The air of the Lancaster Hotel is heavy with expectation and the thick scent of male musk as a 1,000 strong crowd of (mostly) men wait for the arrival of their hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It’s a weird atmosphere and one that only gets weirder when three Gallic-looking hippies saunter onstage to start things off by playing the pulsing theme music from The Terminator, building the tension until it’s truly palpable and, frankly, a little bit worrying. Everyone looks at the door thinking Arnie is about to bust it apart but instead we get a warm-up woman who has the unenviable task of reporting a delay. She tries to fill time by reciting some of the action hero’s catchphrases. Not a great idea: she meets a barrage of booing.
The fans, super-fans and über-fans assembled in Bayswater for An Evening With Arnold Schwarzenegger on Saturday night, have paid between £126.50 - £2100 a ticket and they don’t want some random hostess mangling immortal quotes like “Get to the chopper!” — they want the Austrian Oak doing that himself. But eventually, thankfully, after Jonathan Ross comes out to insult them all a bit, they get what they've been waiting for.
Arnold arrives and the threat of a riot passes. It’s funny, because this man, most famous for eviscerating people, blowing shit up and swearing like a sailor on shore-leave, turns out to be a major league pussycat. More like a Californian self-help guru than a killing machine in fact. He refuses to let Ross introduce him, instead telling the veteran chat show host just how brilliant he is before launching into an hour and 10 minutes of non-stop monologue about his own "unbelievable" life.
Ross barely gets a flippant remark in edgeways (it must be the easiest money he’s ever made). Schwarzenegger is fluent, intelligent, open and honest — continually exhorting everyone to be positive, not to listen to naysayers, to envision a dream and make it happen goddammit.
If he hadn’t been a bodybuilding moofie star governor, he’d no doubt have made an exceptional motivational therapist. He’s 67, by the way, though he looks about 50, jowly and liver-spotted perhaps but buzzing with energy and trim (unsurprisingly) in a dark grey suit and blue polo shirt.
He's also utterly and unshakably secure in himself which means that the Q&A which develops is, at times, surprisingly candid. We get the whole life story, nose-to-tail, from the beatings he took from a father who never understood why he wanted to lift weights, to the films that went "down the toilet" (he singles out 1994's Junior); to the “stupid” behaviour that led to his divorce — “one of my biggest failures,” he ruefully confesses.
He's also surprisingly funny — recounting how he rode a sledge into Barbara Bush and broke her leg, and demanding his money back from his first English teacher who tried and failed to rid him of his Austrian accent when he first came to live in London back in 1967. She is there in the audience — and he makes her take a bow.
Arnie is particularly playful when talking about his rivalry with Sylvester Stallone, deadpanning “I hated the sunnofabitch” and dismissing his body because “he has no calves” — at least until the two made up in order to launch the highly-lucrative Planet Hollywood chain. He shows the crowd a recent picture of Sly and him dancing a waltz together to prove that they’re still friends, but insists: “I was of course leading.”
For film trivia nerds, Arnie recalls how Nicolas Cage ended up snatching two films he'd been offered but hesitated to sign up to — namely The Rock and Face/Off. And he says that he and director James Cameron went through a twenty minute argument on the set of The Terminator because he was convinced his character would say “I will be back” and not "I'll."
All this is, of course, highly polished, self-deprecating patter designed to make Arnie look like an even greater guy — a humble Hercules, a machine with a beating heart. But he is undeniably charismatic — and it does explain how he managed to scale the heights of the film industry, American politics and body-building.
The Austrian action hero is perhaps only upstaged by some of the more mental fan-boys in the audience, who are given the chance of a lifetime to stutter their way through a fawning non-question if they can before Jonathan Ross slaps them down for not having anything insightful to say.
This part of the proceedings is delicious, and in the end only one disciple gets past the gatekeeper. This is a pubescent Irish twerp who decides to ask: “Have you seen Die Hard?” Improbably, once the laughter has died down and Arnie has answered this graciously, the kid gets a second bite of the cherry. He appends his first question with the stinger: “Do you think Bruce Willis is awesome?” It’s hard to tell if he’s doing this for a bet or if he is just a 24 carat moron.
Arnie rounds the night off by plugging the sequels he’ll be making as he cruises into his seventies — a victory lap that will see follow-ups to some of his biggest hits including: The Legend Of Conan, Terminator: Genisys, Triplets (with Danny DeVito) and perhaps a sequel to The Running Man. It sounds like a lot of work for a pensioner but there are not any signs, at this event at least, that Schwarzenegger's battery will run down any time soon.