The Highlanders 2 Outlander Fan Event in Blackpool England

(First posted at outlandercast August 2017)
When I told my Glasgow workmates that I was going to Blackpool, England, for the weekend, I got a couple of quizzical looks and firmly raised eyebrows, to which I replied, “
Yes, I’ve heard it’s a tired seaside town.” To which the response was, “let’s say . . . exhausted.” I told them I was undaunted as I was off to my first-ever fan convention—Starfury: The Highlanders 2—a three-day celebration of my all-time favourite TV show, Outlander.  Only my love of Outlander would make long queues and a buzzing, thronging crowd amidst the backdrop of a threadbare haunted castle (Norbreck Castle Hotel) all worth it. Read on to find out why it did not disappoint.

I arrived and immediately felt a little bit daunted until I got talking to the woman next to me in line, Paula, (from Loveland, Colorado) and the scene was set for a friendly fun time and the opportunity to meet people from ALL over the world. Finding my Outlander Cast Clan buddies proved to be not so easy, though. The WiFi for the hotel was spotty and my own data reception was poor, so electronic communications were really sporadic. Crafty Christine Lewis found me straight away, but the others proved elusive all weekend, and for that I apologise. Side note to convention organisers—why not have an old fashioned notice board at the reception area, like in the olden days when we would just go up and post notes about meeting people? Just a thought.
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Opening festivities—the whole gang, minus Caitriona Balfe
The opening ceremony was a hoot—the emcee, Sean Harry, built up the excitement by bringing each of the stars on to the stage one by one. Steven Cree(Ian) told us that he was going to raffle off Sam Heughan’s pants (that never happened by the way!), Rosie Day(Mary) said she had ‘stolen’ her sister’s raincoat for a weekend in Blackpool (it was sunny all weekend—not that we got to see much of that) and they all generally gave us a hearty welcome. Caitriona Balfewas not there until Saturday. At that point, all the goldies (those with gold tickets—alas, not me and Christine) went for their secret meet-and-greet business while we mere regular ticket holders went to the 60s party.
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These gals really got into the spirit of the 60s night!

On Saturday, the mayhem and chaos got underway full speed—well, this was my perception being a first timer, but other convention veterans seemed calm and resigned. Christine was a veteran of both Emerald City and San Diego ComicCons, so this was peanuts to her! Every corridor was a crush, people were queuing up (where was I supposed to be?!) and things seemed to be all happening at once. If you had to line up for a photo or an autograph (very long lines), you would miss the panel discussion that was going on in the main hall!

Being a newbie I found this challenging. To get Steven Cree’s autograph, the queue was HUGE because he had to leave early. I waited nearly two hours in that line! But the result was worth it—I suggested that he might like to sign on this page of my book and add a little moustache if he liked! He is a funny man.

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Even though tiresome and stressful “(what am I missing in the main hall??”) on one level,  the queues were the place to meet and to share stories and to just chat with people from all over the world. I got some delicious maple syrup candy from a woman from Quebec. Some of the sharing was deep and meaningful—the grief of loss, the search for ‘home’, the historical and contemporary similarities of the Scottish people and the French Canadians. It was quite an experience.

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Christine, Sabrina and me in yet another queue—still smiling. Thanks for the photos, you two!

While the chaos of the event overwhelmed me, I found in the lobby of the final day these two gals, Beth and Pilar, and marveled at their energy to be sitting there amidst all the hubbub working on their creative arts for charity.  They are well known for ‘The Laird’ cross stitch, which raised $11,000 for Bloodwise and World Child Cancer, and now they are working on more creations—some of the designs chosen by Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. These will raise money for Bloodwise, World Child Cancer, Cahonas Scotland and diabetes and suicide prevention. Go, you gals!

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Beth and Pilar with their beautiful work


Cast Q&A Panels

One of the indisputable highlights of the three days were the panels featuring Outlander cast members. Video and audio recording was forbidden during the panels, and taking pics was a hit-and-miss affair because it was pretty dark and the action was quite far away. I’ll apologise for the quality of some of the pictures I took, and I’ll acknowledge some of the photos I’m posting here are from my newglasgowgirls buddy and calm and relaxed con veteran, Sabrina Spanke, as well as Crafty Christine. However, I think I was pretty good at taking notes in the dark, and if I had to go out for a comfort stop, Crafty would take up the pen and scribble notes for me!

