The whinny takes it all

"I only came for the horse. I don't do red carpets," says one of a cluster of reporters penned at the edge of the red carpet. As the showbiz fraternity gather, shivering, on a dark January afternoon in Leicester Square for the premiere of War Horse, the fervent discussion swings between what the Duchess of Cambridge will be wearing (her "sylph-like figure" was shown off by a "stunning" Alice Temperley gown, the Daily Mail later reveals) and whether Joey the horse, star of the film, will relieve himself on the carpet.

Pleading agents proffer their wares ("Anyone for an interview with David Kross?" Silence. "He played the boy in The Reader!"), tip sheets are handed out listing the celebrities due to appear (among them Vivienne Westwood and Made in Chelsea's Binky Felstead) and TV presenters primp in front of the cameras (overheard: "Do you really think I look thirty?!"). But we're all waiting for the horse.

The photographers are clambering over each other to get a good angle, and soon enough the theme music - a tinnitus-inducing flute accompanied
by whooshing strings - booms from the Tannoy and Joey is led down the red carpet by a soldier, or an actor dressed as a soldier, no one's quite sure. It all happens so quickly (a horse can't sign autographs, after all) that half the reporters miss Joey entirely, so busy were they retweeting each other's tweets refuting a Kate story in Grazia. But the paparazzi have a good session, snapping at this handsome chestnut with four white socks, all trussed up in a special saddle and shiny stirrups. Joey, it turns out, can pose like a pro; apparently he has his own PR, and someone on hand to clear up any poorly timed defecations.

Joey's relieved

Now the horse bit is over, though, we're trapped. The imminent arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge has left Leicester Square in lockdown, and the reporters are forced to watch the creepingly slow arrival of barely recognisable celebrities, interviewing a few just to pass the time, for the next two hours.

There is some relief: Steven Spielberg arrives and reduces a young fan to hysterical tears because he fails to give her an autograph (though he poses patiently for plenty of awkward, be-my-friend cameraphone hug shots). The War Horse author, Michael Morpurgo, is here, too - cheery and swaddled in a multicoloured scarf knitted by his wife. But the only effective distraction comes via a message from head office: "Rebecca's just emailed to say the horse has pooed."

And then the carpet empties but for pacing policeman, and the photographers start screaming at people in the crowd to put down their umbrellas even though it's now pouring with rain and we're all miserable, and finally, finally, Kate and Wills arrive, striding almost quicker than Joey and disappearing into the cinema to watch the film.

It's all a little deflating. "The horse really is the story of the day," a reporter says. "It always was!" chides another. "Get with the programme."

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 16 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The battle for Britain