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Kent’s biggest classical concert of the summer at the ‘loveliest castle in the world’ boasts TV favourites the P&O Ferries Choir among its world-class line-up. Jo Roberts reports.
It will be a proud moment for the P&O Ferries Choir when they perform in front of the biggest crowd of their career at Leeds Castle.
This weekend’s Open Air Classical Concert is a highlight of Kent’s social calendar and the billing is testament to the glory of last year’s victory in BBC TV series The Choir: Sing While You Work.
“We know that millions of people watched the TV show but we weren’t faced with those people, so to actually stand on a stage in front of them is going to be very surreal but very exciting,” said choir member Stacey Young.
Some readers will remember Stacey as a soloist chosen by choirmaster Gareth Malone for Dover-based P&O Ferries Choir’s Sinnerman gospel arrangement. It won their place in the final, in which they pipped the CitiBank choir to the top spot, having already beaten off choirs from Sainsbury’s, Birmingham City Council and Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service.
A former Miss Canterbury and Kent carnival queen, Stacey had long loved performing and was a member of the East Kent Girls’ Choir as a schoolgirl at St Anselm’s in Canterbury. But as an adult, choral singing had taken a backseat to her work as a marketing executive at P&O Ferries and her singing with local bands the Vintage Corporation and Off The Wall in her spare time.
“I hadn’t been in a choir for 20 years, but it didn’t take long to come back to me. A lot of the members had never even sung in front of people before so every time they heard their own voice they would be cringing and saying, ‘Was that in tune?’ It took a lot of coaxing,” said Stacey, 36, who lives in Kingsdown, near Deal.
The team bonding that went on as the choir built up one another’s confidence in those early days was a fantastic by-product of the show.
Stacey was a newcomer to P&O Ferries at the time and it served as an ice-breaker not only for her but between different teams within the business who’d never worked together in the past.
“Some of the people in the choir had been in the same audition room as me, others had auditioned on the ships in one of the club lounges. As a new person it was brilliant because it helped me to settle in.”
The fledgling choir memorably performed Beyond the Sea on board a ferry for friends and family, but it was later in the gospel round that Stacey had her chance to shine.
“One day Gareth picked me out and said, ‘Stacey, I can definitely hear you really going for it’. I was a little bit embarrassed at the time.”
Only on the day of the semi-final did Gareth tell Stacey that she would take a solo part in Sinnerman.
She said: “I didn’t have time to dwell on it. It goes by so quickly and you have no idea what’s just come out of your mouth, so you’re thinking ‘Was that okay? What did I just sing? I have no idea!’.
“It’s all just a blur because the adrenaline gets you. I didn’t see what the choir were doing until it was broadcast. And when I actually saw that for the first time – all of them with their hands in the air, really giving it some – it was really amazing to watch that back and quite emotional.”
Video: The P&O Ferries Choir sing Sinnerman featuring Stacey Young
Ever since their victory last year, the P&O Ferries Choir have been working very hard with their musical director Hilary Campbell, whom they met at the Royal Academy of Music while filming the series.
“We have a repertoire with fresh songs for the Leeds Castle audience to hear and a few favourites from the show,” said Stacey.
“It’s an honour for us to be asked to the castle because we’re aware that it’s going to be a huge audience.”
Former Strictly Come Dancing winner and BBC presenter Chris Hollins will be the narrator.
International operatic tenor James Edwards is a Leeds Castle favourite who will be performing again.
Adding military weight to the performances will be the Band of The Royal Air Force ATC Pipes and Drums 2513 Squadron.
They will be performing at the Step Short Parade in Folkestone in the presence of Prince Harry on Monday, August 4
Catch a star rising in the form of soprano Hye-Youn Lee, whom the Independent on Sunday named as The Face to Watch in Classical Music 2013.
Also on stage at Leeds will be the Salisbury Plain Military Wives Choir. The choir was formed following the success of BBC show The Choir in 2011, in which Gareth Malone led military wives from Chivenor in Devon to form a choir which went to Christmas No. 1 with Wherever You Are.
When more tours to Afghanistan came along for the men of Salisbury Plain last year, the choir created a community focal point. Through song, the ladies found fun, support and friendships that will last a lifetime. They now look forward to adding Saturday’s performance at Leeds Castle to their shared experiences.
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