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Fellow Outlander Cast Clan gathering member, Crafty Christine Lewis, and me in the auditorium—taking notes!

Crafty and I were a pretty good team this weekend and had quite a lot of fun together. That was one of the great things, which of course everyone talks about in the Outlander community—such a sense of camaraderie and shared fun! I shared a room with Lynn from Tennessee, and in the long lines, I talked to women from Canada, Denmark and the USA (lots from the USA, all over) and we shared our Outlander stories and had great conversations.

We learned quite a few gems about our favourite stars from the Q&A panel events. Since many of you were not in attendance, I’m going to provide you as near a transcript from the interviews as possible so you can feel like you were.  Here we go . . . 

Steven Cree
First up, he was asked if he would’ve fought on the side of the English or the Jacobites had he lived in those times. Being a Scotsman, he found this question slightly hilarious, and we gathered that he would’ve been there at Culloden next to Jamie Fraser—wooden leg notwithstanding. 

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Cree was a one-man show

What was he like as a child?He was a rebel, an entertainer, and a ‘nice boy trying to be a bad boy’. He once got a detention for climbing on to a roof to be like one of the bad boys.

What was the inspiration for ‘Heughan Talks’?Well, he just happened to have a head shot of Sam Heughan lying around the house (!) and he just happened to have a Michael Jackson doll lying around, too (!) … and then he just thought of doing something funny with those. The rest is history.

What is his favourite whisky?He doesn’t drink whisky—he doesn’t drink alcohol. But if he had to say, he would say Glenfiddich, because they once paid him to do a voice over on an ad.

Was he disappointed that Sam Heughan is not here?Yes, especially for a repeat of the arm wrestle they did last year.  He acknowledged that Sam does ‘work out a bit’ but he felt sure he could still have a good chance of beating him in an arm wrestle. In the end, he got a Sam substitute up on stage and they had a wrestling match.

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Not really sure who won? and the opponent did not really look like Sam Heughan 🙂

One woman asked,‘”Will you have dinner with me?” . . . Hmm . . . the response was friendly, but somewhat non-committal!

Can you speak Gaelic, and how did you learn to speak Norwegian?He didn’t learn Gaelic in school and the only words he can say are ‘danger mouse’ and the other words he says in Outlander. He learned Norwegian from two friends in drama School who taught him to say “My name is Steven, how the f*&k are you.” 

Why do you have white hair in Season 3?You can’t have aged that much? “I wanted to look like Gandalf—to be a wizard!”
Funniest moment in Season 3?When his wooden leg snapped and he tried to keep on with the scene … oops.  Nobody in the audience laughed. Oh well, maybe that wasn’t very funny after all—or it was a tough crowd.

Finn and Rosie had only met the day before, so they decided to start their session by asking each other questions from BuzzFeed’s list of 100 questions for boring people.

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Finn and Rosie got pretty relaxed and up close and personal with the audience.

If you could witness anything in history what would it be?
Rosie: to be part of the suffragette movement—to march with the women.
Finn: to see Elvis in concert.

If you could meet any famous person, who would it be?
Finn: “Elvis again?” Or maybe he would rather meet his grandfather, who was a little bit famous for being on radio in the 60s in the Scottish Highlands.
Rosie: “I feel I should say someone like Florence Nightingale, but really would love to meet Taylor Swift!” She is a HUGE fangirl of Taylor Swift.

Then the audience warmed up and started asking questions . . . 

Which Outlander character would you love to play, besides your own?
Rosie: “Claire, because she is such a bad-ass feminist.”
Finn: “BJR, because he has the best lines.” But he clarified that he would play him nicer—a sort of pastel colours BJR. 

What character would you love to play in another show?
Rosie: “I would love to play Elizabeth Moss’ character in The Handmaids Tale.”
Finn: “I would love to play Tony Soprano.” Bit of a ‘bad guy’ theme emerging here, eh?

