12th December 2003


Sargent Cancer Care for Children Christmas Concert

A review by Keith.

Friday 12th December, 2003. My day began at 8am when, unusually for me, I awoke feeling fresh and raring to go. I had just over two hours to be ready to set off on my journey to Lincoln to meet up with Simon and Shirley. I left at 10:45am, making sure I was serenaded by Hayley all the way. Although the weather was somewhat miserable, nothing could put a dampener on this special day. I arrived at Simon’s with plenty of time to spare before we left for London to attend the Sargent Cancer Care for Children Christmas Concert at the Royal Albert hall. This was a first for me – I had never been to the RAH before and have to say it really is a magnificent venue.

Our car park space was already booked and the information said that the gates would open at 6pm. After a little bit of fun sorting out how to actually get to the RAH, we arrived at the car park spot on 6. This was boding well for the coming concert. And only more songs from Hayley could have improved it. What she did sing – and I will cover that shortly – was nothing less than her usual level of excellence.

The others who took part were:

Junior Academy Symphony Orchestra, Royal Academy of Music – conductor Jonathan Willcocks.

Massed Schools’ Choir (almost five hundred strong).

The Philharmonia Chorus.

Ian Curror – organist.

Catrin Finch – harpist. Official harpist to HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Sophie Ellis Bextor – pop star extraordinaire.

Barney, the purple dinosaur.

And, of course,

Hayley Westenra

Comperes for the evening were:

James Allen – the new voice of Formula 1 motor racing for ITV. James is a patron of Sargent Cancer Care for Children.

Gigi Morley – the face of the UK’s National Lottery draws on BBC1

Patsy Palmer - a star of television and theatre, probably best known for her role in Eastenders. Patsy is a patron of Sargent Cancer Care for Children.

The concert was performed in the presence of HRH The Duchess of Gloucester GCVO.

The evening was definitely one of audience participation, as the near capacity throng raised their voices to join in the singing of many of the Carols. The concert opened with “O Come All Ye Faithful” which was sung by the Choir and audience, proving they were in fine voice and intent on enjoying a fantastic evening. This was followed by “Ding Dong! Merrily on High”, sung by the Philharmonia Chorus. Then we came to the part we had gone there to see. The third song was “White Christmas” performed by the Philharmonia Chorus and led by Hayley. The entire audience erupted in to a roar of cheering and applause as she was announced. It was so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes – and I don’t mind admitting it. Whenever I see Hayley performing on stage, I become so engrossed in her singing that it seems to be over almost before she had begun. So it was with this, but now – the next day – it is still ringing in my ears and bringing a warm glow to my heart.

The next piece was “Troika, from Lieutenant Kijé” by Prokofiev, performed by the Junior Academy Symphony Orchestra. Played beautifully by a very talented group of young people. Following this, we had “Once in Royal David’s City” – choir and audience. One of my favourites done as well as the best I have ever heard. Now it was time for something especially for the many hundreds of children present – Barney the purple dinosaur. However, this proved so good that the adults found it just as entertaining as the children. Next, it was back to the choir versus audience contest with “Jingle Bells”. Everyone gave it their all and proved to be perfect singing together.

Now it was back to Hayley. This time she was to give us two songs from her Album “PURE”. The first was from her special edition Christmas CD – “Away In A Manger” and was so beautiful it was like sitting in front of a wave machine delivering pure pleasure (and that’s not intended as a play on words). This was followed by one of the finest performances of “Pokarekare Ana” that I have seen Hayley deliver. The audience loved every second and clearly loved our Hayley, too.

This brought us to an interval of 30 minutes.

After the interval, James Allen brought his two and a half year old son on stage in his arms and asked him if he had anything to say to the audience. He held the microphone for the little chap who said, very clearly, “Merry Christmas, everyone.” That little boy brought the house down. Then, Sophie Ellis Bextor sang two songs from her new CD. It seems that the audience very much appreciated her performance. Personally, her music is not to my taste so I entertained myself by replaying in my mind Hayley’s performance from the first half. Whilst I was doing this, my attention was drawn to the left stalls. There was Hayley, descending the steps to the front row, where a gentleman moved aside to let her sit. She had come down to talk to people and sign autographs. In a matter of seconds, she was besieged by adults and children alike wanting her to sign their programmes. Jill had followed her down the steps and moved to several different positions. She was taking photographs of Hayley’s interaction with members of the audience. Hayley was wonderful with the children, asking them their names and listening very carefully – even if this meant bending as far over the barrier as she could to hear the little ones. Whatever else was said I don’t know. But, it was quite clear that Hayley listened attentively to every word and was smiling throughout the entire process, which must have taken twenty minutes or more. It was obvious Hayley was enjoying herself and, because of her way with people, she won many more hearts last night.

Whilst all this was going on and after Sophie Ellis Bextor had finished her two songs, the Philharmonia Chorus sang “A Merry Little Christmas”, again to great appreciation from the audience. When they had finished, there was Hayley, still signing programmes, listening carefully and laughing with people. Proving to everyone, without even trying (she was just being herself), how wonderful she is.

