Prepare … Do the Hair … Be There … Be Leia!

On Saturday 3rd June in Civic Square, Wellington, New Zealand, the greatest number of Princess Leias in history will assemble to set a new world record. At least that’s what will happen if the event’s organizers, Pukerua Bay couple Nikky and Chris Winchester can turn their bizarre vision into reality.

The event is being held to celebrate the late Carrie Fisher and how she brought to life the “kick***est princess of all time. It’s also meant to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars. Proceeds beyond the cost of running the event will go to support the International Bipolar Foundation and the NZ Mental Health Foundation, charities helping people worldwide and in New Zealand who live (as Carrie did) with bipolar disorder.

June the 3rd? Why Not May the 4th?

This year May 4th (a traditional day of Star Wars fan celebration) is a Thursday, and the Winchesters wanted to hold a weekend celebration. They chose Saturday June 3 because it coincides with New Zealand Comic Con / Armageddon expo festivities in Wellington, at the start of the Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend, and just nine days after the 40th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie. They hope to nominate May The Fourth as “organize your costume day” so everyone is ready for the big event – which is a striking coincidence, in that it is also the last day of their crowdfunding campaign on Boosted.

What Goes to Charity?

In tribute to Carrie Fisher, the One True Leia, any funds they receive beyond our $7,000 extension goal will be donated to charity:

  • 45% to the International Bipolar Foundation;
  • 45% to the NZ Mental Health Foundation; and
  • 10% to Boosted in appreciation of the Arts Foundation’s support for NZ Leia Day.

“We want Leias of all genders and none, baby Leias, elderly Leias, juggling Leias, steampunk Leias, burlesque Leias, bearded Leias, Leias with wheelchairs, Leias on stilts, and Leias with ukuleles!” says Nikky (44). “Size, shape, age, colour, sexuality, nationality – the more diverse the better. There may even be a prize for the Best Bloke In A Gold Bikini. Now, that has to be worth seeing!”

The Winchesters intend to make a massively participative visual record of the event too, so will be encouraging all attendees to bring their phones and cameras, take lots of photos and video, and be prepared to share them with the world. Some of the shots may be used in a tribute music video later in the year. “We might put out a Star Wars song for Christmas,” adds Nikky.

Nikky and her husband Chris (also 44) moved to New Zealand from the UK eight years ago with their daughter Megan (11), and have been involved in a string of creative geek projects ever since they landed background roles in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies. Chris’s first music video, a Hobbit parody called Who the ‘ell is Tauriel?, which Nikky produced, clocked up forty thousand views on YouTube and set the tone for a run of creative silliness. “Somebody compared us to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band on one occasion,” mentions Chris, “which was a great honour. We are not worthy!”

Chris recently donned full Princess Leia garb to meet the public at Wellington’s CubaDupa street festival and prepare a series of publicity videos to help with fundraising. “There was a real buzz from the people I talked with.” says Chris. “Everyone was keen to get involved and dress up. Especially the blokes! But I suppose it’s not every day you bump into a middle-aged Princess Leia with a beard, so they might just have been caught off guard.”

The videos can now be seen YouTube and the team have set up an online crowdfunding page to raise the money they need to host the event. “It’s surprising how much these things cost to put together,” says Nikky. “Just the insurance alone is more than a thousand dollars, and then there are costs for staging and technical equipment. We stripped the budget down as tightly as we could, and even allowing for everyone giving their time for free and a big chunk of tech sponsorship from NITROfilm we still need fan backing to get the day off the ground.”

At least any potential donors have the reassurance that if the base target of $5,000 doesn’t get hit by the end of May 4th they’ll get all their money back. “The Boosted fundraising platform we’re using is great,” adds Nikky. “It’s run by the Arts Foundation, and they make sure that everything’s above board. Plus in most cases, by supporting us through Boosted, NZ donors can claim a 33% tax credit from Inland Revenue —which is pretty darn awesome.”

If all goes to plan, they need six hundred Leias to ensure they set a world record. It seems they’ve been doing their research. “The current Guinness World Record for the ‘largest gathering of people dressed as princesses’ stands at 341, and was set in the UK in 2014.” explains Chris. “Then a subsequent unofficial record of 537 was set in December 2015, also in the UK. Our target is to beat both, and establish a new record for the largest gathering of people dressed as the SAME princess. And to bring the record to New Zealand!”

“But,” adds Nikky, “it can only be officially ratified by Guinness World Records if we reach our ultimate goal of seven thousand dollars, as there are fees to pay and we need to provide a lot of evidence. We’ll have to keep cameras on the registration desk at all times and have one independent judge per fifty Leias to sign it off—it’s quite an undertaking.” While Nikky is hard at work organizing the logistics for the day and managing the event’s growing Facebook community, Chris has his hands full with other projects. “Assuming we get the funds we need, May is going to be one of our maddest months ever,” admits Chris. “Our spoof Middle-Earth-Beatles music video Rescued By Eagles is due to be released on YouTube on June 1st, which is the 50th anniversary of the Sgt Pepper album but just two days before NZ Leia Day… so there’s not going to be much room to breathe!”

But what do Disney make of all this? Is it all official? “Well, in the true spirit of Leia, we’re something of a rebellion,” says Chris. “But as we’re not making any profit, and if there are excess funds they’ll be gifted to charities close to Carrie Fisher’s heart, I very much hope the corporation don’t shut us down! We want to celebrate all that’s great about Star Wars, and even though we’ve lost Carrie, as fans we love that Disney are keeping the dream alive. We want to do our bit too.”

As the NZ Princess Leia Day Facebook page puts it: “Prepare… Do the Hair… Be There… Be Leia!” What more is there to say?

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