Mandela daughters hear of death at London royal premiere

This picture taken on August 26, 2005 shows former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg/AFP

, LONDON, Dec 6 – Nelson Mandela’s two youngest daughters were told of the death of their father at Thursday’s London premiere of a film celebrating the life of the iconic anti-apartheid fighter.

Zindzi and Zenani had just met dignitaries including Britain’s Prince William and wife Catherine at the screening of “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” when they were informed of the news by telephone “and immediately left the cinema,” according to the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

However, the pair requested that the premiere continue.

Zindzi, 55, had insisted on her way into the cinema that her father was “fine” but “frail”, and that she was “hoping to see more of him.”

British news reports suggested she “seemed to be overcome” shortly after going inside the cinema.

William was told of Mandela’s death during the screening, and gave a brief statement following a two minute silence held at the end of the film.

“We were just reminded of what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family right now,” he said, flanked by his wife Catherine.

It is believed to be the first time a major royal has given an unscripted response to a large news event.

The film’s producer, Anant Singh, told the audience of Mandela’s death as the credits rolled, leaving members silent and in shock, according to news reports.

British actor Idris Elba, who plays Mandela on the big screen, later released a statement praising the former president.

“I am stunned at this very moment, in mourning with the rest of the world and Madiba’s family,” he said.

“We have lost one of the greatest human beings to have walked this earth; I only feel honoured to be associated with him.”

He earlier said on the red carpet that he hoped Mandela would live long enough to see the film.

“I think he has seen parts of the film but ultimately it’s about his life, he’s been there, he’s done it — so he might not even need to see it,” he said.

Harvey Weinstein, head of the Weinstein Company studio that made the film, called Mandela “one of history’s greatest freedom fighters”.

“We count ourselves unspeakably fortunate to have been immersed in Nelson Mandela’s story and legacy,” he said in a statement.

“It’s been an honour to have been granted such proximity to a man who will go down as one of history’s greatest freedom fighters and advocates for justice,” he added.

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