Last weekend the 14th (and final) RingCon – fantasy convention – took place in Bonn, Germany. Outlander was the new big addition to the line-up and with Diana, Sam, Graham, Gary and Duncan they had a great group there to represent the show. I was lucky enough to be there, too and I’m planning to write a few (three, probably) posts about the whole experience. Those posts won’t be written in any chronological order and there also won’t be many photos, because I just didn’t take a lot and mine wouldn’t look any different from the tons of photos from this event which are already out there.
My posts about these kind of fan/star encounters are usually long ones, because I like to use my blog as my own extensive archive of memorable moments ! So, before reading any further you might want to grab a coffee or a drink and some snacks :-)
This first post will be all about Sam, because… duh!
Prologue – A few things about me
I’ve had my share of meetings with favourite TV stars in the past, due to a German fanpage I’ve started over 15 years ago and which I am still maintaining, though not with as much dedication and enthusiasm as in the early days. The first 10 years or so, I was a nervous wreck before a meeting. A nervous wreck (on the inside) during a meeting. A nervous wreck afterwards. Meetings were always such a high and then often a bunch of post-meeting anxieties set in and regrets over things I might have said or should have said or things I thought I might have done wrong and…. just fill in the blanks with any meeting-your-favourite-TVstar-anxiety you can think of and you might understand why coming down from the high sometimes resulted in bit of an emotional “crash”. It got better after a while for a whole bunch of reasons and the last time I met one of my guys about 10 months ago, we simply just had a lovely time. When I wrote a blog post about that meeting I also wrote
“I just want to believe that I would take this inner calmness with me to a potential “let’s just chat for a while” moment with Sam [Heughan] or Frank [Turner]….”
I had my bouts of nervewrecking “OMG, is this really happening?” feelings this weekend, but looking back now I can say, that spending 1.5 days in the same large building and the same large room with Sam and for a few moments even close-ish to Sam went remarkably well for me and my state of mind. Not a lot of anxieties or worries. Or regrets. Most of all no real regrets, which might be a first for me. Except maybe regretting having put my letter inside the box with the Whisky bottle, because now Sam might not find it for a while. Or ever ;-). But I didn’t want to risk the letter getting seperated from my present, so that seemed the best way to do it. Other than that, I think I handled myself really well. And still do. Anyway, enough about me. For now.
Schedules and Technalities
Sam clearly was the star of the event, there was never any doubt about that. You should have seen and heard the applause he got when he came on stage the first time. Just wow! I think he had by far the longest queues during the signing or photo sessions. Kudos for the whole RingCon team for still having the queues working efficiently. Once people started moving, they kept moving. Slowly maybe, but… it all moved forward.
Sam was on a really tight schedule and it looked like this:
Times on Saturday:
12 – 14 Outlander Group Panel
14 – 17 Autograph signing
19 – 20 Solo Panel
20 – 21 Photo Shoot (which ran till at least 21:30)
Times on Sunday:
09:30 – 13 Autograph signing
13 – 14 Outlander Group Photo Shoot (ran a bit longer as well)
14 – 15 Outlander Group Panel
15:15 – 16 Photo Shoot
Sam, Graham and Duncan left directly after that to get back to Scotland, where they continued filming the next morning. Crazy, isn’t it? Especially when you consider that Sam (according to his tweets) was filming till late evening on Friday as well. I get tired just thinking about it.
Both the photo with Sam or autograph cost 35 EUR ($38 / £25) , which I considered a fair price. They could have charged more and I bet a lot of the fans would have been willing to pay more (I know I would have). People with more exclusive/ expensive tickets got preferrential admittance to the autograph sessions and photo shoot. I had a regular ticket for the weekend, so the waiting time for photo and autograph were about 90 minutes each. Which was ok(ish). I spent the time in my photo queue on Saturday evening typing up my “Discussing GBBO with Sam” experience, so I made good use of the waiting ;-). And chatted with other fans around me. So all was fine.
There isn’t really that much to say about it. Like I said, it all was organized very efficiently. This efficiency made the whole experience rather impersonal though. At some point I felt like a parcel on a conveyer belt that’s just been passed on and on and on ;-) We were told several times to not ask for any special pose with Sam to keep the queue moving. Some did ask anyway and it was still fine, I think. I had “PocketJamie” with me, but after all the admonition I personally didn’t dare to ask Sam about holding him, so I just held PocketJamie up myself. The whole photo moment only lasted about 5 seconds (at least that’s what it felt like). I hope, I said “Thank you” to Sam and I think he might have replied in kind. I don’t know, it was just such a flash of a moment. Literally.
My photo turned out fine, at least I like myself in it and I like to see Sam next to me. But to me he also already looked a wee bit tired. My turn came around 21:15 and I was photo number 582 or something with probably up to 100 more fans queueing behind me that evening. Sunday had another 45 minutes solo photo shoot on Sam’s schedule with probably another 250 people. Plus the Outlander Group shoot with about 300 single photos, maybe? It boggles my mind to just think about these numbers.
