We Bought a Zoo: Mee family at New York premiere

Ben Mee and Matt Damon
Image caption Ben Mee and Matt Damon attended the New York premier

A family whose story of buying a zoo inspired a Hollywood film have attended its New York premier.

We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, is about the Mee family's purchase of Dartmoor Zoo.

Ben Mee, 46, and his children Milo, 10, and Ella, eight, experienced the red carpet on Monday.

Mr Mee said: "It was incredible. It was just flashbulbs, like you wouldn't believe. It was a very strange experience."

He said: "It was really very intense and structured. I thought from watching things on TV that you kind of get out of a limo and you wander, but in fact you're ushered very, very quickly."

The film follows the story of the former Surrey family's purchase of the zoo in 2006, which was closed by inspectors before reopening in 2007.

Image caption Scarlett Johansson and Matt Damon play main characters in the film

It was based on the book Mr Mee wrote about the whole project, from the moment the family first saw the property advertised in an estate agent, to the death of his wife Katherine from cancer.

Mr Mee said he had been nervous before watching the film because "it's so very deeply personal".

"It was such a well made, well crafted film that you lost track of that fact that it was about us and you just engaged with the characters so much.

"Every so often they'd say 'so Mr Mee' and Matt Damon would look up and answer to that name and that would jerk us back to reality, it was very strange."

The film was directed by Cameron Crowe, who has also directed pictures including Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky, and charts the highs and lows of buying a zoo.

"It was an incredibly moving film. Obviously it dealt with the death of my wife which was done very sensitively with lots of flashbacks, and a very beautiful actress [Stephanie Szostak] who played her and it was quite overwhelming, particularly for my children," Mr Mee said.

"I was kind of glad when it was over because it's something that I've been dreading almost for the last two years and a sense of relief that I'd finally seen it. They've done a fantastic job."

Image caption Ben Mee first met his screen double Matt Damon on the film set in Hollywood

As well as attending the premier Mr Mee also appeared on Anderson Cooper's American TV show alongside Matt Damon to promote the film, which is due out in the UK in March.

"I recognised him [Damon] immediately, obviously, and he comes over and he recognises me. We kind of shake hands and exchange jokes and we were just talking about his depiction of the whole bereavement process and the tribulation process of rebuilding the zoo against the odds.

"It was strange to have such a lot in common suddenly from this guy that you only know from the silver-screen and it was very odd to see him wearing a name badge which said 'Benjamin' on it.

"You couldn't make it up."

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