‘I’ve seen Les Misérables 1,027 times’ … superfans of Star Wars, Madonna, Harry Potter and more

One of the super fans is John Hand who is in his early 40s and from Luton. He works for the BBC and has been a Madonna fan for 32 years.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘I’ve seen Les Misérables 1,027 times’ … superfans of Star Wars, Madonna, Harry Potter and more” was written by Interviews by Homa Khaleeli, for The Guardian on Tuesday 22nd March 2016 18.16 UTC

‘Some people go to a therapist. I built a giant Millennium Falcon’

Martin Creaney, 42, is a Star Wars fan from Victoria, Australia. He works in a DIY store.

About five years ago I brought together my love of science fiction and Star Wars with my woodwork abilities. First I built a spacecraft from an anime show I loved. Then I thought I would try a Millennium Falcon – but I had no idea what I was getting into. The plan was to make it look as if it had crashed through the ceiling, so I only had to make a corner of the craft. But as it went on, I decided to just make the whole thing. The problem was I had built that first corner so big, it ended up being huge: it’s 1.8 metres long and 1.5 metres wide.

It took about 15 months to finish, what with all the fine detailing. Woodwork’s more than just a hobby to me, but it’s not how I earn my living. So I’d work on it for an hour or two in the evening and then at weekends. I’m especially proud of the gun turret on the top, because I figured out a way to make it move up and down and swivel around. Some people pay thousands to go to a therapist. I play around with wood. A passion makes a big difference to your life: as I worked on this, the worries of the day would melt away.

The fine detailing on Creaney’s wooden Millennium Falcon.
The fine detailing on Creaney’s wooden Millennium Falcon. Photograph: Paul Jeffers/The Guardian

I’ve seen the Star Wars films dozens of times. I loved the new one – it was like renewing old friendships. I grew up loving these characters. It was pure escapism: a classic story of a young man being drawn into an epic adventure. My favourite was Chewbacca: he was so different from everyone else, and could express so much without words. I was a bit of a shy kid so I guess I liked the fact he didn’t have to speak much. Plus he looked so strong and cool.

My sister made me set up a Facebook page to show my work, and I found the comments really humbling and emotional. One just read: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Another guy, only half-joking, said: “I may have shed a tear when I saw this.” I can understand, because it’s about seeing your own passion reflected in what someone else has done. That connection is nice.

When I examine my Millennium Falcon, I see things I should have done better. I had planned to mount it on my wall, but after all the nice Facebook comments I’m trying to figure out a way to show it to others, maybe at a fan convention. It’s nice to have your passion recognised.

‘I always keep a wand in my car’

Katie Aiani, 28, is a web and graphic designer. She lives in California and claims to be the world’s No 1 Harry Potter fan.

‘I’ve been told it’s worth £40,000’ … Katie Aiani surrounded by her Harry Potter memorabilia.
‘I’ve been told it’s worth £40,000’ … Katie Aiani surrounded by her Harry Potter memorabilia. Photograph: Sharon Hardy Ludwig/Mercury Press

One evening when I was 11, my father was reading a Harry Potter book to my seven-year-old sister. I heard the words “ear wax”, so I started teasing her, saying it was disgusting. She was so cross she threw the book at me. She said it was the best thing she’d ever read, then shoved me in my room and shouted: “Don’t come out until you’ve read it!”

By the next morning, I’d taken all her other Harry Potter books, too. I loved the fact it was about an average child doing something extraordinary. Hermione, Harry’s friend, became my hero. I didn’t like reading before, but because of her I wanted to be top of my class. And I managed it.

The books helped me in other ways. My sister and I used to hate each other and fight all the time. But Harry Potter brought us together, gave us something in common. When I got my driver’s licence, we would go to conventions. I even paid for her to travel with me to the UK so we could visit all the Harry Potter film locations.

On our first day, we were in Trafalgar Square and saw the queue for the premiere of The Deathly Hallows Part 2 – a week before it was due to screen. It was my life goal to meet JK Rowling, so I just sat down next to them all and told my sister I couldn’t go anywhere. We didn’t have a tent and it rained. It was crazy, horrible, but we met so many great people.