What was it like to play your character in Outlander?
Finn: “Well, Willie is young and unsure of himself and always looks a bit worried, and that was exactly how I felt on set – so I drew on my own deep anxiety to play the character.”

Rosie: “Mary Hawkins is so unlike me, she is shy and quiet and that is not my natural disposition. But I did enjoy playing the character.”

Which scenes in Outlander were the most difficult to play?
Rosie: “You’d think it might be the rape scene, but that was actually full of action and was quite ‘fun’ to do. The worst was the scene where BJR bashes his dead bother—that was very harrowing.”
Finn: “My very first scene was where Willie rides up to tell Jamie he has lost Claire.” He had only had two weeks of intensive horse-riding training and he was told that for his very first scene, he had to ride one horse while leading another and jump off and run over to Jamie. He was peeing himself!

Did you always want to be an actor?
Rosie: “No, it’s all a big mistake . . . it wasn’t a cognitive choice.” She actually planned to be a gymnast.
Finn: “I’ve always wanted to be an actor and a director.” He directed his first play in primary school.

How come Finn wasn’t in Season 2?It was a scheduling conflict. He had just taken a directing job and the Monday after he got a call for the second season, he was gutted but just couldn’t make it happen. And yes, he would love to hang out with the Frasers in America.

At one point Grant O’Rourke (Rupert) got up from the audience and asked Finn, “now that you are such an acclaimed director, why have you not employed me?”

Grant O’Rourke and Stephen Walters

There was much talk of their great chemistry as the Rupert and Angus duo in Outlander. Grant said that of course when you get two amazing, sexy actors together they just feed off each other. He called them the R2D2 and C3PO of Outlander. Stephen said that actually, they spent so much time together, just hanging out between scenes, that half the work is done. They developed a very natural friendship, which transferred to the screen. Stephen said that Grant is naturally very funny so good times were had by all.

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Stephen Walters and Grant O’Rourke—R2D2 and C3PO—quite an entertaining pair!

Your favourite Outlander scene to play?
Grant: “Chasing the cows in Wentworth prison was a lot of fun.”
Stephen: The scene where he was showing Claire how to kill someone.

Stories about horses and Outlander?

Grant would whisper compliments into his horse’s ear to get it moving—”this is going to lead to big things for you, fame and fortune”. But, it didn’t work and he was too timid to use the spurs they were given. Stephen thinks his horse was on heroin because nothing would make it move, not even a sgian dubh in the ribs (kidding!)

Can you think of a spin-off plot or show for your characters?
How about a prequel? Rupert and Angus just hanging out, stealing cows, meeting ladies?

Or a sequel, like Weekend a Bernie’s—Rupert hauls Angus’ corpse around! Or like Psycho—Rupert keeps Angus’ corpse in a chair in his house.

Reflections on Outlander scenes?
Stephen talked about the scenes where Angus is mean to Claire early in Season 1, and the meaningful journey of those two characters together, from hate and suspicion on Angus’ side to trust and respect later.  There was lots of humour on set—drama and humour being very closely linked. The scenes in “Rent” where Claire was peeing in the bucket, and the scenes with the goat, were hilarious and there was a lot of cracking up on set.

Caitriona Balfe and Graham McTavish
More horse stories – recurring theme!
Caitriona told of the scene where they are riding single file near Castle Leoch and the horses all seemed ‘spooked’—Stephen’s horse was bucking and Tom’s (a supporting actor) horse bolted. They saw Tom flying past, and he had to jump off with a gun on his back. They heard Stephen calling out “Whoa, whoa” and it was all pretty hilarious, but also scary. Graham said he takes the whole horse thing very seriously as he has seen some very bad accidents on sets with horses.

highlanders 2, starfury, outlander, outlander castThe war chief and the sassenach
What scenes did they like doing best together? They really liked the lime caves (where Claire meets Dougal in “The Search”) and the Devils Pulpit (the liars’ spring). Graham also loved the dining room scene in “The Garrison Commander” where he comes in and has some icy interchanges with the English soldiers.
What are your all-time favourite go-to movies that you’ve watched many times?
Caitriona: Manhattan, Breakfast at Tiffany’sand Annie Hall—when she’s feeling a bit blue, these will put everything right with the world.
Graham: Mouse Hunt(this caused great laughter as Catirona and many audience members had never heard of it), Princess Brideand Zulu. He finds watching all of these ‘comforting’.

