There was a standing ovation followed by a stunned hush in the London movie theater where Prince William, his wife, Kate, and a roomful of VIPs had just finished watching the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
The group was shocked when they learned that the subject of the movie, Nelson Mandela, had died.
“We were delivered the news as the credits rolled,” Tweeted The Mail on Sunday‘s royal correspondent Katie Nicholl. “Silence here in the cinema where the royal couple have just watched Mandela. RIP.”
The royals had been guests of honor at the film’s U.K. premiere, which was also attended by Idris Elba who played the beloved former South African president, and Naomie Harris, who portrays his ex-wife, Winnie.
“I just wanted to say it’s extremely sad and tragic news,” Prince William said with Kate by his side after the premiere at the Odeon cinema. “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.”
Mandela’s daughters Zindzi and Zenoni were on the red carpet at the premiere but left before the film started. It’s believed they were told of their father’s death but insisted that the screening should continue.
The cast, whose afterparty was promptly canceled, were close to tears after the film’s producer, Anant Singh, announced the sad news at the end of the film.
As he left the theater Elba admitted he was “stunned at this very moment, in mourning with the rest of the world and Madiba’s family.”
“We have lost one of the greatest human beings to have walked this earth, I only feel honored to be associated with him,” he added. “He is in a better place now.”
Friday morning, Queen Elizabeth’s press secretary issued the following statement: “The Queen was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Nelson Mandela last night. He worked tirelessly for the good of his country, and his legacy is the peaceful South Africa we see today.
“Her Majesty remembers with great warmth her meetings with Mr. Mandela and sends her sincere condolences to his family and the people of South Africa at this very sad time.”
• Reporting by SIMON PERRY