Following Gaga’s lead: my night at the Baftas

Threatened by champagne reflux at every turn, I take my award ceremony cues from the House of Gucci star, without her satin train and licence to wander about

The first thing I realise as I pour my curves into my hired tux ahead of my night at the Baftas is that I don’t have any shoes. No one had mentioned appropriate dress shoes to me at Moss Bros, so I ended up donning a pair of Dr Martens which had been gathering dust under my wardrobe. I feel like a variation of that meme: “When you’ve got the Baftas at 5pm but a Machine Gun Kelly club night in Camden at 10pm.” Also, suits don’t quite work on my lanky frame: I look like a scarecrow dressed as a slightly rebellious waiter. Later, as I check my invite for the millionth time another realisation hits me: nearly every aspect of the evening will involve champagne. Not to demystify the glamour of it all so early on, but champagne brings on my acid reflux. I imagine myself gagging in front of Benedict Cumberbatch (insert a Rebel Wilson-style cheeky wink here).

After 2021’s low-key Zoom-based awards, everything about this year’s full-capacity ceremony is dialled back up to Fabulous. The red carpet – Europe’s longest, flooring fans – is properly bright. The lights, while unnecessary given that the ceremony’s earlier-than-normal start means it’s still daytime, are retina-burning. Fans are back, too. On arrival at the Royal Albert Hall I clomp up the lightly watered red carpet walkway the wrong way, spying a gaggle of Benedict Cumberbatch disciples. One man, seemingly having drifted in from the set of Portrait Artist of the Year, clasps a sketchpad featuring a delicate pencil drawing of his idol. Next to him a Florence Pugh T-shirt is draped over the advertising hoardings ready to be scrawled over. Anyone that walks past who isn’t Cumberbatch, Pugh or even tangentially linked to the Marvel universe is given short shrift.

Getting inside takes time. There are queues of extended-arm selfie-takers and people posing in front of gigantic Bafta faces. At one point the red carpet splits; on one side go the famous people to have their photos taken by professionals, and on the other go the normal people to have strangers take blurry pics on iPhones. Once inside though, there’s calm. Too much calm. The stage is empty, as are all the seats. In fact, they’re still rehearsing; at one point Florence Pugh walks on to practise swishing her long pink tulle dress so that it settles behind her in exactly the right place. I examine my box (Rebel Wilson face) and there it is, a huge bottle of champagne, my very own sparkling kryptonite. I settle for still water in a champagne flute (fancy!) and instantly regret not having some crisps before I left. Dinner is at least six hours away.

Luckily a nice man from the Independent shares his bag of Nibbly Fingers with me as we watch sparkly dresses take their seats. Lady Gaga – nominated for best actress in extended Dolmio advert House of Gucci – arrives in 10 feet of green satin. She’s by far the starriest, most properly famous person in the room; famous enough to get up and have a wander around despite the show literally being about to start. It’s hard to tell from our vantage point how she feels about her 2020 classic Rain on Me being played over the PA, or indeed how everyone feels about Miley Cyrus’s Party in the USA seemingly being stuck on a loop. The vibe is cordial, pre-wedding ceremony static.

Shirley Bassey at the Baftas.
Returning to the mothership … Shirley Bassey at the Baftas. Photograph: Guy Levy/Shutterstock for BAFTA

By the time the show begins, following a quick run-through of the rules – no filming (us), no long speeches (the winners), no swearing (us and the winners) – my body is just about willing but my mind is wavering. Cue Shirley Bassey arriving sheathed in silver tinsel singing her lungs out under a giant disco ball to celebrate 60 years of Bond. I’m back in the room. When Bassey extends her arms up towards the disco ball it looks like she’s returning to the mothership, in a scene from a sci-fi film I’m keen to pitch to the producers of Dune. Gaga loves it (Bassey, that is). So do I. I start to home in on Gaga, mimicking her reactions. If a joke lands (host Rebel Wilson going off script to tell Lionsgate to go fuck themselves for scrapping her film, for example), she does two quick claps and rocks forward slightly. When her House of Gucci co-star Salma Hayek arrives on stage to present an award she waves enthusiastically just in case Hayek doesn’t recognise her. When she doesn’t win for best actress she’s the only person who gives gobsmacked winner Joanna Scanlan a standing ovation. Note to producers: next time Gaga deserts pop for film we need a fan cam trained just on her, thank you.

Swag centrepiece … dinner at the Bafta awards.
Swag centrepiece … dinner at the Bafta awards. Photograph: Michael Cragg

What else can I tell you about a televised event that’s also been dissected on Twitter? In the room, most of Wilson’s jokes get a throaty cackle. Starved of any real entertainment – people slowly getting up out of their chairs to walk up some steps to thank their families wears thin after three hours – the general consensus seems to be that things pick up whenever she’s around. Sure the endless mentions of how bad Cats was feel played out, as does the over reliance on the Dune sandworm, but who doesn’t love some bawdy jokes about riding Tom Hiddleston?

Glittering, glamorous ceremony over we are quickly herded towards a fleet of limos. And by limos I mean coaches. “It’s like a school trip,” laughs a lady draped in a pashmina headed to the back of the bus. Like on every school trip music starts blaring out of someone’s phone (Gaga’s 2009 classic Poker Face is played twice), but unlike one specific school trip I was on, no one vomits a mix of chocolate and Coke into a zip-lock sandwich bag. At the Grosvenor Hotel, where dinner will finally be served, I hunt for my table. I hunt some more. I sit down, gnaw on a breadstick and await my leek tart followed by a deconstructed apple tart. I politely turn down some more champagne.

Where the red carpet parts … producer Iain Canning, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Benedict Cumberbatch at the Netflix Bafta party.
Where the red carpet parts … producer Iain Canning, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Benedict Cumberbatch at the Netflix Bafta party. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images for Netflix

If you’re thinking “who stays sober at an awards ceremony?” then fear not because the incredibly patient waiting staff essentially give me a bottle of red wine to myself. The mix of pinot noir with the puce pink cocktails I vaguely remember “enjoying” at the not at all star-studded afterparty (the actors had all gone to Chiltern Firehouse for the Netflix party by that point) mean I quickly become one of those people so unused to being anywhere fancy that they turn feral and start stealing. You see, each table features a ludicrous centrepiece representing either Dune, Don’t Look Up, Belfast, The Power of the Dog or Licorice Pizza. While the Power of the Dog one was the prettiest – some huge delicately crafted paper roses – the Don’t Look Up one had the best swag, including an actual skateboard amid some far less useful ephemera.

Suffice to say I spent the taxi ride home cradling a cardboard cutout of the black Birkin bag beloved of Jonah Hill’s Don’t Look Up character. It was the first thing I saw the morning after. In hindsight, perhaps it’s time to give champagne another go, reflux be damned.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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