The road goes ever on and on...
After a day at home unpacking and doing piles of accumulated washing, I set off for the Coliseum at 7.30pm. It felt quite bizarre.
Diana and I walked yesterday morning along Newlands Corner up to St Martha’s and back to Newlands Corner. It was a beautiful day, the air was clear as crystal and the views incomparable. And I felt for the first time in six weeks just a little tired.
It proved to me that long distance walking is all about one’s mindset and it’s as much a question of outlook as it is fitness.
Anyway, I parked in Barnes near Jill Phillip’s home and took the train to Waterloo. I was wearing my black best trousers, my Opera Walk T shirt under my Trinity Star Fleece and my walking socks and trainers. I felt a bit of a twit.
Walking across the smart new footbridge to Charing Cross, I reflected how quickly things that one looks forward to become the present and in no time at all, the past.
I sat on a low wall outside the stage door of the Coli and chatted to Lucy and Rob who are wigs and make-up at ENO. They have both looked after me when I’ve sung at the Coli and they’re both brilliant people. The very people for whom I walked, talked and sang.
And now, there was just one more bit of talking to do.
David Dyer from the chorus (who was also responsible for the marvellous musical send-off they gave me) let me into the building and as I was a wee bit early, he led me upstairs to the Ladies Chorus Room where an end of Ariodante party was in full swing.
I had a great welcome from the girls and a very nice cup of tea and piece of home made cake.
The end of the opera was approaching and David took me down to Prompt Corner where I waited and listened.
The stage manager, Nicole, with whom I’d worked a couple of times, told me the order of events and Bob Holland, the young and very tall Company Manager waited beside me till the opera came to a close.
The thunderous applause that erupted marked the end of this particular run of Handel’s Ariodante and one by one, the brilliant cast took well-deserved curtain calls before stepping back into line.
The conductor went on and then there were two company calls; a mike was handed to soprano Rebecca Evans by one of the actors and she stepped forward to speak. The hush was immediate; she announced that ‘someone very special’ was there, told them I’d walked over 600 miles for the Ben Funds and urged them to give me a great Coli welcome.
They did; and I didn’t have to sing a single note! I bowed, feeling a bit of a pillock standing there in my walking clothes.
Rebecca handed me the mike and I made a short speech to the audience, some of it from lines I’d prepared earlier –another Blue Peterish moment – and some of it off the top of my head as usual.
I made them laugh a couple of times and tried to get my message across. The Ben Funds need MORE MONEY.
Bidding them all safe home, I joined the magnificent cast and conductor for one more bow before the curtain came in. I was very nearly at the end of my adventure, but not quite.
Loretta Tomasi who had so kindly organised my send-off six weeks earlier, sponsored a little party in the American Bar downstairs. People came, stayed awhile before heading home and I had a chance to chat to some of my dearest friends and supporters.
Jill Phillips, Pam Potter and Peter Knight were there; Johnny had organised the company box for them and they adored the performance. And Naomi Hyamson, my one and only pupil was there with three friends. Naomi is a sub-editor on The Times and she not only managed to get a mention about me when I left, she was determined to get a mention in the diary the following Tuesday (which indeed she did).
I had a quiet chat with Rebecca Law who had worked so hard to get us publicity for the Walk. She’d tried and tried but the media basically weren’t interested because I hadn’t been attacked by a alien or dragged a broken leg along behind me whilst battling a terminal illness. A great pity but the way of the world. She’s a clever girl and will go far in her future career as a journalist. Thank you too to Gina Rozner who introduced us to her in the first place and worked on our behalf for much reduced fees.
Lorna had brought some T shirts into the bar and seeing people drifting away empty-handed, I leapt onto a chair, whistled for silence and announced; ‘no one leaves without buying a T shirt.’ So pretty well everyone bought a T shirt and a least another £100 went into the kitty. I should have tried that tactic after concerts!
We gave a T shirt each to the three bar staff as a thank you for staying late and then Johnny arrived having sung Don Basilio in Marriage of Figaro at the ROH. He sweetly presented Lorna and me with gifts to mark the end of the Opera Walk – Lorna had champagne and I had another wonderful selection of foot remedies. Brilliant.
Thank you, Lorna, for all you’ve done during the Walk and all the best for the future. And well done Johnny – you’ve been absolutely brilliant.
Jill, Pam and Peter had arrived by taxi and just before 11.15pm, as the bar was about to close, the four of us slowly climbed the stairs to the street and waited a matter of moments until the car drew up. We got in and laughed all the way home to Barnes….God knows what the driver thought.
I stayed with Jill for the night and we reminisced about the Long Walk for Speakability over cups of hot chocolate in the kitchen; we remembered all the fun we’d had walking and driving the length of Great Britain five years ago. Jill is another total star though she sadly couldn’t nanny me on this occasion; when I said I thought I still had another walk in me, although she rolled her eyes, she didn’t say NO!
As I drifted off to sleep a succession of memories played on my inner eye;
the glorious countryside, the skylarks singing above rippling grasslands, walking with soaking feet beside canals and laughing my socks off with Diana; Hilary and Annabel sliding down that muddy Herefordshire bridlepath and Carolyn, Julia and I having an absolute ball up north; the plaintive bleating of fat lambs and the expression on the face of the cow that charged us; nettle stings and struggling against the gale as Will, Sharon, Diana and I crossed the Severn Bridge; rain, rain and more rain; and then sweltering, sticky heat bouncing off the melting tarmac; Carol, Pam, Peter and Lucy selling T shirts and CDs at Coverwood; riding across the beautiful Rutland landscape past the golden glow of Clipsham quarry; that crazy hare racing along the road in front of me; all the people, particularly my dear friends, who helped me with yet another of my mad schemes; and the music – always the music. So, 642.9 miles behind me and a head full of memories to last me until…
THE NEXT BIG ADVENTURE!
The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone and I must follow if I can.
Pursuing it with eager feet until it joins some larger way, where many
paths and errands meet.
And whither then, I cannot say.
(Tolkein; Lord of the Rings; and the words Toria and Will had inscribed on the silver hip flask they gave me for my 50th birthday and before the Long Walk in 2001. My greatest achievement? No contest – my children win hands down.)
HUGE THANKS TO ALL THE SPONSORS, PATRONS AND DONORS WHO HAVE SUPPORTED ME ON THE OPERA WALK.
HUGE THANKS ALSO TO ALL THE ARTISTS FOR THEIR BRILLIANT SINGING, PLAYING, READING AND PRESENTING AND TO ALL THE WONDERFUL PEOPLE WHO LOOKED AFTER ME ALONG THE WAY.
GOOD LUCK TO BOTH THE BEN FUNDS AND HOPE TO SEE YOU
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 26TH AT THE LONDON COLISEUM