For a rabid bunch of trolling obsessives, the thousands of One Direction fans who descended upon Leicester Square for the premiere of the boyband’s debut film proved awfully polite.
Whilst the police and Westminster Council mounted a military-style security operation to thwart a predicted invasion of 80,000 screaming fans, the most devoted “Directioners”, who camped overnight to catch a glimpse of their idols, waited patiently in an elaborate series of holding pens.
Ear-piercing screams were rehearsed as all eyes focused on the impromptu stage erected in front of the Empire cinema where the band - Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson – would eventually appear to greet their disciples before the unveiling of the 93-minute 3D film, This Is Us.
The first fan in the queue, Dani Pring, 16, from Birmingham, arrived with a sleeping bag on Saturday. But surprised to find herself all alone, she left and returned on Sunday where she was still the first arrival.
By Monday night 300 fans, guaranteed a front row slot behind the red carpet barriers, were allowed to sleep overnight in Leicester Square Gardens, inside a secure perimeter.
Each arrival was given a numbered sticker, later exchanged for a wristband labelled with a pen number, so that fans did not actually need to spend the night in order to reclaim their place in the queue.
By midday, following a surge of “Directioners”, whose devotion clearly did not extend to missing breakfast for a chance to meet their heroes, the organisers had given out 3,000 stickers and began to close off access to the Square, which was by now teeming with fans.
A sign at Leicester Square tube informed latecomers: “No further access is being permitted and you will not be able to get near the cinema.”
The luckiest fans took their place next to Pring in pen number one, bordering the stage. What was it about the quintet of well-groomed young men that inspired such unswerving loyalty among their fan base? “Their music is different and they’re unique,” said Ms Pring. “The relationship between the band members is so close.”
It is the social media explosion which locks One Direction and their fans in a feverish embrace. “Niall saved my life,” said Dani, who said the singer’s support gave her the strength when she was cyberbullied by other fans. She cried with joy when she realised she would be close enough to touch the band at the premiere.
Getting a Twitter “follow” back from their favourite member is the ultimate accolade for a Directioner. “With Twitter we can see what they’re doing and they can see what we’re doing,” said Georgie, 17, from Kettering, who slept overnight in the gardens for her front row spot. “It got really cold but it was so exciting we couldn’t sleep,” she said.
The fans were delighted by a Tweet from Horan who said he drove near Leicester Square and “there was soo many people camping! Wow thank you!”
The fans are vociferous in their rejection of their portrayal as obsessives, firing off abusive messages to anyone who dares lay rival claim upon the band. Crazy About One Direction, an unflattering documentary screened last week, was “the worst thing Channel 4 has ever done,” said Rosie, Georgie’s friend.
“We’re not like that at all,” said Grace, 16, from Nottingham. “We don’t just scream at the band if they come over to us. We give them space.”
“We’re committed, not obsessive,” said Rosie, 17, from Northampton, waiting for admittance to one of the pens with her mother, who praised One Direction as more suitable role models than Justin Bieber, following his recent off-the-rails behaviour.
How long will it last? One Direction’s last single, "Best Song Ever", stalled at number two and one fan braved a Twitter storm by suggesting that their relentlessly upbeat pop was “not always the best”.
The premiere crowd proved to be a far more manageable number than estimated. Beatles biographer Hunter Davies harrumphed on the Today programme that the Fab Four attracted crowds of 10,000 just for turning up at an airport.
But when the Styles and co jumped on stage, the waves of mass hysteria drowned out any reservations over the long-term destination of the One Direction juggernaut.