When I was little, I wanted to be a famous fashion designer and design dresses for stars to wear to the Academy Awards and other classy events. I poured over People Magazine’s tribute to Oscar history and bought heavy bridal magazines (they had the best photo to dollar ratio and the fewest articles about how to lose five pounds or twenty ways to please your partner).
I drew. I painted. I imagined.
I became aware of your existence at a very young age. Much Ado About Nothing is one of the first films I remember watching. By the time I was in second grade, I had grown so attached to it that, for a class assignment, I listed it as my favorite movie. Perhaps it is somewhat scandalous that a seven-year-old would choose a movie that contains so much nudity in the first ten minutes. In which case, it may have been for the best that that my teacher had no idea what I was referring to.
As a child, I would get up and dance around the room, mimicking Kenneth Branagh’s movement as he celebrated in the fountain. I could quote every single line, reveling especially in Sigh No More, you sitting in a tree, and the delightful way the words came spilling from your mouth, as if every syllable was savoured as ambrosia.
At such a young age, I had not fully conceptualized that you and Beatrice were in fact different people. This realization began around the same time that I watched Sense and Sensibility, which became another favorite, rivaling even the six part BBC production of Pride and Prejudice. How I wanted to be Eleanor. How I wanted to be Beatrice. Then, there were other films, and in each one you made your character the most interesting person in the world with all the depth, breadth, and humor that real people have. You became this beacon of excellence in acting and film-making (two areas near and dear to my heart). You became my model of womanhood.
I can’t say that I know anything about your personal life, and I think we can agree that this is probably for the best. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you splashed across the cover of a tabloid, so maybe when you’re not working, you’re just really boring. Or maybe England is a little better about privacy. No matter; your work is wonderful.
Inevitably, on the first day of classes throughout high school, there would be a “getting to know you” portion, despite the fact that many of us had known each other since kindergarten. A favorite question during these things is this: if you could spend a day with any famous person who would it be and why? Typically, my classmates said things like Brittany Spears or someone from NSYNC or some sports star. I said Emma Thompson. Most sixteen-year-olds will give you strange looks when you say things like this. Now, I can say, “Professor Trelawney,” and people still think I’m weird, but they actually know who I’m talking about.
I didn’t want to meet you as a mere fan, though. Fangirls are so uncool. They just want autographs and handshakes and pictures together. They sound like they don’t know what they are talking about, and I’ve always found celebrity culture a little bit voyeuristic.
I imagined I would meet you once I had become a famous fashion designer. You would hear about me or see some of my designs somewhere, and you would have your assistant call my assistant. She’d say, “Ms. Thompson wants a dress designed by Ms. Burkitt. Is she free for lunch on such and such a date?” (obviously, I’d be living in London). Then we would talk about how to create a dress for a red carpet event or some gala that would show off your best features, and, at some point, during the very professional conversation, where we slowly discovered we were kindred spirits, I would casually but earnestly comment on loving your work and how the joie de vivre you so clearly have has etched itself onto my soul, making you a true inspiration. You would be oh so gracious, and our lunch would go long, and we’d both be late for our next appointments because we just couldn’t stop talking about the nature of beauty and art and story. Then, we would be bosom friends, and I would invite you to all my dinner parties.
You see, I am actually the worst kind of fangirl, the kind that isn’t satisfied with a handshake or an autograph because she recognizes that humans are so much more than a signature, a two-second smile that could be plastered on just for a good show (classy lady that you are, you wouldn’t let on if you were having a terrible day). And you who tell such incredible stories, either in writing or in acting them out, you have to be so human—crying the way you did in Love Actually, making us all want to listen to Joni Mitchell whenever we feel life is too heavy, and reminding us the way grief is actually expressed in private moments—not vapid, clinging to celebrity status, but embracing and embodying whole-hearted living. And what you do, story-telling, is so simultaneously the most vulnerable of things in the world and tremendously disproportionate. Your audience gets to see what—for all they know—is your heart and soul laid bare, while you know nothing of them. They are the anonymous many, while you are so particular to them.
I no longer have aspirations of fame, although I will still make you a dress anytime you want one. I am ever so much better at sewing than I was when I first imagined all of this. It would appear that, at the age of 25, it’s time to move on from my childhood fantasies. It’s time to keep preparing for grad school, working as an administrative assistant in the meantime. But I’ll keep watching your movies, in a parallel fashion to the way I still sleep with my stuffed elephant under my arm. And when I notice you’ve done something fabulous, like take your shoes off to present a Golden Globe, I’ll smile and think to myself, I bet meeting her would be amazing. I won’t tell anyone, but hope will still linger somewhere at the edge of my consciousness, where my childhood refuses to be completely snuffed out.
All the best,
(Your biggest fan)