But even after close to 600 photos Sam still was really friendly with me during the few seconds in front of the camera. He’s a pro and I really admire him for that. And let’s be honest (and shallow) for a moment: He also does “feel” really, really good ;-)
Sam was on the two Outlander panels plus his own panel on Saturday evening. I had been determined to ask Duncan a question during the Outlander panel and had one or two ready for Sam during his panel or the 2nd group panel. I got to ask Sam only one of those questions, but that’s totally fine. Anyway, that meant I was standing in the microphone queue for most of the time during the three panels; rehearsing my question in my mind, getting ready to be called on, trying to calm my nerves. So not everything of what Sam (and the others) talked about really registered with me. But here are the few topics I do remember Sam talking about in either of the three panels; in a rather random order.
If you’ve been to RingCon and remember more interesting stuff about/from Sam in the panels, just share it in a comment, ok?
- His luggage got lost in Amsterdam on the flight from Glasgow, so he wasn’t wearing a kilt. The kilt might be partying in Amsterdam ;-)
- Some fans presented him with a RingCon T-shirt, so he could at least change his shirt during the weekend.
- Two seperate group of fans had done charity events in the last few weeks / months to collect money for Sam’s charities and on both days one of the group got the chance to present him with a symbolic check and talk a bit about their events and such. I think Sam really was touched by all the effort those fans went through.
- Sam said he really enjoys Germany. The food. The beer. The schnapps. *g*
- He was asked quite a few questions about favourite moments from the show or the books and about his favourite scenes to shoot and funny things that happened on set. I don’t really recall much of his answers. He once again stated how good the atmosphere on set usually is and how much he loves working on the show.
In that context, I think, he told a story about Graham and their encounter with a Highland Cow and how Graham had his exit planned in case the cow would attack them. Or something like that? It definitely was a funny story when Sam told it ;-). Sam also clearly enjoyed making fun of Graham a bit, he did a few impressions of him. Mostly about riding. And coffee *g*! At one point Sam said, Graham was actually a good rider, but in the end he’d always let his stunt double do all the work.
- When the whole group was asked about what they would recommend to see or do for fans travelling to Scotland, Sam recommended climbing one of the Munroes or any hill and he talked a bit about his love for Munro-bagging. He also recounted the story behind a photo I think he tweeted earlier this year, when he and Duncan and a few friends went mountain climbing.
- He also talked about how he and probably any other actor sometimes might have tweaked his CV during a casting process and maybe slightly exaggerated his experience in certain skills like riding to have a chance to get the job. :-)
- Talking about horses and riding was another memorable moment. It was at the beginning of his own panel and I don’t recall how it all started, it must have been a question about horses and riding and if he enjoys the experience. I have no idea how or why the discussion went a bit – let’s say astray, but at one point Sam cheekily said something like “Are we still talking about riding… horses?” LOL It was hilarious start to his panel and set the right mood, I think.
And somewhere in between all this it was suddenly my turn to step up to the microphone, the spot went on and I saw myself on the big screen. OMG :-)!
Originally I had considered asking Sam something about politics and his support for the Yes campaign during the Scottish Referendum last year. But then I thought that question might be too personal, so I used my free time on Friday to go through the other potential questions I had jotted down before. None of them really seemed that appealling to me anymore though. I didn’t want to ask the usual: favourite this or that or anything about work and such. I wanted to ask something that could have some entertaining value for the audience, but also be a topic Sam might consider interesting enough to elaborate on. Does that make any sense? Let’s put it this way: I wanted a question that I might have fun asking and he might have fun answering. Not to toot my horn, but I think I managed to do that.
In his panel on Friday Ian Beattie from Game of Thrones had been asked about favourite TV shows and he mentioned that he loved watching “Great British Bake Off” (GBBO). I loudly cheered for that answer from the back of the audience, because I got hooked on that show over this summer, when I first caught it during my vacation in Scotland. (The 2015 season ended a few weeks ago). I remembered that moment while I was laying in my hotel bed early Saturday morning, and all of a sudden I knew what I wanted to ask Sam. And then spent another hour or so going over every possible way to ask this question and to rehears it in my mind. Goes without saying, that I didn’t get much sleep much that night.
I did not only wanted to ask Sam if he watched GBBO but also use the question as lead-in to inquire if he was more of a baker or more of a cook. And if he were either, does he have a special recipe he’s good at. Or if he was a guy, who only knows how to operate a microwave. I thought all in all there might be some interesting stories to tell there.
When it was my turn I managed to ask all these questions rather calmly and without too much stuttering or stumbling. Which, let me tell you, is not that simple when you feel Sam’s intense “I’m listening” gaze on you. Outlander fans know what look I’m talking about, right?
