But I'm getting ahead of myself. This is the 2011 tour blog, and I haven't even told you about England yet.
First of all, there was some pre-trip drama that I didn't want to tell anybody about, so only a handful of people knew that the British Consulate DENIED my visa when I applied in October.
Imagine my horror when I got the email that said the visa had been denied, but gave me no reason why! Then I had to wait for them to return the application to find out why, and in the end it was because I was a dummy and just sent in the application without supplying any additional documentation about myself or the purpose of the trip. I just assumed that because they gave me a visa last year, and because everything was covered in the application, that this year would be a breeze...WRONG!
Then I couldn't find any information anywhere about how to appeal the decision, and I was FREAKING OUT because there was NO WAY I could miss the opportunity to be on television all over the United Kingdom! I called Senator Shaheen's office and the people there were extremely helpful, and told me I should re-apply with the proper documentation. So I did, and believe me, I sent them about a half-inch thick pile of paper with my second application. Everything from a copy of our mortgage statement and our 2010 income tax return to a letter from Make-a-Wish UK saying how much money we raised last year. I not only had to pony up for another application fee, but by that time I had to pay an extra $150 to expedite the application process. Imagine my relief when I got the email that said it had been approved. This was 11th hour stuff, folks!
Anyway, when I finally arrived a Heathrow around 7am UK time on Monday, Paul and Chris were nowhere to be seen. After awhile the assistant producer of the documentary showed up toting a camera and explained that they were running late. When they arrived I was so happy to see them again,we had a lovely reunion and she filmed the whole thing. Then she filmed us walking out the door of the airport, and it was supposed to be natural (reality TV!) but it was really awkward. There is no way you can be natural when someone has a camera aimed at you!
Driving away from the airport she put the camera on the dashboard and did a lot of filming of us just talking. Then she parted ways with us and we went on to Stonehenge, which was amazing...but I have to admit, it was a lot smaller than I'd thought it would be. You hear so much about it that I expected the stones to be these huge monoliths, but in reality I'd say they aren't really any taller than 15 or 18 feet. Pretty big, but not what I'd envisioned. Still, it was eerie to be there and to learn about how long it's been there, and how many zillions of people have lived and died who have walked by or around that thing. And it was really cool to actually be there after all of these years of hearing about it.
We got to Wells in late afternoon and I checked into the hotel. It was about this time that I was alerted online here to some major nasty stuff that was being said about me by some people who just have a problem with me in general and who were complaining about a statement that I made online regarding copyrights and licensing. I don't want to go into details, but it was ugly, and hurtful, and I know this sort of thing goes with being in the public eye but I was suffering from jet-lag anyway and this just threw me into a tailspin. I was so upset, I was crying and all, and Paul came back over to the hotel and sat and talked with me for awhile until I got sleepy, and then I slept until 4pm the next day. I felt a whole lot better when I woke up. The only reason I'm mentioning it at all is because I want to give whoever reads this the total picture...that being me isn't all wonderfulness 24 hours a day. For some strange reason there are people who actually don't like me! Can you imagine that? Hahahahah! But seriously, I'll address this supposed need I have for "Fame and Fortune" in another post. Let's just say for now that I need to develop a thicker skin, and not just a lot of fat with thin skin over it!
For the sake of time, and cause I don't wanna bore you, I'll fast forward to the day of the switch-on, which was Wednesday. I was nervous all day. I NEVER get nervous before concerts, but this was a huge event for Paul and Chris, and a HUGE event for the whole community, and I just really didn't want to screw it up for them. Paul and Chris were so busy that they never got over to pick me up until around 3pm, but it was cool because there was a market going on in the town and I had a chance to browse around and pick up some Christmas gifts and stuff. It was fun!
When I got to Paul's house it was just madness. Everyone was getting ready and people were starting to arrive, so I just got out of the way and took a walk around the neighborhood, singing to myself. I was planning to sing some of the new stuff, so I was going over the lyrics and I'm walking down the street about a block from Paul's house, it's pretty dark out, but suddenly I see this light and it's two people running across the street toward me with the television camera, and they get on the sidewalk just in front of me and walk backwards in front of me and it was all sort of alarming. I kept singing but now I was really self-conscious so I probable blew it all by looking up and saying "I'm just practicing!" and then I put my head down and kept walking.
The actual event was pretty amazing. First of all, I want to say that Paul's display may not be as big as some of the ones I've seen in America, but it is really really beautiful! The feature I like the best is that he's used a child's slide to create a sort of "waterfall" with lights that goes down into a little pond and he's got penguins and polar bears frolicking around and it's lots of fun. He covers the whole lawn with this white stuff that looks like snow. It's really tasteful and just lovely. Plus he's decorated the lawns of several of the other houses in the "close" as well (with their permission, of course).
A little while before we started Mr. John Challis, who plays one of the most famous characters of all time on British television (http://www.thegreengreengrass.co.uk/default.asp?chr_=boycie), "Boycie", arrived to much hoopla. What a nice guy, too! I'm told it was the UK equivalent of having someone like William Shatner or Henry Winkler come to your house to switch on your lights!
Eventually it was time to get started and Paul introduced me, I sang for about half an hour, and then it was time to switch on the lights. Mr. Challis took the stage and did a little monologue for a while which everyone there just ate right up, and then they did the countdown and switched on the lights and I sang The House on Christmas Street. It was wonderful. There were literally ONE THOUSAND people in this little cul-de-sac just cheering and having a wonderful time. It was really something amazing to be a part of that.
There were booths where people could get mince pies (I tried one...yum!), mulled wine and Starbucks coffee, and John Challis arrived in a vintage Rolls Royce. The whole thing was orchestrated by Paul Toole and his partner Chris Elliott and I bow down to their genius. Someone in the street told me that the guys had created a NATIONAL EVENT right there in the smallest city in all of England.
In the following days Paul and his display were featured on all the morning news television programs (one guy did the weather from Paul's house!) and were in every major newspaper in the country. Paul's now a real celebrity who will be recognized wherever he goes, and he deserved it, because he took this dark little corner of the world and lit is up for everyone to see. I'm proud to be his friend.
The latest word on the documentary is that it's called "The King of Christmas Lights," it features three separate households, the editing is done but they won't tell us what they have included, and it will be shown all over the UK on December 19th. It's mind boggling when you think about it. I have no idea whether I will actually be included in it or not, but whatever happens, it was a totally amazing experience and one I will never, ever forget. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Paul and Christopher for making it happen and I wish the best of all things for them. I'll keep you posted on what happens with the doc and if there's a chance we can see it here in the states as I get the news.
As always, thanks for reading my drivel and