WAS IT WORTH IT?
Last year, I attended my first Star Trek convention in Birmingham and I had an amazing time. I met the stars who-until then-I had only seen through the glass barrier that we call television. They were all so friendly and at the end of the convention I knew that I was going back, but I had decided that I needed to see what the more premium tickets were like.
Originally, I was considering the Admiral pass which costs a pricey £3,000 (which according to Google is currently worth $3851.02). After some deliberation , a trip to Los Angeles and another one coming next year I decided on the lower priced Captain’s pass which was only £800 ($1026.80). Only £800 he says- but compared to £3,000 it’s a significant reduction. So, was it worth it? What benefits did I get for the premium price? Well luckily for you I can tell you without it costing you £800.
So, for starters what did the package contain? Alongside a three day pass, you also got all of the paid talks which included a talk given by Patrick Stewart. The talks varied in price but I worked out a rough average of £15 each, so they would have cost £120 to buy on their own. You also got two signed photos and autographs; one high tier and one mid tier, as well as three £15 photos and autos. I worked out that to buy the autos and photos I got it would have cost £235. You also got a pre-signed photo and card by an actor who wasn’t present at the event. There was also a gift bag that contained a rucksack which came in handy for the weekend, plus a lot of other paraphernalia including a mug, poster and pen. The actual cost of those to buy separately I’m not sure of. On top of that there was also what they called Meet and Greets for Captains and Admirals. These were small intimate Q&A sessions on the Saturday and Sunday mornings. For me though, the biggest draw was the priority placement in photos and autograph queues and priority seating in the talks. So obviously the Admiral’s got preferential treatment but after them were the Captains. We got the second and third rows in the talks and to give you an idea of how close that is check out my photo below from the Picard talk.
When I attended last year I paid £120 for the Lieutenant’s pass and the distance from the stage was quite substantial. I spent most of the talks looking at the screen. But this year, I was looking at the stage. Being that close during the talks was much more immersive and made you feel more like they were talking to you; it was quite an experience. The talks this year were really informative and interesting and whilst they were all included in the ticket, there were some clashes so I wasn’t able to attend them all. Part of the convention experience in general is that there is so much to do that it is impossible to do everything you want to. Although with the clashes I had out of the eight talks that were included, I still managed to go to five of them.
Whilst priority seating was one big draw, what I found to be the biggest benefit of the whole weekend was the queue jumping- especially for the autographs. The queues for a lot of the stars would get quite big and being able to go down and be the next person in line meant that there was a lot more time freed up to go to talks or just look around the convention hall. In total this year I got seven autographs including the ones that were included on my pass and being able to jump straight to the front was fantastic. The queue for Anson Mount’s autograph was particularly long when I arrived for mine and I’m certain that I would have been queuing for an hour easily if it weren’t for my pass. The guest interaction in the autographs was the most fun and I will go into that in more detail later. Last year again on my Lieutenant’s pass there was no queue jumping so for one autograph I ended up waiting in line for about 40 minutes and missed out on another autograph because the guest had already left. That did not happen this year and I got to get every autograph that I wanted.
So, was it worth it? Did I feel like I got the £800 worth? Yes! Comparing the experience to last year, I did not find myself rushing around anywhere near as much. I was able to take my time and really appreciate the convention, of course with clashes there was always that element of wondering what was the best thing to do and how was I going to do both? But like I said, that’s the convention experience in a nutshell, you cannot do everything because everything happens alongside itself. But would I pay the £800 for the Captain’s pass again? In a heartbeat. The only thing that is putting me off the convention next year is the location. They have moved it to London which means the cost of food and accommodation will be a lot higher than Birmingham. But assuming I can get hotel with a good location in relation to the convention centre, I will definitely be there again next year with my Captain’s pass. Would I go as far as the Admiral pass? Right now, no. I cannot justify the expense of the Admiral’s pass compared to the Captain’s. But if I came into a lot of money (like if I won the Euro Millions or if some kind soul were to offer to pay the £3000), sure!
Now the comparisons are over I’ll move onto the event itself and my experiences. First of all, anyone who read my article about last year’s event will be well aware that the journey down was cursed. Whilst I did have a train delay this year, it was a substantially shorter delay- 4 minutes as opposed to last year’s hour. I also stayed in a different hotel this year, the Hilton Metropole. This was the place to be for the weekend as the guests themselves were staying here. Sightings of the stars was frequent and there were some fun stories of guest interaction around the bar, including (from what I heard) Alan Van Sprang playing Star Trek Monopoly with a bunch of people. One of the strangest experiences was whilst dancing at one of the parties, I turned around to realize I’d been practically dancing with Alan Van Sprang. He was the life of the party, showing up to them all and always happy to interact with the fans. I was also able to have a brief chat with JG Hertzler who played General Martok in Deep Space Nine. He was one of the most humble men I’ve ever met- every compliment I gave him on his portrayal he turned around onto the writers. And he was more than happy to speak to little old me for five minutes.
The talks this year were really good and while I loved all the Deep Space Nine talks last year (this year also had some fantastic ones), the Picard talk was one of the best. But, personally, I thought the best talk of the whole weekend was a last minute addition. On the Sunday morning, LeVar Burton had been scheduled to give a talk on the character of Geordi LaForge called “Report to Engineering”. However, he had come down with a case of laryngitis and was unable to speak. Despite this though, he still attended all the photo sessions and was signing autographs all day. The replacement talk brought in was Starfleet Engineers Connor Trineer (from Enterprise) and Anthony Rapp (from Discovery) on top of two real life ESA (European Space Agency) Engineers. The talk was informative, but also hilarious; coffee elitism and sealing leaks with fingers were just a few of the things talked about. One of the engineers actually talked Connor Trineer out of wanting to go to space! Having the two, as they became known as, fake engineers and the two real engineers on a panel together was a stroke of genius. And whilst a part of me was looking forward to the LeVar Burton talk, I think what we got in its place was better.