Sam’s reaction and reply was so much better than I ever dared to hope for. He said something like: “Now we’re talking about TV shows, great, I love it.” And then started talking enthusiastically about how much he loves watching cooking shows on TV in general. After a sort of “one eyebrow raised” questioning look from the host Mark Ferguson, Sam explained the concept of GBBO in some detail to Mark and the mostly German audience, who probably was just as clueless about it as Mark himself. To me it was obvious that Sam clearly had watched and enjoyed the show. He called it “Food Porn” at one point, which is in fact a pretty accurate description.
For a moment I just stood there in awe, thinking: “Wow! Sam really seems to love Bake Off and he likes talking about it. YOU made him talk about it!” I have no idea what got into me after that, but as he so obviously was a fan, I thought and maybe even said “Well, let’s talk about Bake Off then”. I definitely remember asking him who he had been rooting for. Looking back now I’m a bit amazed at my own boldness of keeping the conversation going instead of just meekly sitting down after I got him to reply to my initial question at all.
It shouldn’t have come as big surprise, that Sam said that he had been rooting for the young woman from Scotland. He might not have had her name down pat that moment as I distinctly remember saying “Flora”, like I was providing the name for him. Woah! I also remember him trying to recall Flora’s last name and he started with “Flora… McDonald?” but then right away realized that this name couldn’t be quite right… ;-)
After that whole exchange I still had the nerve to remind him of my actual “Baker or Cook” question. Sam admitted to not being much of a baker and more of a cook. To which I asked (Yes, I still didn’t shut up) if he had a special dish or recipe he’s good at. Turns out, not really. He called himself a “Just everything in one pot” – Cook and said that he does at least knows how to make a good porridge.
After that I thanked him and stepped away from the microphone and my fabulous, incredible, memorable two minutes – discussing “Great British Bake Off” of all possible topics in the world – with Sam came to an end. I’m still grinning like the Cheshire Cat, recounting this moment now, two days later.
Sunday morning around 10:30 it was finally my turn to head into the autograph session. I wanted to go to Gary as well so I was allowed to jump the outside queue a bit, if I promised to go to Gary’s table first, which I did. (More about him in another post). Like I’ve mentioned above it took much more than another hour to finally get to Sam’s table, to get an autograph, to hand over my present and to chat for a few seconds.
From what I saw at the other tables every guest took their time with the fans, exchanged a few words, hold still for a few quick camera snaps and were all very friendly and approachable. Sam was no exception from that. Maybe rather the opposite, because he really took the time for every single fan stepping up to his table. And there were sooooooo many people. It did help that the staff once again was pretty well organized, prepped him with the name he had to write on the photo or book or whatever.
Sam did not just write the person’s name as a dedication and signed with his own signature, but he also always – at least from what I saw – wrote something else as well, like “Thanks for coming”, “Slainte”, “Tulach Ard”, other Gaelic phrases or something connected to Scotland or the show. As the queue was moving slowly, I had the chance to watch him interact for a while and it felt like he really tried to connect with every single person standing in front of him. Looking up from the table and at the fan, saying “Hello”, maybe asking for the name or what he should write. Very nicely accepting gifts and inquiring about what the gift bag might contain. Graciously and humbly accepting praise and thanks himself. It was just a joy to watch him interact so kindly and lovely with everyone.
The moment Sam looked up from my photo, which the assisting volunteer moved in front of him, I said “Hi! I was the one who asked you about ‘Bake Off’ last night.” in a blatant attempt to make it easier to (re-)establish some kind of connection for the few seconds of the whole signing process. And it worked! Kind of. I think :-). Sam’s face lit up a bit and he said, of course, he remembered the Bake Off question and that he loved the show. I used that moment to also hand over my present, which was a bottle of German Whisky in a nice presentable box. Judging from his reaction, I think he genuinely liked it. It might have been one of the rarer gifts, I think, so I hope he really does.
Then I started babbling a bit, which is a good sign that I was pretty nervous after all. I think I mentioned that the Whisky was from a local distillery and that it’s supposed to be good, but that I had no idea if that’s true, because I hadn’t sampled it as I didn’t have a taste for Whisky at all. I also told him that the box contained a letter which had my Twitter name on it, so he should just let me know if he likes the Whisky, once he will have tasted it. If having read this now makes your head spin, just think of what poor Sam might have thought. Sorry, Sam! I seem to be more eloquent with a camera aimed at me and my face put up on the big screen and 1.000 people watching. Just kidding…
Here is the lovely autograph I went away with.
And maybe, just maybe, if I ever meet Sam in the forseeable future – like at another convention in a year or two – he might remember that fan, who was asking him about “Bake Off” at RingCon 2015 :-) A girl can dream, right?
Epilogue – The “King of Men”
Yes! He is! And I’m obviously not talking about Jamie in the books or on the show now, but about real life Sam Heughan. In interviews and from what journalists or his coworkers say about him, you expect him to be this really great guy. And what can I say? He just is! I am so happy and glad I had the chance to witness Sam truely be this kind, eloquent, patient, witty, humble, gracious, amiable, lovely, lovely guy in real life. I personally couldn’t have asked for a better man to bring my favourite fictional guy to life on screen. Thank you so much for this unforgettable weekend, Sam! xoxo