Do you make lasting friendships while on the cast of TV shows?

Graham: “Outlander is the show where I have made the most lasting social connections with people. We got close very quickly.” And both agreed that the level of humour and ridiculous situations they get into make for good times and ongoing friendships.

How did Caitriona approach doing a steamy sex scene with Sam Heughan as her very first scene with him? Caitriona laughed and said “yes, Jamie had something a little different for breakfast that morning.” She said she was mortified and felt shy. She was in a room with all men discussing and telling her what to do. “You want me to do what?” Then she said, they just went for it. There was much laughter and mock sadness on Graham’s part that Dougal never even gets to kiss Claire. He said he’s ‘not bitter’ at all about that. The audience called out a reminder that Dougal does kiss Claire in the Leoch corridor after saving her from the clansmen, but Graham said that didn’t really count because Claire didn’t like it!

Does Caitriona realise that those scenes with Sam have led to many Outlander fans’ sex lives going ‘through the roof’? Caitriona replied that, of course this is a very important part of every relationship. Just think of it as exercise . . . your ‘Peak Challenge’.

Caitriona’s favourite scene with Sam? Their final scene at the stones, saying goodbye. She said it’s such a special place, and that morning there was a light dusting of snow when they arrived, then the sun came up. It felt like a Disney set, it felt good.

Does Caitriona have to give Sam modeling tips for the photo shoots?
“No, Sam is a complete tart … he’s a pro.”

Do you prefer working on location or in the studio?

They both prefer working on location. Caitriona said, even though it can be cold and wet, she prefers the liveliness of the locations. They recalled a day sitting in a tent with a stream running through the middle of it. And the fighting scene with Grant’s raid where they spent hours running round in a quagmire. Graham said he and Sam were sitting in a tent that day and saw a bulldozer coming toward them. After thinking that surely the driver would change course, they suddenly realised that he was not going to. They bailed out just in time and the tent was demolished!

Lotte Verbeek and Caitriona Balfe 

What do you do to relax after a long day filming?
Lotte: “A bath and a drink.”
Catriona: “A hot bath . . . sometimes there is cold in your bones that won’t go away.”

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Caitriona and Lotte had a big line-up at question time 

How is it possible to develop the confidence that you two have to be actors?
Lotte: “Well, just standing up to ask a question like this, putting yourself out there, helps to develop this. Also, it comes with age.”
Caitriona: “Remember that everyone feels this way. We tend to live in our heads, so if you remember that everyone is, or has struggled with confidence, it helps.”

Caitriona was asked—what is they correct way to say your name?
Before starting Outlander, her name was Caitriona (pronounced like Catrina) but then a certain person (Sam Heughan) found this name to be too long, so started calling her Cat. This has stuck and she is happy with that. But,  is it DEFINITELY NOT Cait (pronounced like Kate).

What is the most uncomfortable outfit you have had to wear in Outlander? Lotte talked about the challenges of dragging around a long dress through mud and water, and Caitriona described the wedding dress. It weighed 70 pounds and she had to be driven to and from the set in a modified golf cart—like the Pope mobile. She said of course Highlanders are not the people to be quiet when they see something that ridiculous, and Graham was heard to call out “What the f*&k is that!?” Not only did she have to ride around in that, but she had to have an assistant when she wanted to go to the toilet!

Funniest crack-up scenes?
The ‘monkey bite’ scene—Caitriona said it was the most ridiculous line. Sam was doing ‘fireplace acting’ while she has to ask Andrew Gower if, by any chance, he had been bitten by a monkey. There was so much hilarity that it took a long time to get through that scene.

What was your favourite set built?

Lotte: The Theives’ Hole. It was so realistic that, even though those were stunt doubles who fell through the roof, they felt like they were really there . . . and the rats were real! Caitriona commented that she is happy with a pet rat, but these were probably just caught out the back of the studio! Caitriona loved the Parisian apartment and commented on the genius of Jon Gary Steele (huge audience applause). She also loved Lord Lovatt’s Hall and the internal courtyard in Paris.

