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26th May 2004

A few meanderings

Oh! What a day.

I had my trip to London to see Hayley at the Classical Brit Awards planned almost like a military operation. I was to leave home at 1pm for the trip, which would put me in London an hour before the car park gates opened. This would give me the chance for a break on the way down and to get something to eat. The car park opened at 6pm - this would allow me 2 hours before the start of the awards. So, I had plenty of time. As it worked out, I managed to leave at 1:48. But, with the safety net of time I had built in, that was no problem. I was in buoyant mood, and being serenaded by Hayley on the CD player - and everything was going well. I was averaging 60mph.

As I was approaching Birmingham and that famous (or should I say, infamous) motorway junction known as "spaghetti junction", the traffic was beginning to build up quite ominously. Get held up by traffic there and you've got serious problems. Miss a turning and things get worse by an order of magnitude. I then passed a gantry sign, which said "M6 Toll Clear". This is a new section of motorway built by a private consortium and a toll must be paid to use it. A little further on, I passed a sign, which told me it was two pounds for cars. "That'll do for me", I thought. And it certainly did. The road was almost deserted and, furthermore, it is a fantastic road to drive on. Even better, it completely bypassed Birmingham and the heavy traffic. My mood was improving all the time. I rejoined the main M6 motorway and was still averaging 60mph. This was great! Then everything collapsed around my ears. Road sign - "M1 closed between junctions 15 and 14, follow A14 and A1". No one said it was 43 miles in the wrong direction to get to the A1, or that to turn onto the A1 would involve getting tied up in an 8-mile long traffic jam. I was now losing time at a horrifying rate.

I got through that, only to get tangled up in two further traffic jams on the A1 itself. I had planned my route to come off the motorway into London, and now I wasn't even going to do that. With some great leaps of faith and some even greater leaps of imagination, I managed to navigate my way back on course, only then to find myself in Baker Street - and no sign of Sherlock Holmes when you need him. Pulling over, I referred to the London street map I had with me and discovered that I was only half a mile off course. It was easily corrected and I quickly found my way to the car park. I pulled into my reserved parking space at 7:48pm - 6 hours at the wheel without a break, and only 12 minutes before the start of proceedings. Nerves were now severely jangled. I made it to my seat and managed a few words with Roger, who was sitting next to me. Looking around, I spotted Dave - another valued member of the HWI team. Then I spotted Gerald Westenra at a table just a few yards in front of me. Eventually, he turned and we caught his eye. He returned our wave with a big smile on his face. My mood started picking up again and the excitement of the evening was coming back.

The awards were opened by Vanessa Mae, who virtually set fire to the stage with her playing of the violin. Her interpretation of the "Sabre Dance" just has to be heard to be believed. But, whilst I was enjoying all this, I wasn't there for that. I was there for Hayley - to hear her perform and to see her win.

We had the presentation for Young British Classical performer. I didn't make notes, so can't say who got it. Next on was Bryn Terfel, who sang "Bugielio'r Gwenith Gwyn". Now it was the critics' award. This was followed by a performance by the Choir of King's College, Cambridge. They performed "Panis Angelicus" but, when you have heard this done in duet by Hayley and Sophie, this version did not work - well, at least not for me. Then they sang "Lift Thine Eyes". Next, it was a presentation for Ensemble/Orchestral Album of the year. Now we were down to the serious business. It was Hayley next and she gave a superb rendition of "Pokarekare Ana". You know, I'll say it again, she gets better every time I hear her sing. By now I was floating on clouds of sheer enjoyment. Next up, it was Katherine Jenkins singing "Questo e per te" (This is for you). Absolutely fabulous but, I had seen her sing it at Llandudno on March 21st (which was Mother's Day in the UK, and she dedicated it to her mother who could not be there - that was the first time she had missed one of Katherine's performances).

Next it was the presentation for "Outstanding Contribution to Music" which went to Renée Fleming and was the only award announced in advance. Then Renée sang "O Mio Babbino Caro" which, in my mind, was not a song she should have sung - especially when you know the English translation of the title.

