I Kind Of Got Kidnapped By Richard Dawkins And Ayaan Hirsi Ali At The Global Atheist Convention

I have a problem saying “No” to people.

Especially if the people I’m saying “No” to are persistent, taller, famous and I can’t fire off a good reason to tell them to stay put.

A good reason, like “But the bodyguards think that you’re staying backstage here, and there’s no backstage crew near for me to tell them what you’re now going down the hallway without me unless I show you the way aren’t you…

…oh dear holy hades, okay, it’s this way


Backstage. The Global Atheist Convention. The Green Room. Snacks, a basket of biscuits, a large-screen television, a coffee-machine and lots of comfy chairs.

I’m here with Richard Dawkins and Geoffrey Robertson and assorted backstage crew. It’s the break and A.C. Grayling, Lawrence Krauss are outside signing thousands of books for lines of keen fans. While the crew are checking that everyone is happy, on time, and knows what’s happening next - Robertson demonstrates that he doesn’t know the difference between my laptop and an iPad; he keeps patting the screen and muttering.

On my schedule, I’m to introduce Ayaan Hirsi Ali, after Robertson gives the Christopher Hitchens Memorial Lecture. Then Dawkins will take to the stage, introduced by Lawrence Leung.

I’m checking that my notecards are in order and patiently waiting until Robertson finishes with my laptop, so I can zip off a Tweet to the #AtheistCon masses.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali arrives, in a flurry of bodyguards. She practically bursts into joyful tears at the sight of Richard Dawkins and gives him a big hug, as I do the traditional This Isn’t Any Of My Business, Look Anywhere Else But At Their Reunion reaction.

I do the Examine The Sudden Appearance Of Grit Under My Fingernails And Wind My Watch To Greenwich Mean Time And Back Again.

I do the Could That Sofa Possibly Be A Different Shade Of Green Than The Other Sofa, Maybe I Should Poke It To Be Sure.

I do the This Biscuit Looks Familiar To Me Somehow; I Should Investigate This Further And Even Find A Pen In My Bag To Make Notes About It.

Robertson ignores all of us and marvels at the audience on the big screen, as they file in for his presentation, starting in minutes. He gathers himself  up and heads off to the stage with the crew.

I’m left alone in the room with Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Richard Dawkins.

That’s when they start thinking for themselves, which is never a good sign.

“How wonderful that we are together! And Sam is here too!”

“Ayaan Hirsi Ali has never heard Geoffrey Robertson talk before, what? He’ll be talking about Christopher Hitchens, yes?”

“There’s a way down to the stage to hear him, isn’t there? A nice, straightforward way, right?”

Then they look at me.

This Biscuit Looks Like My Long-Lost why are they looking at me?

…Somehow, I don’t know how - I get cornered by them.

I will help them, yes?

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a cheeky look in her eye and a quirked eyebrow. Dawkins opens the Green Room door.

“Kylie will lead the way, yes? Why, yes. She will. Lead the way.”


“Is it this way or that way?”



It’s this way. Follow me, we can watch the show… from the wings of the stage?

Thus, Richard Dawkins, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and a rather incredulous MC head down the hallway to the stage area.

We go up the backstage stairs. We go through the stage door. We go through to the wings… and the stage crew stare incredulously at us. I imagine that I can HEAR their earpieces EXPLODE with sounds of “WHAT THE??…” as two of the most famous figures in atheism wiggle their way to the curtains and peek out to the audience in the gloom.

LOOK, there’s some free seating in the front row!” says Ayaan Hirsi Ali, “We can go there and watch, yes?

They look at me.

I look at them.

I carefully part the curtains and lead the way down the side-stairs, to the seats in the front. Hirsi Ali is practically giggling with glee and Dawkins cheerfully bounces on his seat to get comfortable for the show.

Now, don’t get me wrong about the security detail. The bodyguards went WHOOMPH and were RIGHT next to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, by the time she hopped onto a seat. They must have teleported, that is the only explanation I have for their immediate appearance. TimeLord Security And Protective Detail, Intergalactic (Earth Detachment).

Because of this, I spend the rest of the conference in mental prostration every time I see her bodyguards, thinking “Oh my god, I am so sorry if I made your job about x 500 more difficult because they wanted to sit in the front row and they practically kidnapped me…

I did learn later that this showed how comfortable and happy Ayaan Hirsi Ali was at the conference, as she wouldn’t have taken such a risk to hop into the front row if she thought she wasn’t safe.

There was a blurry photograph that featured the three of us sitting together – but in it my eyes are tightly shut, most likely because I was praying to a non-existent god that I hadn’t screwed up the security detail for an entire convention. Please don’t tell them that if you ever meet them, because the two of them were so pleased with me for getting them front-row seats at the best gig in the country.

However, do tell the organisers of the convention that they are brilliant for being so cool that they kept the show running perfectly – despite having two of their stars pop merrily out of the curtains, about an hour ahead of schedule.

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About Kylie Sturgess

Kylie Sturgess is a Philosophy teacher, media and psychology student, blogger at Patheos and podcaster at Token Skeptic. She has conducted over a hundred interviews including artists, scientists, politicians and activists, worldwide.
She’s the author of the ‘Curiouser and Curiouser‘ column at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry website and travels internationally lecturing on feminism, skepticism, and science.

  • http://littlelioness.net Fiona

    hehe oh he panic!

  • James

    I had a seat in the second row, left-of-centre, so I had an oblique view of the wings (‘stage left’, is the term, I think?) and I *thought* I saw Professor Dawkins and Ayaan Hirsi Ali behind those curtains. It just seemed kind of furtive and unusual. :) So I pretended it didn’t matter, and just sat with ‘eyes front’.

    Thanks for the back story, Kylie, and for the steady hand on the MC tiller that you, and Lawrence, provided throughout the weekend.

    Kindly, James.

  • http://profile.to/brianengler/ Brian Engler

    Wish I could have been there! At various conferences I’ve helped with here in the US, Richard Dawkins and many other star speakers do seem to enjoy being out in the audience to watch their fellows–much to the delight of those they unexpectedly pop into seats next to. Never saw Ayaan Hirsi Ali try it though–I always figured she’d need a row for the whole security detail. Handled perfectly I’d say.

  • Jet

    It’s sad that people need bodyguards just for standing up and saying ‘we don’t believe in hooey, and we don’t think anybody should’.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    ROFL. Thanks for that, it makes the whole conference more “real” hearing stories like this.

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Thanks! There’s always little odd things that happen behind the scenes – one day I hope to get the DVD too and see it from the audience as well!

  • Chris

    That is both wonderful and very funny.

  • F

    Oh, the narrative!

  • http://www.meder.net Chris

    Well done Kylie, you and Lawrence did a fab job all around as MC’s

    • Kylie Sturgess

      Thank you, that’s lovely! Do please zip a Tweet or FB message to Lawrence – I was working at the convention, but he was doing his usual night-gigs as well, so he was doing two jobs at once!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=554207614 heatherdalgleish

    I wanted to say to Ayaan at some point that I envied her courage, being as open as she was at the convention – but she was naturally being mobbed by other people. I suppose it’s testament to how safe the convention crowd really was – by accident or design. And I suppose she does actually just want to LIVE while she’s still with us, now and again.

    Thanks for sharing the tale. :)

  • Chris

    Awesome. I loved your story. Thanks to http://richarddawkins.net/ for linking to your blog. I’m following you now. :)