Friday 13th August 2010. A day I will never forget...
"Why, I hear you ask?"
Good question! In fact, no. It's a wonderful question, as you've now openly invited me to share with you my most treasured experience. However, before I get into that, we must strip the bones bare and head back to the day where my story began. Are you sitting comfortably?
Once Upon a Time...
My fairytale begins on a seasonably warm afternoon in Spring, as I sit at my table, browsing lazily through Facebook. It was then that I noticed on Costaki Economopoulos' profile that he was coming to Edinburgh. Well, that was it. My heart stopped beating, and I raced to send him a message (yes, I know they're not exactly brilliantly juxtaposed!). The message went something like this...
"Costaki, you're coming to Edinburgh? As in, Edinburgh Scotland? As in, Edinburgh Scotland just two hours from where I live?!"
It wasn't long before I received a reply from his greatness, a confirmation message that he was indeed coming to Edinburgh, Scotland (just two hours from where I lived!), for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Now there is something you need to know about Costaki. Not only is he one of the greatest comedians of all time, but he is also the partner of, and father of the child of, Caroline Rhea. My greatest love in life is 'Sabrina the Teenage Witch'; it dominates 100% of my thoughts (that's 0.1% greater than the germs Dettol eliminates), and now I had just been told that my Witchy 'Aunt Hilda' was coming across from America with her very funny parter to perform at the Fringe. I'll tell you something, it took me a while to breathe properly again after I'd found that out!
My Golden Ticket
One of the worst things in the world is waiting. I'm so incredibly impatient, so when I realised that tickets for the Festival weren't on sale for over a month, I had a very anxious wait ahead of me. On the morning of their release, the Gilded Balloon website (linked below) was actually down due to technical issues, so I ended up biting my finger nails into non-existence. I finally bought my ticket nearer to midday, slyly on my mobile phone's lousy internet connection at college. Perhaps I should have been studying for an exam instead, but life's all about prioritising!
Once the glitch on the website was fixed, purchasing my ticket was quite easy (even from a small mobile phone!). Navigating around the website is straight forward too, with the sections all marked out colourfully. The information you need to provide is the basic name, address etc, as well as your card details for payment (all major cards accepted). You can then choose to have your ticket delivered, or pick it up. As I lived a little away from Edinburgh, I opted for delivery. This meant I had to pay a little extra on top of my ticket price, but for Caroline, I'd have paid it thrice over. If you do choose to collect your ticket, you can do this via the ticket office in the Gilded Balloon. My friend who accompanied me on my little trip chose this option, and we found that the staff in the ticket office were very friendly and helpful. The customer service is definitely something to shout about - I contacted them a few times on Twitter (@GildedBalloon) beforehand and always received informative and kind replies.
A few weeks before the Festival, my ticket, in it's glorious yellow colour, arrived safely on my doorstep in its little envelope. It was real. It was really happening!
It's Hardly Marauder's Map...
The main problem that arises when visiting someplace new is trying to find your way around. Thankfully, the power of the internet has made planning our paths a lot easier (I'll be honest, I didn't exactly fancy wandering around Edinburgh with a giant map!). Before I left, I spent a little while on Google Maps, walking around the virtual area planning my route, scribbling down directions and street names. Eventually I was satisfied that I would be able to navigate my friend and I.
The Gilded Balloon is not too far from the train station itself, which is naturally where the majority of Festival goers will enter the city from, be it a direct train or a small commute from Haymarket. The building itself is right in the centre of the Festival during the time of the Fringe, and is always quite easy to spot because of its large 'Gilded Balloon' purple sign that's on the front of the building. Should you have any problems finding it, I'd suggest simply asking for directions, however it shouldn't be too difficult to locate! As I said, it is quite easy to spot and should stand out quite well.
"Will there be tables and stuff? Like a proper debate?"
Before I continue my own tale, I should probably take the time to mention the main attractions of the Gilded Balloon - I understand that not everybody may adore Caroline and Costaki, as shocking as that statement is! However, you do have to be a fan of comedy, as this is naturally their main focus. During the time of the Fringe, they have an endless list of performers, of which all are listed on their website and outside the building itself on large pink boards nearer the time. You'll need to check the website for performer information, as just with any other comedy venue, the gigs are listed as and when they're booked. You can then book tickets accordingly and proceed with planning your laughter events.
