The marvellous, national treasure that is Stephen Fry has released a new book, a collection of Oscar Wilde's Stories for All Ages. I am fortunate enough to get a couple of tickets to the book signing at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London, purely by the good timing of seeing his early tweet about the event.
There is rapturous applause when Stephen arrives on stage, and I must admit that I am quite dizzy to see him in person, a charming, magnanimous entertainer and accidental cultural ambassador. And what a treat I am in for. Stephen welcomes everyone before exploring the life of Oscar Wilde with us, on the 155th anniversary of Wilde's birth. It is fascinating and enlightening to learn of Wilde's life from the perspective of a compassionate admirer, to realise his influence, his extraordinary talents, and understand the tragedy of his ultimate treatment.
The injustice meted upon Wilde is being remedied, in some small way, by his continually rising popularity and recognition in modern times. The new collection of some of Wilde's stories, introduced as a whole and individually by Stephen Fry in the book, continues to show Wilde's relevance. We are even treated to Stephen reading us The Happy Prince, which is a wonderful experience. Stephen Fry reading me a story! It is like a dream. And there is more to come.
Stephen Fry leaves the stage briefly before returning, with illustrator Nicole Stewart, for the book signing. Despite just about everyone wanting to meet Stephen and get their book signed, creating a massive queue that winds around the theatre, and signs stating that it is likely there will not be time for everyone to have their book signed, Stephen insists on signing the book for everyone who waits. This is not taken for granted, and is truly appreciated.
I have to admit to being a little nervous, not just for meeting a personal hero of mine, but also because I want to do something silly, and I am normally rather shy. Having the organisers add post-it notes inside each book to aid the writing of dedications also foils my idea a little. Even so, I can't resist. When I get to the front of the line I show how I would have replied had Stephen needed to ask my name, which I do by dropping a tube of lip balm on to the desk, the balm a substitute for a cigarette lighter as I don't smoke.
'Ah, Derek', Stephen delightfully chuckles to himself. 'And how do you spell it?' His instant recognition of the moment from the sketch is amazing.
Skipping a punch-line, I reply in my best Hugh Laurie impression, 'N-I-P-P-L hyphen E'. Zoso warned me earlier that if I dared to do this it would only end with Stephen hitting me around the head with a cricket bat, but instead he smiles and says 'thank you for remembering', handing me my copy of his collection of Oscar Wilde stories, signed by him and Nicole Stewart. Thank you, Stephen Fry, for being such an inspiration and rôle model, and continuing to enlighten.