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To celebrate the release of Disney’s The Lion King on DVD and Blu Ray, Tonight ran a competition in conjunction with Disney and British Airways that would afford a South African family the chance to watch The Lion King musical on the West End. Tonight writer Helen Herimbi went along for the trip to Pride Rock, UK.
In a recent interview with Snkr Frkr, acclaimed sneakerhead and designer, Stash, said: “You can’t f***ing say you’ve been to London if you don’t stand under Big Ben.”
Granted, he was talking about having real experiences as opposed to being a troll on the internet, but he has a point. I didn’t stand under Big Ben last month (I’d done that and couldn’t wait to tell my gran about it on my first trip to the city a few years ago) but I did get a once-in-a-lifetime experience of London.
Lisa Fenn, her husband Justin and their two adorable sons were the lucky winners of the competition and in addition to experiencing The Lion King on stage, they would be able to take in the sights and sounds London had to offer. I got to tag along with them for the ride. Or, rather, flight.
The 10-and-a-half-hour flight from Cape Town to the award-winning Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport was so smooth I fell asleep watching The Vow on the small screen. Not because Channing Tatum’s abs were boring, but because it was so easy to fall asleep with the courtesy blanket covering me and the pillow behind my head.
By the time we “just touched down in London town”, as Kanye West sang, the sun’s rays piercing through the large airport windows a little after 7am was an indication of the kind of weekend that was upon us. A very hot one. Score!
We took a route that had technicoloured green bushes lining the roads to reach our hotel in the city centre. It was somewhat comforting to know Londoners also struggle with the omnipresent construction work on their roads and buildings. With the Olympics almost upon them, it’s no wonder this host city wants to get into tip- top shape. Once at The Grange Holborn Hotel there was just enough time to freshen up and grab something to eat before we were to make our way to The Lyceum Theatre on Wellington Street in the West End to watch Mufasa and ’em.
The Fenn family decided to take the iconic red London buses to the theatre, but it being just more than a kilometre’s walk, I took the scenic route. Posters of Les Miserables and other plays were hard to ignore. As was the hustle and bustle of tourists and natives walking, riding and driving in the blazing sun.
The Lion King musical was performed to a full house of parents and kids. The look on the Fenn boys’ faces was priceless as the larger-than-life animals danced in the aisles and when the masks of the characters tilted atop their heads, or dropped down menacingly. At one point, the youngest Fenn, Matty, not so softly told his dad he wasn’t upset that Scar fell to his death because “he wasn’t nice”.
South Africans Lindiwe Mkhize and Andile Gumbi flew the Mzansi flag high as Rafiki and grown-up Simba respectively. The audience was thrilled by the constant clicks Rifiki spewed and the singing, backed by an orchestra in the pit, was spectacular. Visually, the musical was one of the most awe-inspiring productions I’ve ever seen. Particularly the image of Mufasa’s face filling the entire stage and coming to life while dotted by diamond-like stars.
When the Fenn family and I were treated to a backstage tour (where the kids had to be reminded to not touch the costumes), the stage manager tried to tell me how they pulled off the Mufasa trick. But I was so fascinated by the heavy costumes the actors wear with such nonchalance that I had to remind myself, like the boys, not to touch any of them.
On Saturday, I visited the famous Natural History Museum which was, in a word, fascinating. Thanks to AfriPOP! Mag’s Phiona Okumu, I got to meet some members of the UK media which resulted in me spending time in Brixton where I sampled some saltfish, ackee and jerk chicken. I also got to connect with kindred folks at the Brixton Village who sell vinyls, books on grafitti and play hip hop in the village’s corridors in the evenings.
On Sunday afternoon, I visited the BBC One’s radio offices and got a tour of the place that’s made the likes of Trevor Nelson world-famous and even got to see DJ and VJ Reggie Yates, who looks much hotter in person.
Then I circled Oxford Circus trying to shop a few times before I passed by Harrods and got lost in the Soho district. At night I played boardgames and danced to neo-soul at a lounge in Shoreditch where the grown and sexy hang out when the hipsterdom of town and the island-style of Brixton gets to them.
Before I was due to fly home, I experienced some real English hospitality. I had high tea with British Airways Africa PR manager, Camilla Barrett, at the prestigious The Langham Hotel. Since Diamond Jubilee fever was reaching dizzying heights, we chatted over the Asprey Diamond Jubilee Afternoon Tea. Exclusive to Europe’s first “Grand Hotel,” this Afternoon Tea experience was a collaboration with Asprey, a luxury goods company.
Representing an interpretation of Asprey’s jewellery, we enjoyed pastries that included blueberry and bilberry battenburg, purple jasmine with apricot and a praline truffle. Along with savoury sandwiches and cups of The Oriental Blend – said to be the queen’s favourite – this became one of the highlights of my trip.
I dashed back to the hotel to check in online. Later, I boarded the plane and tried to finish the rest of The Vow when I remembered I hadn’t stood under Big Ben, but I didn’t mind because my time was well-spent.