The U.K. premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was attended by not only the stars of the film, Idris Elba (who portrays Nelson Mandela) and Naomie Harris (who plays his ex-wife Winnie), but the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge — he in a traditional tux; she recycling an off-white gown that she previously wore in May 2012 — were the guests of honour.
It was meant to be a party celebrating a strong, revered man. The red carpet part beforehand definitely was, and as soon as the film finished, the audience stood up and erupted into thunderous applause. But after the credits finished rolling, it was formally announced that the former South African president and freedom fighter had passed away at the age of 95. It must have been quite a shock to those in attendance, who held a two-minute moment of silence upon hearing the news.
Instead of releasing a written statement, William said a few words to reporters inside the lobby of the theatre lobby. “It’s extremely sad and tragic news. We are reminded of what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was,” he said as the Duchess stood by his side. “My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. It’s very sad.”
The couple met one of his daughters, Zindzi Mandela, at a reception prior to the screening. When asked about her father, she told journalists that her father was “fine” but “pretty frail.”
Will and Kate also mingled with Elba and Harris. When asked about having the Duke and Duchess at the premiere, Elba told reporters, “Tonight is extra special because this is my country, and when the royals come out to watch a film, it’s a big deal. I feel very proud that it’s my film, really proud.” As he should. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom chronicles the former South African leader’s extraordinary life story from his childhood in a rural village through to his inauguration as the first democratically elected president of the African nation.
He served as the first black president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and received a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending apartheid through non-violent means in 1993. He retired in 2004. In June of this year, he was hospitalized for a recurring lung infection and on Wednesday, his daughter, Makaziwe, said he was “strong,” despite being “on his deathbed.”
A state funeral will be held for Mandela. All flags of the Republic of South Africa will be lowered to half-mast until after the funeral to honour the late leader. Current South African president Jacob Zuma has declared a week of mourning and services, ending with burial in Mandela’s ancestral home of Qunu in the Easter Cape on Dec. 15.