There are various rooms in the Gilded Balloon, so the size you enter will depend on the nature of the visit/ demand for the comedian etc. I was in the Debating Hall, which is the largest room seating 360 people. Now I would like to take this opportunity to humiliate my friend at this point. When she heard it was the Debating Hall, she asked me, with all seriousness, if we were going to be taking part in a debate. In her defence she had never been to a stand up event before, however nor had I... Oh, how I laughed. At her. You then have the Dining Room (188 seats), the Nightclub (150 seats), the Wine Bar (147 seats), the Billiard Room (75 seats), the Balcony (60 seats), the Sportsman (87 seats) and the Wee Room (50 seats), so it is clear to see that there is plenty of room there for various performers and comedy fans at one time!
Whilst you're awaiting the time to go into your designated room, you have the option to sit in one of the seven bars and cafes they have on site. The Teviot Bar, their main bar, is open until 5am during the Festival, so you'll never be left to wait in the cold!
"Are you little Amy?"
Seated in my front row seat in the Debating Room, my heart raced. The curtains stage right flitched, and I saw Costaki Economopoulos peer out from the side to get a glimpse of the packed room. Oh my, he's real! I'd talked to him online a lot, and have watched many video clips, but the moment you see somebody you adore in the flesh for the first time, it's so surreal. A few moments later, and he was stood in front of me, one hand in his jeans pocket, the other resting on the microphone. His voice, so fresh and American, filled the atmosphere with warmth and laughter. The evening could not be more perfect...
Oh, how wrong I was. For things just kept becoming more golden. Ten minutes later, Costaki introduced the audience to his oh-so-beautiful partner, and as she walked out onto the stage, I felt my stomach churn. There she was. Caroline Rhea. My Witchy Aunt Hilda. For eleven years, that woman has taught me everything I know (along with Witchy Aunt Zelda/Beth Broderick!), and now...NOW she was stood before me. Granted, I had to avert my eyes occasionally as she was wearing a dress (as lovely as it was!), but I truly didn't care. Eleven long years I had waited for this, and here she was.
As she walked along the stage, interacting with various audience members, she turned to me and stopped. "Are you little Amy?!". What? How did she...? Oh! I glanced down at my shirt. I'd had a tshirt made leading up to the event, with a picture of Caroline on it. She was also aware of the fact that I was going to the show that evening, so she had put two and two together, and on this occasion got four!
Before I knew it, she had me standing aside her on the stage, showing off my attire to the audience. Was this real? Was Caroline really talking to me? Standing aside me? Wrapping her arm around my shoulders? As a child, I never imagined being in the same room as my 'Aunt Hilda', and this...well, this was something even I couldn't have imagined. Taking my seat a short while later, I enjoyed the rest of the comedy (and oh how funny it was!), Caroline still talking to me occasionally, and announcing to the audience that I am a 'big Sabrina fan'...an understatement from the dear there, but oh how I loved her for that!
The hour of laughter may have been over, but the insanity didn't stop there. I was blessed with spending a little time with them outside the Hall afterwards. Okay so there was other people there wanting to see Caroline, but it felt like it was just the four of us (Costaki, Caroline, myself and my friend - she seemed to have got lost in this story so I thought it was time to bring the character back!). I went to shake Costaki's hand, and he decided to hug me instead... amazing! Though I must say, my hand was very close to certain regions! For me, not a disastrous thing, but for him? Probably not the best! Caroline decided to hand me a few gifts she'd brought for me... a little keyring and a jumper from her "What is it you can't face?" line (Sound of Music joke, and my favourite ever!). That was very unexpected, and left me nearly hyperventilating; there's only so much surprise you can take in an hour and a half.
A few pictures later and it was time to head off - the friend and I had to catch the last train back to Kirkcaldly, and even that was perfect timing! I'll be honest, I didn't want to leave Caroline and Costaki. If I had my way, I'd be in their company all day, every day, they're so delightful! I don't think that would go down too well with them though!
Econococolocopuss and Car'Rhea
I've reflected on this day so many times since, and each time I feel my heart twang, my stomach churn and my head spin. It still doesn't feel real, it still hasn't sunk in. I cannot thank Gilded Balloon enough for their excellent service, for their friendly staff and their amazing customer care. And for the fact that they booked Caroline and Costaki. Without them, none of this could have been possible. I thank Caroline 'Car'Rhea' Rhea, for being the most wonderful person in the world. I laughed, I cried, and I looked generally stunned and abnormal. Because of that absolute dear. Of course, the biggest thank you goes to Costaki 'Econococolocopuss'* Economopoulos, for answering my emails and messages, for listening to me and for being absolutely perfect. They've given me a dream come true, and I truly love them for it!
*Somebody once called Costaki 'Econococolocopuss' as they could not pronounce his surname, and so this has stuck with me!
My video about the experience