Having not had anything to drink since 11am, I was much relieved when they announced there would now be a 30-minute interval. But, it was necessary to queue for nearly 20 minutes to get served. I bought 2 bottles of coke, a glass of orange and a small bottle of cider (not all for me, I was buying for Dave and his daughter, Roger and myself). I gave the guy a ten pound note and was horrified when I got one pound thirty pence in change. I only wanted a drink, not the purchase of the catering franchise. Still, this was for Hayley, so I was happy enough. I took the opportunity of studying the programme before the second half started and discovered that the two presentations I was interested in were the last of the evening. I grimaced. I was on tenterhooks. I wanted to see Hayley win. I wanted to be on my feet applauding and shouting myself hoarse. But, I was going to have to wait.

Shortly after, Hayley joined her father at their table and, after a few seconds during which he must have told her we were there, she spun round in her seat, a huge smile on her face, spotted us and waved. That was it. All the hardships of the journey down, the thumping headache, the raging thirst etc., were all forgotten. It was now more than worthwhile. At this point, I will skip over the next part of the proceedings and cut to the chase. Eventually, it was time for the presentation for "Female Artist of the Year" and - it went to Cecilia Bartoli. I was incredulous but, had to accept that they had been saying for a while that Hayley was an outsider for it, and they were right. It was the next one I was really interested in. National Savings and Investments "Album of the Year". This had to be Hayley's. Sales of classical music had been going down steadily, year on year. In 2003, they rose by 1,000,000 and Hayley had achieved more that 70% of that on her own in just three months. She had been at the top of the classical charts for 34 weeks - almost 9 months. It was not possible for anyone else to equal that because there are only 52 weeks in a year anyway. Then they announced "and the winner is………Bryn Terfel". I was gobsmacked! If my bottom jaw had not been connected to my upper jaw, this is when it would have hit the floor. I could not believe it. Don't get me wrong, Bryn Terfel is superb - and that is an understatement. But, Hayley had wiped the floor with all-comers since the release of Pure, and that included him. Eventually, I let out and astounded "WHAT?" And that was the point where I lost all interest in the rest of the programme.

I will let Roger tell you about our meeting with Hayley immediately after proceedings had finished. Suffice it to say, none of us mentioned this travesty. Hayley was her usual bubbly, infectious self. It was during this chat that I found out she is returning to the USA on Monday and will be going to Boston, Chicago, LA (I think) and New York, before returning to the UK for the Hampton Court Festival on June 19th. Then it's back to the USA for Joe's Pub, New York on June 24th, followed by other promotional work. This is the point when Steve, Hayley's excellent manager, stated that it had just been confirmed she would be doing a repeat appearance at Joe's Pub on August 4th. There will then be a promotional tour in Germany, I think they said for a couple of months before Hayley comes back to the UK for her exams in November. Steve has promised to give me much more information as soon as he has time to catch his breath.

Hayley then had to leave as she was due to do a live interview for NZ television. And the management was trying to throw the remaining members of the public out so they could lock up - I think they meant us.

So, we left the building, Roger made his way to get his train, eventually Dave and his daughter left us and, that left myself and my good friend Joe waiting at the stage door. After a while, Hayley came out and it was more autographs and photos for people. Behind her came Steve, talking to a gentleman at his side as they exited the door. He looked up and saw me, turned to the man next to him and said "there's someone here I would like you to meet". At which point, he introduced me to Costa Pilavichi (I do hope I've spelled his name correctly). This is only the man who flew out to New Zealand to sign Hayley to Decca Classics personally. We shook hands and chatted for a few minutes. He asked questions and genuinely listened to my answers. And, it seems, I am well known in the corridors of Decca - he even thanked me for the support given to Hayley and, through her, Decca by Hayley Westenra International. He stated that they were very grateful indeed. Steve added that after he had told me about the June 24th event at Joe's Pub and I had put it up on my forum and some of the lists, the event sold out within 15 minutes. The demand was so great.

So, all in all, the evening turned out to have it's disappointment but, it also was a great evening, made all the better for my first ever meeting with Dave and Joe, and now, capping everything, meeting Costa - a truly wonderful man with a genuine interest in people. My total faith in Decca is now greater than ever and it was very high to begin with.

The trip back was absolutely faultless, taking just four hours. I arrived back at 3:48am totally exhausted, but comparatively happy with the overall results of the evening.

Keith S.
26th May 2004


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