We were right next to the red carpet at the premiere, but JK Rowling walked right past us. I was so upset – but I later met her in New York at a book signing for The Casual Vacancy. I gave her a letter saying how much she had helped me. That year at Christmas, my sister called me at work saying: “This is not a drill. There is a letter here with a Scotland postmark.” I raced home and it was from JK Rowling. I was so happy, I got part of the letter tattooed on my arm.

I have a lot of Harry Potter memorabilia: I’ve been told it’s worth £40,000. But it is almost all presents from friends and family over the years. I am not rich! I have robes and costumes and I always keep a wand in my car. Recently I got to go into the Wizarding World in California before it was opened. I was crying the whole time.

I love being a fan. I know people who are actors, singers and writers because of Harry Potter – maybe they started writing fan fiction, or playing in a wizarding rock band. A year ago, I started a non-profit company to raise money for JK Rowling’s charity Lumos. My best friend and I produce “nerd-themed” murder mystery shows. We recently raised ,000 [£8,400]. I am so proud to be taking my passion for Harry Potter and using it to make a difference in the world.

‘I’ve seen Les Misérables 1,027 times. Every night is different’

Sally Frith, 51, works in a Gloucestershire after-school club and loves Les Misérables.

‘My mum’s at 200 times’ … Sally Frith.
‘My mum’s at 200 times’ … Sally Frith. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

The first musical I saw was Evita when I was 14 and it made a huge impression on me. It was 1979 and I had travelled to London for the first time, from my little village in the country. Seeing punk rockers walking round Piccadilly Circus was like being on a different planet.

I didn’t see Les Misérables when it opened, but everyone kept telling me to. When I finally went, in 1988, I was gobsmacked. It was so different from other musicals. I loved the fact that, instead of traditional scenery, there was a set that moved around. Plus the songs are brilliant and the book’s amazing. Overall, it’s just a fantastic show.

I have been 1,027 times now, spending more than £50,000. Because it’s live theatre, every night is different. You have to keep going back to get everything out of it. For instance, the actor who plays Fantine comes back on quite soon after her character dies, but dressed as a boy on the barricades. Some people don’t pick up on that.

‘I always go to the stage door after’ … Sally Frith with cast member Matt Lucas in 2011.
‘I always go to the stage door after’ … Sally Frith with cast member Matt Lucas in 2011. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

I do go to other musicals – especially if the Les Misérables cast are starring. But it’s a risk: you may be wasting your money. When you go to Les Misérables, you know you will have a good time. I always go to the stage door to get autographs after and have become friendly with the cast. Totally impartially, I have to say Craig Mather, who plays Marius, is my favourite – he is my aunt’s great nephew. When he got the part, he was very sweet: he said he hoped he would live up to my expectations.

My mother comes with me quite often. She’s been more than 200 times. When I am at the theatre, I often hear audience members saying things like: “Oh, this is my fourth time!” I just think: “OK, keep going!” Some people think I am crazy, but there are people who sit on cold riverbanks fishing all day.

‘We’ve even been to an Andrea Bocelli skating show’

Cami and Jack McNamee live in Virginia, America. Now in their 60s, they spend their retirement following classical music star Andrea Bocelli.

‘He’s a neat guy – we talk about soccer’ … Jack and Cami McNamee with Andrea Bocceli and his wife Veronica Berti
‘He’s a neat guy – we talk about soccer’ … Jack and Cami McNamee with Andrea Bocceli and his wife Veronica Berti Photograph: PR Image

Cami: When we started going to Andrea’s concerts all over the world, I worried that everyone would think we were crazy. But we made so many friends, and it was all so rewarding, that we just thought: “Who cares?”

Like many fans, I first heard him on TV. There was this programme called A Night in Tuscany. I thought it would be a travelogue, but it was a concert. There was something so touching about his voice. I began to read up about him. His story involved a lot of courage [the tenor lost his sight at the age of 12].

