Ok, here we go – the last ever Rock of Ages. Anyone who knows me will know that I am very rarely lost for words, but I genuinely don’t even know where to begin. But, as Julie Andrews says (or sings) “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” (Did I really just quote The Sound of Music?)
I first saw an advert for the show back in August 2011. I was in London to see David Tennant in “Much Ado about Nothing” with my Mum and my Auntie, and came across a poster for the show somewhere around Earl’s Court. I have to admit, I was immediately grabbed by the fact that Justin Lee Collins and Shayne Ward were in it but, as I looked closer, I saw many of the song titles that I had grown up with advertised in big bold letters. I begged my Mum to take me when it opened in September but she wouldn’t budge. Musicals aren’t really her thing. It took me until November 2011 to convince my Auntie to take me –that November was going to be a very difficult one for our family and we needed to get away. This is the point where it gets a bit serious but I think that now, as I move on to the next chapter of my life, the time has come to share my story so far.
My Mum and I have been on our own since I was around six months old and because she was a nurse in a hospice she often had to work nights, so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. As I grew up my Grandad naturally became the main male role model in my life. My Grandma isn’t in the best of health so when it came to daytrips it was always just me and my Grandad, with a nice meal cooked by my Grandma to look forward to when we got back. Almost every Sunday we would sneak out of the house at 8am and drive to the East Lancashire Railway, where we would spend the morning steaming along the line from Bury to Rawtenstall and back, chatting about anything and everything. My Grandad was my best friend, my partner in crime, my Dad, my Grandad, my idol, my role model and my rock. No matter what happened my Grandad was there to chuck me under the chin and whisk me away to Bury or Wales or York – anywhere with a railway and a good cup of tea.
In September 2010 I went into Year 11 in high school – GCSE year, aka the most stressful year of my life so far. Teachers were doing everything they could short of hitting us around the head with a textbook or taking the exam for us, and we basically hit the ground running from the very first day of term. After a particularly stressful day in late September I decided to ring my Mum and let off some steam. No answer. I tried her at work, at home and on her mobile. Still nothing. It’s a well known fact that my Grandma knows everything about everyone – think Hyacinth Bucket from Keeping up Appearances – so I rang her to ask where my Mum was. No answer. Now I was starting to get worried. I tried again and she eventually picked up – I figured she’d been upstairs and hadn’t got to the phone in time (this was before she got the stair lift and she spent an average of 20 minutes on the stairs. Each way.) “Grandma! Do you know where my Mum is? She seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth or something… Oh.” My Mum was at the Infirmary with my Grandad. He’d had a chest infection for a few days and had eventually agreed to call the doctor, who sent him straight to the hospital. For some reason they wouldn’t let him drive himself up there (I have no idea why) so up he went in an ambulance and my Mum had to go and fill in all the paperwork. I got the first bus up to my Grandma’s – luckily she only lived fifteen minutes away – and waited for Mum and Grandad to come home. My Mum came back a few hours later, but they had decided to keep my Grandad in for some tests. He was sent home the next day with some antibiotics.
Through all of this my English teacher, Mrs McDonald, was an absolute rock. Writing has always been very cathartic for me and so she helped me to release all of my pent up emotion and channel it into my coursework. I ended up getting an A* in that exam – apparently exam boards like a good sob story! So, my Grandad was at home with his antibiotics and he seemed to be getting better – on with the exam preparation! On the 12th of October my English class went on a school trip to the Tate Liverpool where there was an exhibit on slavery that would help us with our poetry coursework. As we wandered around and took notes (well, that’s what we were supposed to be doing anyway – we were basically just let loose to do our own thing. I don’t think I even opened my workbook) Mrs McDonald pulled me to one side and asked me how my Grandad was doing. “Oh he’s much better,” I said confidently, “he’s back home now and he’s on antibiotics.” I was on antibiotics all the time for various bouts of tonsillitis – the doctor gives them to you and you get better, that’s how it goes. Well, that’s how it should go.
