What sort of people would pay £130 to sit in a conference hall with an actor for 90 minutes, I asked myself on the way to the Lancaster London Hotel on Saturday, writes guest reviewer Sarah Cox.
That’s just the cheap seats for An Evening With Arnold Schwarzenegger, by the way.
Want to sit a little closer to the front? Triple the price. You can add a zero and then some if you’d like a photo opportunity as well.
The night, the latest in a series of celebrity events organised by Yorkshire-born Rocco Buonvino, was hosted by TV personality Jonathan Ross.
It attracted a mixed crowd. Banker types. Slightly rowdy stag parties. A few obsessive fans, shaking with excitement.
The lady behind me, Dianne Bennett, introduced Schwarzenegger to London’s bodybuilding scene in the 1960s.
A bloke in the queue “just wanted to see him. He’s not getting any younger”.
It’s hard to believe that the mahogany-skinned man on stage turns 70 in a couple of years.
He still works out twice a day, he tells us, and is down from two Cuban cigars to just a half. Directors know he can do his own stunts, and fitness magazine sales rocket every time he’s on the cover.
London has a special place in Schwarzenegger’s heart. It’s here at the age of 19 that he placed second in the Mr Universe competition. At 20 he became the youngest person to win the title.
Arnie loves visiting his fans, but jokingly admits he’s also here because “you get paid when you do this stuff”.
Some of the night’s most amusing anecdotes came from his year in the Austrian military. A disaster as an army man (he once accidentally reversed a tank through a building), Schwarzenegger spent most of his time working out and eating as much meat as he could.
He speaks in a series of motivational clichés that would be cringe-worthy if anyone else said them. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal. Don’t do anything by halves.
This is a man who went to college, took acting classes (“I’m still looking for my accent coach so I can get my money back”), set up his own business, pumped iron for hours, and worked construction jobs to make ends meet.
“Think you need more than six hours sleep a night?” he asks. “Just sleep faster”.
As a kid, Schwarzenegger’s dad beat him. His mum was forced to beg for food. The young Arnold was never going to “become a police officer, marry a girl called Heidi and have five kids”.
He was, and continues to be, obsessed with being number one. He didn’t want to be a top bodybuilder, he wanted to win Mr Universe five times.
Governing California was great, but he would have liked to run for President. One of the loudest cheers of the night came when Jonathan Ross tried to persuade him to go for Prime Minister instead.
In a departure from his usual interviewing style, Ross barely got a word in all night. When he did, the questions were disappointingly obvious.
Schwarzenegger’s well-documented relationship with Stallone received considerably more air-time than his political career.
Rumours of a part in a remake of The Running Man, and news of a Twins sequel were well-received by the audience, but nothing new.
Last summer I broke a personal rule about not reading ghost-written celebrity books and picked up Schwarzenegger’s ‘Total Recall’, devouring all 650 pages in two days. It was superb. School careers advisors should be dishing out copies to every kid with a lack of vision.
There was nothing in this show that you couldn’t find in the book and, indeed, some anecdotes were repeated verbatim. It was a well-rehearsed performance.
But it was far from slick. In fact the show’s general production was shambolic.
It started over half an hour late and then a woman walked on stage to introduce Ross – only for him not to appear for another five minutes.
The audience was yelled at by security on the doors; they were left to find their own seats in a vast room (not the best place for an event like this); vision was poor for anyone sitting on the wings; the programmes were basic and littered with errors and the Q&A session chaotic.
Some people had paid a substantial premium, at £385 a ticket, to have the honour of asking the global icon a question, only to hear Ross throw open questions to the floor.
Arnie’s views on the future of bodybuilding were interesting, but I’m not sure “Do you like Die Hard? How awesome is Bruce Willis?” was the best use of his or our time.
“You can go anywhere on the planet, say one word – Arnold – and they’ll know who you’re talking about” said Ross.
There’s A-List and then there’s Schwarzenegger, and I enjoyed the social media bragging rights that came with being in the same room as him.
It’s just a shame that a man who has spent his life dedicated to achieving perfection was let down by a less than polished production.