A year later, he was performing in Washington and we bought tickets for the third night. But when I told Jack there were still tickets on sale for the opening night, he bought those too, as a surprise. We met Andrea that evening at a gala dinner. I had memorised a phrase in Italian so, working up my courage, I approached his table and said: “Signore Bocelli. Grazie per la musica. Stasera era un miracolo!” (“Mr Bocelli. Thank you for the music. Tonight was a miracle.”)

We’ve seen him 60 times now. You would think we would be getting tired of it all, but we were just down in Florida for a Valentine Day’s concert. We’ve turned up at so many events that it has grown into a friendship. Andrea and his wife Veronica are always happy to say hi.

It is expensive, building entire vacations around his tours, but I don’t get manicures or my hair dyed so this is our indulgence. It’s been a good investment for our well-being. There is so much negativity in the world that you need something beautiful to counteract it.

Jack: We have seen Andrea in Vienna, Berlin, Prague, Wales, Rome, Sicily twice and Valencia – also across the US, including New York and the Hollywood Bowl. We even went to a skating event he did.

It was Cami who got me interested but, after meeting Andrea and reading the notes he sent to his fans, I began to admire his interest in helping others. I like the fact his whole family are involved in his tours. How can I put this? He’s a neat guy! We talk about soccer.

You do see something new each show. And we have made wonderful friends. Once, in Verona, we were having dinner and the other guests were from Japan, South Africa and Europe. The only common theme was Andrea and opera. I’d say these groups are generally 80% women, but I have five sisters so I am used to that.

‘Seeing Madonna was even more exciting than the Pope’s visit’

John Hand is in his early 40s and from Luton. He works for the BBC and has been a Madonna fan for 32 years.

‘I got a surprise call from her office’ … John Hand.
‘I got a surprise call from her office’ … John Hand. Photograph: Alecsandra Raluca Dragoi/The Guardian

When I think of Madonna, I think of the lyrics to Holiday and the demand that we “celebrate”. My friends say I am the most positive person they know and being a Madonna fan is part of that.

I remember precisely when I first saw her: on Top of the Pops in 1984. I was only watching because everyone at school was talking about how Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax had been banned by the BBC. Then I saw Madonna and was transfixed by this young woman with amazing energy. Slowly my Liverpool FC posters came down and the Madonna posters started going up. My parents still buy me a Madonna calendar every year.

In 1987, she played her first proper concert in the UK. I used my paper round money to buy tickets and got the bus to see her in Leeds. It was worth every penny. Being in the crowd with so many like-minded people was amazing. I’m a Catholic but this was even more exciting than when the Pope came to the UK.

When she did the Blonde Ambition tour three years later, I was at every UK date. By 2001, I was travelling to concerts around the world. I couldn’t care less if she was no longer regarded as the coolest star – being a Madonna fan had become a part of my identity. I’ve now been to over 90 performances, 10 of them last year. Even so, I am not sure I’d call myself a “superfan” because some of her other fans are so obsessive. But in 2005, I got a surprise call from Madonna’s office inviting me to a premiere screening of a concert documentary because I’d been to so many of her shows.

A Madonna show is like the Cirque du Soleil: spectacular lights, costumes and dancers. Even without her, it would be fantastic. But when you add on the hardest working, most engaging and watchable singer, you get an incredible show. I’m not into memorabilia but, about 10 years ago, I saw her on Top of the Pops and, afterwards, a cleaner gave me one of her Kabbalah water bottles.

I like the fact that she is a rule-breaker who doesn’t care what people say. She left her home with in her pocket, arrived in New York determined to be famous. And she did it by working her socks off. As a kid from Luton who wanted to be a music journalist but didn’t know how, I saw her as a role model.

Madonna isn’t my only obsession. I love Liverpool FC, poker and tennis, and I have spent almost as much time and money on them. But she is the one that provides the most fun. I have met some of my best friends through Madonna. People prepared to drop everything, catch a flight to Paris and queue overnight for tickets for a surprise show. People like Helen, who tried (unsuccessfully) to buy a Madonna ticket off me. I’m now godfather to her twins.

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