The meet and greets were really nice because of the intimate nature, the first day was with Connor Trineer and Dominic Keating from Enterprise. The love for each other they have was so evident whilst they were on the stage, it was like two old friends reuniting and they were a joy to watch. I kicked off the questions with a question for Connor about playing the two very different characters Trip Tucker in Enterprise and Michael in Stargate Atlantis. Dominic’s reaction to the question was brilliant; he stood up and “stormed off the stage”, to which I yelled “Sorry,” to him. It was all in good fun. The answer was very insightful and interesting and it was great to be able to ask him about how it was playing both characters. The talk ended with Dominic singing a little song and I really enjoyed it. The Meet and Greet on the Sunday was with Chase Masterson and Scott MacDonald and this was just as interesting and fun to listen to. Scott briefly talked about when he told a friend of his that he was going to a Sci-Fi convention and the reaction his friend gave. It was a wonderful story with a very valid point that I agree entirely with. People who are not in the Sci-Fi fandom have this judgemental attitude towards people who dress up in Starfleet Uniforms or as aliens at conventions. However, when they attend some sort of sporting event they will happily wear the “uniform” of their team they support- so how is that any different than people wearing a Starfleet Uniform? It was a great session and I couldn’t wait to talk with Chase one to one when I went for my autograph with her.
Chase has a charity that is all about how to stop bullying and its an amazing cause, something that really hits close to home for me as well as someone who has suffered from bullying. If you’re interested in learning more about it, you can visit the site here: www.popculturehero.org.
The photo sessions were great- of course because it’s a photo you don’t really have chance to chat with the guests as much because they have an allotted time and you need to get through them quickly. But the photographers were very good at getting great photos and the stars were fantastic and pleasant, even though it must be very difficult to be under constant flashes from the photographs. My first photo was with Anson Mount on a green screen photo that had the Discovery chair. The three people who had been in front had wanted Anson to sit in the chair as they said it was his chair. Me? I wanted the chair. I walked up and he gestured in a way that asked “Do you want to sit or stand?” I responded, “I know it’s your chair but I’m sorry I’m going to have to steal it, I want the chair,” with a cheeky grin. Anson smiled and stood up, “You gotta take the chair man,” he said to me. The photo was great fun and when I got it signed he remembered our interaction and inscribed the photo with “You stole my chair!!!” I got to commit mutiny against Captain Pike, it was so much fun.
The photo session with JG Hertzler as General Martok was amazing. Not only was he in full costume and makeup, but he was also in full character! They had to take two photos, because on the first one he cracked me up so much that I looked really weird in the photo. He is such a character in real life and he looked amazing in the costume, it was like once the costume was on he was Martok! Much like I did last year with Casey Biggs as Damar, I wanted to say something to the character and having seen his interactions I walked up to JG and yelled “FOR THE EMPIRE!” to which he shouted the same back to me and when walking away I shouted “Qapla!” to him which is Klingon for “Success.” JG as Martok shouted a “Qapla!” back to me. It was an incredible experience to be in a room with the character for even a fleeting moment. When I went to get the photo signed, we had a talk about the T-shirt I was wearing; it was a Picard chateau T-shirt and he asked me if it was a real wine. I didn’t know at the time but told him about the crate of bottles in the Picard museum that were on display. He inscribed the photo with “MORE WINE!”
The last interaction I want to talk about was the one I had with Chase Masterson. In her talk she was discussing combating bullying- and as someone who has experienced bullying quite a bit, it really spoke to me. Without even realizing, I was talking to her about my battle with depression and how Star Trek had literally saved my life on numerous occasions. It was this outpouring of emotion that I hadn’t intended on telling her at all but once I had started, I couldn’t stop. She was so sweet and made me promise that I would not let myself slip back to where I was when I was suffering with depression and told me that there were people out there who love me and that reaching out to someone is the best thing to do. I was fighting back tears and she gave me a big hug and told me that she hopes to see me again. It was the most genuine and heartfelt moment of the entire experience for me and it was unforgettable.
The convention experience can be a mixed bag dependent on what you do, who you see and your own personal experiences. Everyone there was there to share a love of an entertainment franchise that spans 53 years and there was this overwhelming sense of community. People who dress up love to go all out and the interaction with the cosplayers was so much fun. I had the honor of being “killed” by a hoard of Klingons this year and I couldn’t stop laughing from the amount of fun I was having being surrounded by several Klingon’s with Bat’Leths. I was trying to look scared but as you can tell from the photo below, I am not a very good actor.
Star Trek has entertained millions of people for years and will continue to entertain them for years to come. Watching TV is mostly a solitary event and you usually don’t get a chance to interact with the people on the screen . Conventions give you the chance to share experiences with other fans and to interact with the people who play your heroes. It’s a unique experience that is indescribable because of the differing experience from person to person. I would recommend that everyone attends some sort of convention once just to experience it, and if like me you get the bug then I’ll be happy to have a drink with you at the next one. I intend on being in London for Destination Star Trek 2020 and I really hope that I make it. I’ll certainly have my Captain’s pass if I can get there.