t flay people, I suppose, so it could be worse if my guess is correct. I grabbed a picture with Hannah and her big high-heeled shoes before taking a little break. Lovely lady, very talkative, would absolutely recommend you meet her. Guest Type = Conversationalist.


With nine autographs down and three to go, Clare and Kim wanted to sit down for a little while and have some lunch, which was totally fine with me, even though I didn’t eat. Unlike most conventions, Em-Con has plenty of places to sit, as all the stadium seats around the venue are free to be used. It’s a singularly weird (and good) experience to be sat in the stands like you would for a sporting event, only to have celebrities sat on the arena floor...well, on a know what I mean!...with people dressed up as superheroes, and Harry Potter music playing in the background. Totally unique and totally awesome. After some refuelling and recharging was accomplished, it was time to knuckle down and get the last three done before 3:45pm. That gave me roughly 45 minutes. No problem!

Catrin Stewart: Catrin’s a sweety (editing note: I accidentally wrote ‘sweaty’ first time. She is assuredly not sweaty). The first thing I noticed is that she sounds nothing like Jenny. As I approached her autograph table, she’d just got back from lunch so her queue was empty, therefore she was reading and happily drinking coffee. We happily talked about “Doctor Who” for a while, and I can confirm that she’d happily do a Paternoster Gang spinoff, which is something that was echoed by Dan Starkey (Strax) last weekend and Neve (Madame Vastra) this weekend. C’mon, BBC, make it happen! Catrin said that herself and Neve had created a backstory for Jenny and Vastra from before the Doctor met them and they also filled in the blanks for themselves on what happened with Jenny and Vastra between the Doctor’s various appearances. I love the fact that they cared enough about the characters to do this! Catrin is also a big advocate for equality and more recently helping with aid for the Syrians during this recent war and crisis. She was sporting a top that read, ‘choose love’, and it was clear that she’s a wonderful human being. After chatting for a little while longer about “Doctor Who”, I grabbed a picture with her (£5), which turned out great! Guest type = Responder.

Neve McIntosh: Alongside Joe Altin and Ian Beattie, Neve was easily my favourite guest of the day. Not only was she talkative and friendly, but she was just so damn hilarious and human! There was no invisible wall between attendee and guest, which happens a lot at conventions. It was just two human beings talking. There was no power relations or barrier at play. Plus, at this point in the day, my energy was just starting to wain ever so slightly, and Neve brought my energy levels right back up. We started our conversation by talking about “Doctor Who” and how Neve hopes that the writing team don’t see her character (and Jenny/Strax) as inherently 11th Doctor sidekicks, excluding Peter’s first episode, as she wants to come back to the show! She’s remaining hopeful that Steven will bring all three of them back for at least one episode of his final season as showrunner next year. Neve was also envious that Dan Starkey (Strax) got to play a character in 2014’s Christmas special, “Last Christmas”, as himself! No Strax make-up or prosthetics needed. He played one of Santa’s two elves. Neve wants to play another “Doctor Who” character in addition to Vastra where she gets to be herself...I’d want to as well if it took me 4-5 hours to get into the Vastra make-up and prosthetics every time! HOW DO THEY NOT GO CRAZY?! After a few more minutes of Who’ey goodness, we started chatting more generally. I mentioned to Neve that I love following her Twitter account as it’s the perfect blend of swearing, sarcasm, and positivity. Neve said that she used to watch what she said a lot more, but then decided to just be herself and let the chips fall where they will. Simply a devine person to be around. I grabbed a picture with her at the autograph table (£5), and after Clare took a couple of snaps, Neve tilted her head and pulled a funny face into my cheek, so I actually have two different pictures with Neve for the price of one! Bargain! Also, Neve squished her head right against mine for the pics, so she’s clearly not worried about boundary issues or letting fans get too close. I think it’s the Scottish in her. They never put on fake airs and graces. Finally, Neve mentioned that while she loves doing conventions around the world, it’s always a little more magical to do them in the United Kingdom, as the fans truly appreciate the show here and have been brought up with it for over 50 years. There’s such a deep history between U.K. residents and “Doctor Who”, which is something that no other countries can truly compare to. Guest type = Conversationalist. Meet her. If you can’t meet her, tweet her.