That night my Grandad collapsed in his bedroom. There was no way my Grandma could help him up so she rang an ambulance, hoping they’d help him into bed and be on their way. Unfortunately, that’s not how it went. They said they’d have to take him to Royal Oldham hospital, so my Grandma rang my Mum and I and we pulled into their street just as they were wheeling my Grandad into the back of the ambulance. This was around 9pm. I had to stay with my Grandma while my Mum went with my Grandad in the ambulance. I was supposed to go upstairs to bed but instead I just sat on the settee with my phone in my lap, waiting for some news. My Grandma didn’t sleep either. At around 3am my Mum got back and said I should probably take the day off school but I wanted to go in. First period the next day was English and I told Mrs McDonald everything. Exactly two weeks and six days later, on the 1st of November 2010, my Grandad passed away, aged 82.
So, as it was coming up to the first anniversary of his death, my Auntie decided to take me to London to give me a bit of a break. She had one condition – she’d get to pick a show too. She picked Legally Blonde because Lee Mead was in it, and I agreed to go to the matinee if we could go to the evening performance of Rock of Ages. Without being rude, Legally Blonde was torture. I am not a pink, girly, “oh my god you guys” kind of girl and, as we discovered when we got there, Lee Mead wasn’t even in the damn show any more! After two and a half hours of pink girly hell, we headed over to the Shaftesbury to see Rock of Ages. We were up in the Gods (seriously, I got dizzy just looking down at the stalls) and the first thing I noticed was a huge billboard with a fried egg on it that said “this is your brain on drugs.” Already a huge improvement on Legally Blonde. As the music started up I felt something I hadn’t felt in over a year – I felt calm. Up until that point I felt that all of my confidence had died with my Grandad – how could I ever assume anything would go the way I thought it would when Fate had taken away the most important man in my life, not three weeks after I’d so confidently said he was going to be ok? After that every situation I found myself in was fraught with an underlying fear that at any moment the world I knew could be ripped out from under my feet. I didn’t go out, I had anxiety attacks, I dropped almost two stone (which, without sounding vain, I really couldn’t afford to lose.) But sitting here, where nobody knew me, with nothing to lose, I felt the tiniest piece of my old self come back. That’s what the show means to me. It brought me back to life.
So, you can imagine how I felt when it was announced that the show was going to close. Cue a mad scramble for tickets. Not for me though! I’d noticed that the last bookable date for Rock of Ages had stayed as the 2nd of November for quite a while and, just to be on the safe side, I booked the last two shows. It was, after all, around that horrible anniversary in November and it would be good for me and my Mum to get away from the date and have some fun – Ha!
November came around again far too quickly and, all too soon, it was time to say goodbye to the show and the amazing cast I had come to know and love. At this point I have to mention two certain members of the cast that have shown an incredible amount of kindness to me over the past two years. The first is the leading lady of the show, Natalie Andreou. Natalie is someone I aspire to be like – she is so unbelievably strong and has been a real inspiration to me. She has taught me to never give up, no matter how hard things might get, and to always believe in myself. I owe a lot to her and I know she’s going to go on to even bigger and better things, and I can confidently say that nobody deserves it more than she does. The second person is, of course, the wonderful Nathan Amzi. Let’s jump back to two years ago, when I sat in the Grand Circle feeling that tiniest flicker of hope for the first time. The very first person to burst onto that stage was Nathan. As he danced and sang and waved his nunchucks around I could feel myself being drawn in. His confidence shone out and I felt so connected to him in that first moment it was unreal – his positive energy and confidence was so palpable I couldn’t help but take it in. I know that that memory will stay with me forever and every time I pluck up the courage to venture out of my ever-expanding comfort zone I will think back to my first night at the Shaftesbury, and I know I will find the confidence and strength to go on.
