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Leeds Castle Classical Concert in Maidstone with a special 900 years fanfare

By Angela Cole

A classic night, complete with flag-waving, field guns and fireworks, is coming.

For the 41st year, Leeds Castle near Maidstone will welcome thousands of concertgoers, to enjoy picnics, promenading and plenty of patriotism.

In the castle’s 900th anniversary year, the Classical Concert includes a special feature - its first commissioned fanfare - as well as military bands, fireworks and field guns, soloists and a Spitfire flypast.

Leeds Castle Classical Concert
Leeds Castle Classical Concert

It features the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, with conductor and artistic director John Rigby compering the event for the second year.

He said of the anniversary year event: “This is surely going to be a fitting celebration.”

Opening in style will be the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Portsmouth, led by principal director of music, Lt Col Jon Ridley. Castle chief executive Sir David Steel said: “Throughout my 36 years as a naval officer, I was and remain passionate about the Royal Marines Band Service. To have the joy of listening to not only the ‘Royal Band’ but also the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will make this a concert in the castle’s 900th year, one to remember.”

The Classical Concert celebrated 40 years last year Picture: Sean Aidan
The Classical Concert celebrated 40 years last year Picture: Sean Aidan

Soloists taking to the stage will be Alwyn Mellor - whose principal roles include the Royal Opera London and the Paris Opera - and Louise Dearman, with Oliver Tompsett, who has starred in West End shows We Will Rock You and Kinky Boots, and rising tenor star Nicky Spence.

Soloist Oliver Tompsett
Soloist Oliver Tompsett

It will be a return for Louise, who is the only person to have played the roles of Glinda and Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked. And she’s planning to dress to impress. “I think I am going to take it up a notch this year - I might even go down the designer route. It is extra special, after all. There may be more sparkles... and just more this year.”

Louise Dearman is returning to Leeds Castle for the Classical Concert Picture: Steve Crispe
Louise Dearman is returning to Leeds Castle for the Classical Concert Picture: Steve Crispe

She said of her debut: “It was incredible. People had told me about it and what a great event it was, but I wasn’t quite prepared - the atmosphere was wonderful. I do enjoy every concert I do, of course, but the whole day at Leeds was brilliant. It was more than I expected it to be. So now this year I am even more excited.”

Such was her enthusiasm, she had the date locked down in record time. “Literally the night I finished the concert last year, I said to John (Rigby) ‘please ask me to do this again’.”

Sponsored by Brachers, there will be a Royal Marines Charity collection.


This year’s concert will include the first public performance of the specially-commissioned A Tribute to Leeds Castle fanfare.

Written to mark the castle’s 900th anniversary, it will be a gift to the people of Kent, just as the castle itself was, says composer Tom Hodge.

Composer Tom Hodge at the castle
Composer Tom Hodge at the castle

The castle’s last private owner, Lady Baillie, left it and the grounds in a trust to be enjoyed by future generations - and the fanfare will be too.

“The piece is bequeathed to the people of Kent as well, as historically Lady Baillie left Leeds Castle to the people of Kent,” said Tom. “It is a gift to the people of Kent. This is really quite unique.”

He revealed that writing the piece had taken around a year, beginning with a visit to last year’s concert. “After I soaked up the atmosphere I realised the enormity of the engagement. It is a dream for a composer. There are so many different elements in it, it really is.”

Leeds Castle is celebrating its 900th anniversary
Leeds Castle is celebrating its 900th anniversary

It will be performed on the night by the 80-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by artistic director John Rigby, touching on eras throughout the castle’s history, including royal references, with Greensleeves, and the castle’s Second World War role as a rehabilitation hospital for servicemen, represented by Morse Code. It will also feature the National Anthem and even moments of the Star Spangled Banner, referring to Lady Baillie’s American heritage. There will also be film music and conclude with a traditional fanfare.

The Classical Concert celebrated 40 years last year Picture: Sean Aidan
The Classical Concert celebrated 40 years last year Picture: Sean Aidan

“The beauty of the piece is you listen to it and hear different things - each time you listen you will hear something,” he said. “It is a potted history of the castle, hopefully.”

He added that writing a piece for Kent was also rewarding as he had previously served in the county in the Band of the Royal Marines in Deal, who will also perform.

There will be a firework finale at the classical concert
There will be a firework finale at the classical concert

A copy of the score was also included in a time capsule buried outside the castle earlier this month.


The Leeds Castle Classical Concert will be on Saturday, July 13. Book picnic-style tickets for £47 at leedscastleconcert.co.uk

To find out what’s going on in the county and for all the latest entertainment news click here.

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