Lew Temple: After going with Clare and Kim to meet Danny John-Jules (fuck off is he 55 years old! He looks 40!), it was time to meet Lew Temple, who portrayed Axel in “The Walking Dead”. Lew was a total legend. He was stood around the peasant side of the autograph table, ready to shake hands and interact with anyone who walked past, even if they weren’t going to meet him. He wanted to talk to the cosplayers, take pictures, and interact with all attendees. Lew was clearly someone who wasn’t just there for financial gain, which always makes me respect the guest more. Furthermore, I think Lew just enjoys life! As a younger man, Lew developed leukaemia and only had a 40% survival rate. He spent 8 months in hospital before finally beating the disease! That’s a tough mo’ fucker, right there. Of course, we chatted about “The Walking Dead”, Axel’s incredible, unexpected, and shocking death on the show, how good the show has been since (he’s still a fan and watches every episode), and how much preparation he did for the role before he started filming. Lew also noted that Andrew Lincoln really agonises over actors that have to leave the show due to their character being killed off. He takes them personally because everyone on the cast is a tight-knit little family. Simply, Lew was great. We took a picture together, which turned out terrifically, before Lew requested we also do a back-to-back picture as well, and then he dragged Clare and Kim into the proceedings, gave Clare’s camera to the crew member, and all four of us did various superhero poses together. Lew went above and beyond what was expected of him, and he also took three pictures for the price of one. Very classy man and totally friendly. Guest type = Responder.

I dashed back to photo area A for my picture with Neve, which went perfectly well, before waiting around for an hour for my picture with Neve to be developed. During my hour’s wait, I discovered two things :-

1)     Fuck! I hadn’t collected my A3 art prints from Lee Bradley! A few days before Em-Con, I won a competition on Facebook. The competition was simple – like and share Lee’s artist fan page (located here), and the winner would be randomly drawn to receive 6x Marvel A3 art prints. For the first time in my life (as far as I can recall), I won something! OH EM GEE! So, at 4:30pm, I finally remembered to grab them! Thankfully, Lee was just leaving, and he recognised me and gave me the art prints. They look beautiful as well. I just need to figure out where I’m going to put them now...
2)    Fuck! I didn’t use my free autograph ticket. When you get a gold pass at Em-Con, it includes a free autograph and three free photoshoots. I’d received 12 autographs that day (13 if you count the extra one from Ian Beattie), and twelve times I’d feckin’ forgotten! Useless. I had no more autographs to get, so I ran back to David Bradley’s autograph table to get one for my sister, who’s a big “Harry Potter” fan. This ended up being a longer, even more interesting conversation with David, as it largely revolved around how he got into acting in the first place. During his early 20’s, David was an engineer for eight years. He started doing theatre work on the side to eliminate some shyness and meet girls. After a while, he was encouraged by the theatre group to apply to drama school. He had never thought of it historically because he was from a poor, working-class family. He applied, he was rejected. A year later, he applied, he was rejected. Third time’s the charm...he applied again, he was rejected. Not until the 4th attempt was he accepted! He said he’d have given up after the first two attempts if it wasn’t for his theatre group encouraging him to try again. I think we can all agree it worked out okay for him. Interestingly, David said his phone has never rang so much as it has done the past decade. He gets more acting offers in his 60’s and early 70’s than he did throughout his younger and middle-aged life. Another fantastic conversation!

Any annoyance I had at having to wait around an extra hour for a photoshoot to be developed disappeared, as if I’d left straight away, I’d have forgotten the A3 art prints and I’d have forgotten the free autograph. I collected my Neve photoshoot, then headed over to say goodbye to Neve, Ian Beattie, and Joe Altin, as they were my favourite three guests of the day and most of the other guests had already started to head home by this point. I found Clare and Kim sat in a cafe just outside the venue, and we headed home to Gloucestershire.

As always, the mark of any convention is a simple question, “Would I attend again?”. In this case, I would. As always, it’s guest line-up dependent, but overall I was impressed with my first Em-Con experience. The venue was great, the guests were terrific, the crew were brilliant, and it was apparent that effort was being made. If Em-Con could start to fine-tune some of the things I mentioned at the start of this review, I think they’re on to a winner.

Until next time, gentle readers, enjoy life and take care of yourselves. Starting June 2nd, my “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” episode reviews will be making a return, plus I’ll be writing about “Prophecy”, “LFCC”, and other conventions over the coming months. If you could spread the word and share this review on social media, that’d be absolutely grand! Thanks for reading, thanks for supporting me, and I’ll catch you down the road. If you were at the convention and want to talk about your experiences, feel free to do so in the comments section, or alternatively send me a message on Facebook or Twitter. Again, thank you.


1 comment:

  1. I always feel as though I were there with you!