As I arrived at the Garrick for that last show it really didn’t feel any different. There were a lot more ROAdies (the official term for “hardcore” Rock of Ages fans) but other than that I still got the same buzz of excitement I got whenever I went to see the show – it hadn’t hit me yet that this would be the last time. As I’ve mentioned before, I booked both of the shows on that day way in advance, so I was in Row A, seats 9 and 10 for both shows. The first would be a “muck-up matinee” – basically a show where nobody would do what they were supposed to, lots of extras would be thrown in and it would essentially be chaos. Rock of Ages is a show that doesn’t stick to the script at the best of times, so this was going to be very interesting!
After encountering what felt like a hundred of ROAdies outside the Garrick (one of which was Kim who had made me a plushie of Nathan as Lonny – that girl is talented!) it was time to go in for the first show. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account (some of the changes were so subtle that only ROAdies noticed them anyway – the non-ROAdie next to me looked very confused when I burst out laughing because instead of Nathan’s “hire me” message with a headshot in the pizza box he carried, there was a picture of a WWE wrestler with Dan’s head stuck on.) I will share some of my favourites though (I’m going to refer to the people involved by name not by character.)
- Instead of Nathan slapping Natalie’s bum and wiggling his tongue suggestively at her, he slapped her bum then basically shoved his tongue down her throat, pulled her legs around him and pretty much knocked her clean off her feet.
- Instead of just Simon eating Natalie’s hair, Dan AND Simon did it, so that when they pulled away it looked like Natalie had horns.
- During “I’m totally running through the streets with my pants down!” EVERYBODY who was not on stage at the time ran across the stage with their pants around their ankles, instead of just Simon.
- During “Waiting for a Girl like You” when Tim’s silhouette appears in the Bourbon Room door, another silhouette appeared around the crotch area making very suggestive (and hilarious) gestures.
- When Natalie and Tim were in the men’s bathroom “talking about dreams and feelings and shit” Dan suddenly emerged from the toilet cubicle with a newspaper in his hand and his pants around his ankles, scaring poor Natalie to death in the process!
The absolute best thing in the first act, however, was when Simon came out of the Venus Club. Normally he has on a very short crop top, jeans and boots, and a nipple tassle. This time though, he was wearing panties, suspenders and fishnet stockings. Oh, and a nipple tassle. I don’t really remember much after that – I wonder why!
The second act was even more hilarious than the first, but one of the highlights had to be Dylan coming out to sing “Beaver Hunt” in just a spiked codpiece. What made it even better was that Simon was stood behind him for the whole thing, so when Dylan was dancing all Simon could see was Dylan’s bum wiggling around! “Can’t Fight this Feeling” between Dan and Simon had me in stitches. First Dan decided to drop down and do the splits – at which point his pants split too, much to Simon’s amusement. Right at the end when they come together the most I have seen them do is rub noses – not this time! After Dan asked “are we alone?” they proceeded to try to undress eachother (Simon had Dan down to his vest) before lying full length on the stage and, there’s no other way to say this, making out. The next song, “Every Rose has its Thorn” is supposed to be really serious and sad but I couldn’t stop laughing!
During “the programme scene” Simon came onto the stage in the same pizza delivery jacket and hat that Ross had on, (“well this is awkward, one of us is going to have to go and change”) and then went on to perform “The Scrunchie Rap” (“when I say Scrun, you say chee!” “Scrun!” “chee!” “Scrun!” “chee!”…maybe you had to be there.) By far the cutest moment was when Simon came on to wrap up the story and Rohan walked on with his little dog in the formal suit… only this time it was Tim Howar’s white miniature schnauzer Rocky in a little tuxedo! It was ADORABLE. Finally, at the end, when Drew presents the crowd at The Bourbon Room with his and Sherrie’s little “rock baby” it was actually a Simba teddy, so the whole thing looked like a re-enactment of “The Circle of Life.”
We (Sarah, Sarah’s Mum, Tanja, Rebecca, Nikki, my Mum and myself) decided to stage door in-between shows too, during which Simon made a very naughty addition to my Lonny doll in Sharpie and made a joke about me “lubing up” my new tattoo during the show (I was putting Bepanthen on it!) After a quick bite to eat at Burger King (there was an alarming amount of zombies in there) it was time to head back for the last ever show.
