They had smiled and posed for photographs on the red carpet and then enjoyed an animated conversation with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. And if Zindzi and Zenani Mandela had any idea that their father’s long life was drawing to a close, they did not betray it for a minute. Then, in a single instance, everything changed. As they were about to watch the London premiere of his incredible story, the sisters were apparently told that the 95-year-old had died peacefully at home after months of illness.
Tearful and flustered, they tried to compose themselves. The two women were said to have left the cinema immediately, but when asked if they wanted the film - Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom - to continue, they said yes. It was an extraordinary premiere. Few in the auditorium knew what had happened and settled down to enjoy an evening celebrating one of the most iconic figures of the 20th century. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were informed of his death discreetly by an aide shortly before the end of the movie.
It was only after the credits had rolled that the film’s producer Anant Singh got on the stage to break the news to the rest of the audience. There were screams and gasps of shock while some burst into tears. A two minutes’ silence was held. Eleanor Simmonds, who was at the premiere to support a Mandela charity, said, “There was an audible sharp intake of breath.
It was shocking news to hear at the end of the film. Everyone was shocked,” she said. William and Kate looked ashen-faced as they walked down the stairs into the foyer. Speaking as he left the cinema, William said: “I just wanted to say it’s extremely sad and tragic news. We were just reminded what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. It’s very sad.”
Earlier in the evening, Zindzi had appeared jovial as she walked the red carpet. Before the showing, she said: “My father is fine. He’s 95 and he is pretty frail. We are hoping to see more of him. (The film) is something that makes me feel really proud, what my family went through and the role my father played has been recognised. It is a reward (for him).” She added, “When we document our history in this manner we do it not just for ourselves but also for the future generations, young people that my father is really passionate about. He has seen clips of the film and said he saw [Idris] that he thought it was him.”
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