Then it was audience versus choir contest time again with “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. The conductor turned this into a great fun piece in the way he divided the audience up to sing various parts – “Five Gold Rings” by the entire audience; “Four Calling birds” by the audience in the right stalls and boxes; “Three French Hens” by the audience in the arena seats (That’s those in the middle bit); “Two Turtle Doves” by the audience in the left stalls and boxes; “and a Partridge in a Pear Tree” by the whole audience again. Hayley was still signing programmes!

Next we had Catrin Finch, harpist and the orchestra played “Crossing the Stone” a traditional Welsh piece, which Catrin played with great beauty – showing just how appealing the harp can be. I was quite happy watching Hayley, who had just about finished signing the programmes of all those who wanted her to. She didn’t leave anyone out.

Meanwhile, the choir and the audience were at it again with “Good King Wenceslas”, proving they were as good as each other AND that they were thoroughly enjoying their part in the evening’s concert. This was followed by the near five hundred strong children’s choir, accompanied by Catrin Finch, singing “Silent Night”. It is notable that this choir contained children from a number of schools and that none of them had come together before the concert. Each school had rehearsed the children on their own premises and the first time they performed together was during the concert. It was perfect. Everyone had done a fantastic job and they all deserved the praise they were given – and the appreciation shown by the audience.

Then came a piece I had never heard before, the “Star Carol”. The verses were sung by the choir and the refrain by choir and audience. It was beautifully done and is a definite favourite of mine now. Then we had “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, again by the choir and audience. This was a perfect choice for this point in the concert. It’s a stirring, joyful piece which picked up the tempo and increased the enjoyment of everyone there still further. The reason it was a good choice – the next was to be the last of the evening and they were obviously intent on finishing on a high. Well, they were two hours behind me; I was on a high from the moment Hayley sang her first piece.

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” rounded off the evening, being sung by the entire company, the audience and all the presenters and guests. Hayley was in there too, with a microphone, singing her heart out. Oh! How I wish I could have heard her above all the others. But, what could be heard was joyous and beautiful.

Then it was over.


The best was yet to come. Before the performance, we had left a bag at the security desk at the artists’ entrance, to be collected later. We went back and collected the bag, containing Christmas cards from myself and a couple of presents and cards from Simon and Shirley. We settled in to wait for Hayley to appear. After having been there for a while, a man in a white shirt came up the steps and introduced himself “Hi. I’m Steve, Hayley’s manager.” Once again, every member of Hayley’s team was proving to be not just the best at their job, but the best kind of people too. We chatted to him for a few minutes and then he went back down stairs to fetch Hayley and Jill for us.

As Hayley was nearing the top of the steps, she looked up and saw us. The only way I can describe this is to say her face burst into the most gorgeous beaming smile as she greeted us. Then Jill appeared too, with just as big and friendly a smile. Introductions were made all round and then followed a period of time which could only be described as a melee as conversations were carried on with Steve, Hayley and Jill. Initially standing a little in the background was Roger, the newest and a most welcome addition to the Hayley Westenra International team as UK correspondent. But, he was drawn forward into the introductions and the conversations. Then it was time for some photos to be taken. Once more, chaos ruled as people were moved around and different groups and pairings were formed. We had to be as quick as we could, the security staff wanted to get locked up and go home. Plus, Steve was trying to usher them to the car. I’ll tell you why in a moment. Needless to say, there were hugs and kisses from Hayley and Jill and genuine good wishes for the coming holiday season.

Eventually with all this going on, we ended up on the pavement outside – conversations still in full swing and Jill checking to make sure that everyone who would like one had had their photo taken with Hayley etc., even to the extent that she did the honours herself on more than one occasion. This short while in her company had proved that I had been right all along about Jill – what a wonderful person she is. So friendly, open and communicative. What a truly beautiful family.

Finally, the reason that Steve was keen to get them away was that they had to go back to the apartment to pack, then they had a two and a half hour drive ahead of them last night. This to be followed by the fact that Hayley would be back at work by 8:00am this morning filming a video on location. As the cars pulled away, Hayley and Jill were turned round in their seats waving and smiling. The second car carried Steve and, as he went, he too was smiling and gave us a wave.

As we stood there, I asked Roger which way he was going, to which he answered, “I don’t know – and I don’t care, I’m floating on a cloud”. Well, it was a pretty crowded cloud, because Simon, Shirley and myself were up there with him.

As we left, there was a tinge of sadness because Hayley flies home to New Zealand on Monday. But then, I was happy about that, too. Because it meant that the whole family would be together for Christmas – and that’s how it should be.

I arrived home at 4:45am – some eighteen hours after I had set out and a journey of nearly six hundred miles. VERY tired, but very happy indeed.

Have a safe trip Hayley and Jill. Have a very merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful and incredibly successful 2004. Meanwhile, I will console myself with the fact that I already have my ticket for next year. I am going to the concert on 21st March in Llandudno. And that’s only fourteen weeks away now.



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