As you can probably guess, it was a tad emotional. Natalie broke down during “Heaven/More than Words” but she had asked the ROAdies to sing for her if that happened, so we did. The sound of so many ROAdies pulling together to sing that last line for Natalie is something I feel very proud to have been a part of, and is something I will never forget. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8JSuQ_ub7sg) I cried numerous times during the show, and I want to thank Simon Lipkin for coming onto the stage and making us laugh just when we were all about to lose it completely. As Simon began to wrap up the story for the last time, the floodgates opened. The whole theatre was filled with the sound of sobbing, and even the cast were at it. The sight of Ross Hunter, our resident ray of sunshine, stood on stage bawling his eyes out damn near broke me.
When the show was over and the speeches had been made, it was time to leave. As I turned to walk out of the theatre the enormity of the situation hit me and I sobbed into my Mum’s arms, “I don’t want to leave!” Hand in hand, we headed outside.
Now came the really hard part – saying goodbye to the cast for an indefinite amount of time. As they left one by one, Tanja, Sarah and I each waited for our special person to come out. I was up first and, as I spotted Nathan walking towards me, I damn near broke down. So Nathan did what anyone would do in that situation and, when I went in for a hug, lifted me clean off my feet. He does this all the time – sometimes he’ll even hold me to his side with one hand – but this would be the last time so I said “why is nobody taking a picture of this?!” Sarah quickly whipped out her camera and took a few pictures at which point Nathan, who had been lifting me so I was suspended mid-hug, swung me round to basically carry me. How could anyone be upset when they are quite literally swept off their feet?
Next out was Simon, who is very special to Tanja. And he broke her. After she had given him a goodbye hug he looked us all in the eye and thanked us for everything we had done for him over the last two years, telling us that in his ten years in various shows we (the ROAdies) were the most supportive fans he had ever come across. Seeing Simon so serious and genuine had all of us in tears (this is the guy who not four hours ago was defacing my doll and talking about lube in front of my Mother!) As he walked away it was all too much for Tanja and she broke down completely.
As we comforted Tanja we knew that Tim, Sarah’s special person, would be out last (as usual) so that gave us the chance to say goodbye to Natalie, Rachel and Jodie. Dan also came out and, after he had had pictures with Tanja and Sarah, I just happened to mention that I felt very small at that moment (Dan is TALL. Tanja and Sarah both tower over me too, not that it’s hard.) So, for the second time that night, I was completely swept off my feet! Dan lifted me clean into the air, saying that after a year of picking up Simon I was nothing. Fair enough!
Eventually Tim came out with his lovely girlfriend Jodie and their gorgeous puppy Rocky. Poor Rocky was absolutely exhausted after making his West End debut – he was literally falling asleep in Jodie’s arms! He still had his little tuxedo on which was just too cute. As we all said goodbye to Tim we filed out of the stage door (we were literally the last ones out – even most of the staff had gone!) After nearly knocking Cam out (he was behind the door and I opened it – oops!) it was time to say goodbye to the ROAdies. After going round giving what seemed like an endless amount of hugs, it was time to go.
Walking away from the Garrick I didn’t really feel any sadness – it just didn’t seem right to be upset after such an amazing day. Yes it was the end of the show and the end of an absolutely amazing and unforgettable part of my life, but at the same time it felt like a weight had been lifted. The end of the show coincided with the third anniversary of my Grandad’s death and, despite the sadness of losing the show and the cast, everything tied in so well that, for me, this feels like the perfect time to move on and get going with my life. The show has brought so many amazing people into my life – people I wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise. I have definitely met some friends for life and now the show has gone it’s time to take everything I’ve learned over the past three years and put it into action. From here, I can go anywhere and do anything I set my mind to, and I have Rock of Ages to thank for that.