What?    An Evening with Michael Le Vell
When?    March 31, 2009
Where?   The Marriott Harbourfront Halifax hotel
When an iconic character leaves Coronation Street, such as Hilda Ogden, Mike Baldwin or Vera Duckworth, people often wonder if the Street could possibly be the same or if it would just fall apart. At 26 years and counting, as Kevin Webster, Michael Le Vell would certainly be counted as a classic character approaching iconic status himself. But he says that the show always goes on, citing the above quotation.
Michael Le Vell came to Halifax at the end of March as this year's guest of the Downeast Streeters' "An Evening With Michael Le Vell" at the Halifax Marriott Waterfront hotel. I was really excited to find out that Michael Le Vell was the Corrie actor who was going to be in Halifax this year because he's been on Coronation Street for 25 years. Surely he'd have loads of great stories to tell about his time on the show! He arrived on a blustery, rainy Monday, trudged through a snowy city on Tuesday. The main event was Tuesday night though I had a chance to meet him the night before at an informal dinner with the organizers after which he posed for photos in front of a large backdrop of Webster's Garage (more about that later). He was also presented with a lovely watercolour from Pictou County and the Order of Good Time, based on the Order of Good Cheer that was originated by Samuel de Champlain at Port Royal.
After several months of meetings and lots of hard work by individuals, it all came together on Tuesday night and we just held on for the ride. We had a wonderful Master of Ceremonies this year, a well known local florist, Neville MacKay (of My Mother's Bloomers) who always donates lovely floral arrangements for our guests' rooms. Neville is a massive Corrie fan and this year wanted to be more involved. He brought all his enthusiasm to the event and helped make the evening a lot of fun! Another really special feature this year was a large "ginnel" made of 12 panels covered in "brick" with poster sized photos of all the guests that we have had here in Halifax to date and 5 large backdrops of various businesses on Coronation Street, the Rovers, the Kabin, Roys Rolls, the Butcher shop, the garage and the corner shop. These were the inspiration of one of our committee members, Chris Bailey. The end result was spectacular! Lots of people were taking photos of the ginnel and the backdrops alone!
Closer to 7, Neville took the stage to chat to the fans. He used some lovely flowers he'd brought to describe the properties and meanings of the flowers, likening them to characters on the show. Red roses for classic beauty and he said those were for Rita and Emily. Calla Lillies, i think, were one of the trendy flowers for trendy gals like Maria. And a lemon on a stick for the inevitable fruit in the bunch, Sean. Let me just say here that Neville himself is gay so he wasn't out to insult anyone!
Michael is really nice, he's got a great sense of humour and seems to love to joke around. He's a nice guy like Kevin and he's a family man but he's not quite as tempermental as Kevin. Kevin might not fight all the time, but he has been known to lash out with his fists and as Michael points out, Kevin hasn't lost a fight yet! Neville flirted with him shamelessly and he went right along with it, making jokes right back. A few of the jokes may have been a bit close to the knuckle but I think it only shows how comfortable he was and he really seemed to enjoy himself. I didn't get a chance to ask him what it was like filming the Rovers fire in 1986 and though I did submit that question, there wasn't time to get through all the questions submitted so it didn't come up during the show, either. Another subject that didn't come up was whether Michael supports a particular charity but if we do find out, I'll change this to reflect it and link to the charity's website. Back to the show...
Michael came out from behind the curtain to a standing ovation and lots of camera flashes. Neville had given out some roses to people in the front and they tossed flowers at Michael as he came up onto the stage which was decked out with a vase of daffodils and backed by a large Rovers Return backdrop. He spent the next hour and a half answering questions, telling stories, and trading jokes with Neville, keeping everyone laughing. Before a break, the organizing committee from the Downeast Streeters came on stage. He and Neville had everyone applaud for us and our efforts and then we presented him with a couple of gifts. The first one was a hand painted rock depicting the Garage. This was done by a lady named Debbie Jardine, aka the "Rock Lady". The other gift was a unique cariacature of Michael in front of the Halifax waterfront skyline with many Halifax landmarks and icons visible in the cartoon including Theodore tugboat, the ferry, one of our harbour bridges, the town clock and one or two other things. This cartoon was drawn by my very own fiance, Graham! Michael was very surprised and really liked it and I got a photo of him posing with it so Graham could see! We had a contest earlier to guess who the actor to be our guest was and a lucky winner of a $100 gift certificate to My Mother's Bloomers was drawn and presented with their prize. Michael also drew raffle tickets and the first prize was breakfast for two the next morning with Michael. I had breakfast in the restaurant in the hotel the next morning and I saw the two lucky ladies practically skip across the room when they were shown to the table so I think they were pretty pleased!
Michael was asked how it is decided who will come on the annual Canadian trip and while most times the producers put up a notice in the green room asking if someone wants to go, this time he himself put his name forward. That's because his good mate Steven Arnold gave the trip such a glowing review and persuaded him that he ought to go. It worked out and here he is! He'd only been here two days but he's loved it so far. Everyone has made him feel welcome everywhere and he says the people are fantastic!
He really never talked about his background aside from how he chose his name. His real last name is Turner but there was already an actor in the Equity with the name of Michael Turner. His mother's maiden name is Le Vell and his other choice was MacKenzie but his auntie thought Le Vell sounded posher so Le Vell it was. He says the cast really is like family and in almost 26 years of working there, there's really never been anyone he's not got on with. Some other things about him: He's a really good poker player, he's a Manchester United fan and he only started playing darts when he was invited on a celebrity darts television show. He never knew how to play before that so had to practice for about a month so that he wouldn't make a fool of himself on telly. He was raised in Manchester and his parents died when he was young. There's a bit more about Michael and about Kevin Webster here.
At the end of a very long day and evening, some of us went to the hotel bar for one or two last nightcaps and to wind down. Michael was visibly tired by that time and i don't think he would have been long for bed once the bar closed. I saw him again just briefly this morning in the restaurant as he was heading to breakfast with the winners of the main raffle prize last night. He waved at me across the room and remembered my name! Wednesday was a clear, sunny day so he'd had the gamut of Halifax spring weather. Off to Toronto and the British Isles show and then he and his family are heading to New York for a few days holiday. Another fantastic event with a great guest!
There are more details about my own experiences on my other blog (Monday and Tuesday) but there *are* storyline spoilers in one section.