It was a night when all the stars came out to play at Istana Budaya and I was one of the spectators.
The annual Laureus World Sports Awards, which honours top sportsmen and sportswomen, came to Malaysia this year, its first in Southeast Asia. It was a fine evening blessed with clear skies (considering that Kuala Lumpur was recently enveloped in a haze), and a moderate peak hour traffic around Jalan Tun Razak.
Arriving at the venue, it was interesting to note there were no huge crowds of fans behind the barriers despite the fact that the attendees list boasted the likes of Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel, legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk, Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx and Rush actor Daniel Bruhl, amongst others. Had this been in Los Angeles, London or even Tokyo, the fans would have spilled over onto the roads.
I swiftly made my way through the marquee, past international and local personalities being photographed and interviewed, to the main building. But a sudden gut feeling made me stop short in my tracks on the blue carpet. Scanning the area, I saw a swarm of celebrities under the bright spotlights. There was a local songbird decked in stunning red from head to toe a few steps to my right, but she was not my object of interest at all.
Because there he was, standing tall looking unquestionably dapper in black suit and tie and great hair — the only star who mattered to me.
It was Benedict Cumberbatch. All 1.83m of him, just a few metres away.
For the past few years, his face has decorated my mobile phone’s home and lock screen, not to mention that I have fashioned an automated slideshow of him readily available on my phone. And that iconic photo of him dancing with Michael Fassbender earlier this year — I have that as my laptop’s wallpaper, too.
But here was the man, in the flesh. Perhaps it was just my luck that Cumberbatch had actually decided to come here. In fact I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears when I learnt that he had agreed to host the Awards in Kuala Lumpur.
The thing is, a few months back I had actually planned to fly to London to see him at the BFI preview screening of Season Three of BBC’s Sherlock in December. Unfortunately, the tickets to the screening were sold out even before they were made available to the public. He laughed when I told him about this.
If making those kind of plans makes me sound like a great fan, a CumberCollective, as he calls it; then I suppose I am.
A VERY LONG AFFAIR
You see, Cumberbatch and I go way back.
The first time I laid eyes on him was when he played Britain’s youngest Prime Minister, William Pitt The Younger in Michael Apted’s Amazing Grace (2006).
I did not know who he was then, but the talented actor’s convincing depiction of the youthful premier — and his pale yet undeniably sharp features — caught my eyes.
To be honest, I watched Amazing Grace to witness Ioan Gruffudd as the abolitionist William Wilberforce, the driving force behind Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act 1833. But by the end-credits I learnt that William Pitt was portrayed by one Benedict Cumberbatch. Such a mouthful, isn’t it?
But the British actor continued to steal my attention with his versatility.
Over the years I have watched him in various roles for both television and motion picture. Aside from his stellar performances in BBC’s Sherlock and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), I particularly enjoyed his turns as the enigmatic Vincent van Gogh in Van Gogh: Painted with Words and the turncoat Guy Burgess in Michael Dobbs’ play The Turning Point.
Everyone including myself rejoiced when he lent his voice to Smaug the fiery dragon in The Hobbit film franchise. But let me tell you that the best experience is to have his velvet-smooth baritone voice lull you into slumber through his audiobook narrations (my personal favourite is Casanova).
And Cumberbatch’s composed British demeanour laced with displays of strong opinion on issues like civil liberties violations match my idea of a thinking gentleman. Perhaps the fact that he went to the all-boys boarding school Harrow appeals to me as someone who had had her education in the all-girls boarding school Tunku Kurshiah College.
So when he took to the stage that evening, I was ready to be charmed by his British wit. And he truly did not disappoint.
He maintained a thoughtful poise which matched the sombre mood of the event due to the fact that MH370 was still missing and that this was the first Awards event since the death of Laureus’ Patron, Nelson Mandela.
While he joked about spewing statistics, teased Vettel about coins and laughed at a hologram projection of himself and his photo-bombing spectacle at the recent Academy Awards, Cumberbatch demonstrated a great deal of professionalism as the host. He even got the pronunciations right when it came to Malaysian names!
I laud him for all his admirable efforts. If he keeps this attitude going in everything that he does, he is on track to achieving even greater success in his life.
Despite being under the same roof with so many distinguished individuals, Cumberbatch was the star who shone brightest in my eyes. When I met and spoke with him, he was exactly how I had dreamt he would be — the perfect gentleman that he is. We even pondered over taking a selfie together.
Olympic gold medallist Missy Franklin may have won the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year award, but when Cumberbatch said “it was great meeting you” as we parted ways, I felt that I was the luckiest gal that evening.