What do you love about your character’s personality?
Lotte: “Well, I’m not tired of killing husbands!” She loved the cheekiness and humour of Geillis.
Caitriona: She loves that Claire feels so strongly and deeply about things, like injustice. Although sometimes she wishes that Claire might just dial it back a bit.

What lies ahead for you? Beyond Season 4?
Caitriona: “No idea. I guess that they will see how Season 3 does before committing past Season 4. Sam Heughan and I are both up for it, so hope it will keep going.”

What is your personal ‘happy ever after?’
Lotte: “I love what I do and want to keep going ahead with my career. I’m very happy to be able to live in the US.”
Caitriona:  “To be happy and healthy. To be around people I love and who love me. And to do something I love. If you do something you love, you never have to do ‘a day’s work’ in your life. It’s all about the small things.”

What are your pet peeves?
Caitriona: “Bathroom etiquette—I mean don’t leave anything. Don’t walk out unless everything is clear and gone.”
Lotte: “I’m not a speeder, but if once you’re in a car on the road . . . keep moving.”
Gary Lewis and Graham McTavish

The laird and the war chief did a great panel together discussion together, and Gary—known for his fun-loving sociability with fans—suggested that next year there should be a proper ceilidh on one of the nights, with real Scottish music and dancing. Judging by the audience reaction, that definitely met with approval.

Which other actors would you like to work with?
Graham: “I would like to work with the woman who plays wonder woman [Gal Gadot]—there, I’ve gone public on that!”
Gary: He sees so may wonderful new talented actors, like Rosie Day. He hopes that his career will be long enough to work with some of these new talents.

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The Laird and the War Chief

What period of history would you like to live in?
Graham: “The end of the 16thor early 17thcentury—the time of Shakepeare. We are not able to record the intangible elements of history and it would be wonderful to just see it and to experience the surprises that might come from actually being there.”

Gary: “Somewhere, sometime, before patriarchy. When it was not a ‘man’s world’ and women were not abused. A world with less war.” — huge hoots of support and wild applause from the audience!

What is the worst thing about being an actor?
Gary: “It is a strange job as people keep on asking you, ‘what are you doing next?’ Why do they ask this? Surely people who work in other jobs are not constantly asked what they are doing next?  Worst thing is if you have to work with a pain in the ass. Luckily, this doesn’t happen too often . . . ” as he looked meaningfully at Graham.
Graham: “It’s been said that actors are cursed because there are so many performances that people will never see. And being separated from your family for long periods is hard.”

Where do you draw the line?

Graham feels that we have now become desensitized to violence and feels uncomfortable that rape may be a plot device, and not essential to show. Some things are better to be just implied, off screen, and can be just as powerful that way. He would draw the line at any acting that involved child cruelty or sexual abuse of a child.

The Costumes

Aside from our favorite actors from the show, the convention was chock-full of fans in costume. And boy, did some people go all out with cosplay! Some women had different outfits on every day and many entered the costume competition on Saturday night.

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highlanders 2, starfury, outlander, outlander cast
highlanders 2, starfury, outlander, outlander cast

The costume judging on Saturday night was really fun, as not only did they wear the outfits, but they acted the parts as well.

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The panel of judges ready to go

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‘Jamie Fraser’ meets ‘Claire’ and Laoghaire and Claire have a bit of a stramash in front of the judges.
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 The Scottish Heathers

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Black Jack, Claire and a sgian dubh

Was the weekend in the “exhausted little seaside town” worth it in the end?  Well, I met some wonderful women, heard some great fun talks from our favourite Outlander stars, and came away with some lasting mementos. I’m verra tired but I won’t forget the experience.  So yes, I’d say it was verra much worth it.  Verra much worth it indeed.
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Christine, me and Ren (my other newglasgowgirls buddy) say farewell at the tram station – tired but happy

I left there wondering if I would attend any other Outlander conventions or events. Pretty soon I made a decision about that and went on to attend the LandCon in Paris. 

Andrée Poppleton

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