Arriving at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as Jen is whisked away to the Green Room for sound checks, I take the opportunity to take a quick photo of the London Eye.
The shortlisted poets stand alone on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, reading to an audience of about 950, accompanied only by these banners.
After the readings, the shortlisted poets are available to sign copies of their books. Dad makes me line up to have his copy of Jen’s book autographed!
The T S Eliot prize announcement is made on Monday evening. We all arrive at the Skinner’s Hall early. Coming alone from evensong at St Paul’s, I spend a little time admiring the entrance way before realizing that the others are already inside.
At the beginning of the evening there is still room to see across the room. By the time the announcement is made, there is barely room to breathe.
With typical build-up, the winner (on the right of the photo) and runners up of the T S Eliot Shadowing Scheme are announced. Jen and Ciarán Carson are waiting, outwardly calm, for the announcement of the T S Eliot prize itself.
The shortlisted poets are invited to come and receive their cheques from Mrs Valerie Eliot. Suddenly Jen is on the other side of the podium from us, and we can no longer see her. By this point, Mum and I are holding hands, squeezing ever tighter as the tension builds up before the announcement.
When the announcement is made, Jen is completely hidden from us by the crowds. Mum, Dad, Aviva and I hug each other, totally unashamed of our tears. Around us, people whisper, that must be the family. A rather tearful Jen comes up to the podium to read a poem from Nigh-no-place. Despite her emotions, she reads flawlessly, pulling the audience in to the poem.
The rest of the evening passes in a blur. Jen is photographed from every angle, alone, with Mrs Eliot, with the winner of the shadowing scheme, and with the other poets. Once released by the photographers, she is swarmed by people. Friends of hers, and strangers, all wanting to congratulate her. Occasionally we manage to catch a glimpse of her, but until the evening is over and we head off to Dad’s favourite London restaurant, The Great Nepalese, we don’t manage to speak.
Despite only getting to bed at around 2.30, Jen and I are up at 5.30 on Tuesday morning, unable to sleep. At 7 o’clock I am busy rearranging my flight plans to stay in London until the evening, to keep Jen company. At 7.20, we are picked up by a car to bring us to the BBC in Shepherd’s Bush, where Jen is going to speak live on the Today program. I’m kicking myself for not bringing my camera, especially when I see the Dalek positioned by the front door. As my phone battery dies on route, I don’t even have a back up plan. At the second visit to the BBC, where Jen finds herself live on Radio Scotland with less than a minute’s notice, I am better prepared.
The day becomes a whirlwind of radio and newspaper interviews, interspersed by yet more photographs. During one photo session I slip out and procure a cornish pasty from Euston Station for the starving and exhausted poet. Unfortunately, she is called for a telephone interview just as I arrive back with the pasty, and by the time she gets to eat it, it’s rather cold.
Finally, around 3pm she’s left in peace for a while, and we slip out to Carluccio’s, a place which has become our safe haven and meeting point in London. So far in our stay, we have visited every day, for breakfast, lunch or a cup of coffee. We have half an hour to sit quietly, chat with our new friend the waiter, before I have to leave to catch my flight. I leave Jen flat out on the bed, barely awake as I head off to London City Airport.