America is so far gone, you have to go to Hammersmith to find a boy next door. In case you’ve missed it, his name is Benedict Cumberbatch. He is 39 and beautiful, not in that otherworldly, male-model way that one tires of seeing in this 21st century, but in a way that feels real. He’s like a sweet scent that reminds you of a simpler time. Familiar and safe, and yet somehow extraordinary. He’s a brunette, from ends to roots. He’s tall no matter what shoes he wears. He can be sensual and composed even when he is stark naked, but only in character. As I mentioned just now, he is from Hammersmith. And to understand Benedict Cumberbatch at all, you must really understand Hammersmith.
For you see Hammersmith is in London, and it’s a place that’s grey and slow, a throwback. A place where people invest in the loves and lives of residents of Walford and Weatherfield. It’s just like Hollywood, only different. When Hollywood was sleeping, he was awake, because Britain is, unbelievably, in a different part of the earth to Hollywood. But while we were all sleeping, this ambitious boy from London was just waiting for his moment to ride the wave of success, and when the time was right, he took to the Thames and surfed a wave of success all the way to Hollywood.
I met Benedict in the Mark hotel, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a place well-loved by celebrities. I could sense their presence without even seeing them, but this stopped once Benedict entered. He sauntered in like a school prefect, at ease with his place, safe in the knowledge that he was respected and revered. He occasionally stopped to talk to acquaintances. I couldn't hear what they were saying and it didn’t matter. Nor do I remember what he wore – all I know is that it was simple. His hair was styled with just the right amount of product, framing those painfully blue-but-sometimes-green eyes. We sat down. He smiled at me. We began to talk. About Hammersmith. In an old movie you might see Hammersmith look like it does now but more old-timey. It’s an isolated place, 5,939 miles from Tokyo, 9,242 miles from Australia, and a 25-minute tube journey from Oxford Circus. When he talks about it you can envision it in your mind, the grey skies, the drizzling rain, and I was transported.
As we talked of this Hammersmith, a Hammersmith that's almost mythical in how it sounds, I couldn't help but note the timelessness of Cumberbatch, a man like a work of art. He was transported from the 20th century, in a way literally, because he was born then: a time traveller lost between worlds but now conveniently in mine. We have lost the Benedicts of the world in our freewheeling culture, with its sex, a lewd act that almost never happened 60 years ago. I thought about the '50s and what a time it was: a time when you could shout your racist opinions from the rooftops and nobody could say anything about it. I imagined myself in a past life, and I suddenly felt lonesome and sad. A wave of lonesomeness, a sadder, different wave than the aforementioned wave that Benedict rode to success. It’s a revolution that’s pinpointed in the diversity of Benedict’s work – one moment he is a talking dragon in the quaint, more pure time of 2941–42 in sweet, sleepy Middle-earth, the next he is a detective in a show set in busy, bustling modern London, a place that in real life has been tarnished with technology and risque billboards.
I asked him about every sex scene he has ever done, ever. When I sensed a pause, I pressed on for more scintillating details. To think of this timeless, classic painting of a man engaged in such torrid acts. We sat for a moment in what I perceived as a hugely comfortable silence as I realised through my extensive knowledge of Hammersmith, for example the fact that it is bordered by Shepherd’s Bush to the north, that we are connected in a way that those with lesser knowledge will never be. For a moment I pitied them. Cumberbatch was thinking of something, tea or whatever it is London likes, and I was thinking of something else entirely. He stood up to say goodbye and turned away from me. A classic, elegant beauty. A relic from a time I miss dearly. I asked the waitress for the bill by saying “hey sweet-cheeks, can I get the bill?” before giving a playful wink, and she frowned at me. Several people in the restaurant told me to fuck off. I longed even harder for those simpler times.