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Maidstone: Leeds Castle Classical Concert celebrates 40th anniversary with fireworks, live music and a Spitfire

By Angela Cole

Pack a picnic and a flag to wave - the Leeds Castle Classical Concert is back and it's going to be a birthday bash to remember.

The popular open air event attracts thousands each summer for an open air spectacular, which ends with a firework finale, plus this year, to remember the first concert back in 1978, there will be a finale of music featuring the hits of the decade and the audience are invited to dress to impress 70s-style.

Held today, the afternoon and evening will have a party atmosphere with much-loved classical favourites and the concert's usual relaxed, promenading perfection and be topped off with a Spitfire fly-over by the Headcorn-based Aero Legends.

Soloist Katie Bird gets patriotic for the Classical Concert Picture: Steve Crispe
Soloist Katie Bird gets patriotic for the Classical Concert Picture: Steve Crispe

Compering in the picturesque setting will be John Rigby, who will also be conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as well as hosting with special guests.

An internationally recognised conductor, he is currently conducting Chess for the English National Opera and the 2018 Johann Strauss Tour for Raymond Gubbay Ltd.

He said: “This year we will celebrate the heritage that this unique experience has, but spring board forward with a refreshed approach and programme.

Soloists Alexander James-Edwards, Katie Bird, Louise Dearman and Tim Howar anticipate the Classical Concert's 40th birthday
Soloists Alexander James-Edwards, Katie Bird, Louise Dearman and Tim Howar anticipate the Classical Concert's 40th birthday

"There will be more of a party flavour and we are guaranteed to have the audience singing and dancing into the summer night.”

Joining him on stage will be four world class soloists.

West End performers Louise Dearman and Canadian Tim Howar will be taking to the stage for the first time at Leeds, while making a return visit will be soprano Katie Bird, who made her debut performance last year to a home crowd, and tenor Alexander James Edwards who performed back in 2014.

An actress and singe, Louise is best known for playing Glinda and Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked.

Canadian actor and singer Tim is based in London and is known for having one of the most versatile voices in the business, which has earned him the nickname Tim “The Power” Howar.

He said: “It’s going to be a great big party, bring your picnic baskets, and bring your fun.”

Conductor John Rigby
Conductor John Rigby

Katie is originally from nearby Bearsted and grew up with the classical concert on her doorstep. Last year, besides making her classical concert debut, she also debuted for English National Opera, singing Masha and Chloe in David Alden's new production of The Queen of Spades.

Essex-born Alexander began his career as a member of the Young Artists’ Programme at the Royal Opera House.

The Band of the Grenadier Guards has been providing music and colour to momentous occasions for more than three centuries, as well as providing musical support for state and ceremonial events. This year they will march down from Fairfax Hall in full guard regalia to their famous Grenadier Guard Band marches.

The Patriot Girls will return this year, after wowing the crowds last year.

The West End leading ladies Joanne Pullen, Jo Gibb and Marissa Dunlop Bidwell have collectively played more than 20 top West End roles including Christine in The Phantom of The Opera! Sandy in Grease and Truly Scrumptious in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

With a range of musical backgrounds, they have a variety of vocal styles and will sing everything from The Andrews Sisters to Brit Pop with a twist, James Bond favourites and classic British musicals.

Every year at the classical concert there is a collection for charity - this year’s is for the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity, who are the Army’s national charity, providing a lifetime of support to soldiers, veterans and their immediate families, from every conflict.

feeling patriotic at the Leeds Castle Classical Concert. Picture: Andy Jones
feeling patriotic at the Leeds Castle Classical Concert. Picture: Andy Jones


The concert attracts thousands with their picnics and gazebos, plus bunting, flags and champagne. Here's the etiquette:

Be as elaborate as you like with your picnic - you'll see regulars dishing up gateaux and more at their tables.

If you want to get a really good view, get there early. There are big screens and the music and Spitfire can be seen from all angles, but if you want to see the stage, you'll need to be prompt with your picnic chairs.

Wear fancy dress, a ballgown or tuxedo, or your best flip-flops - anything goes - and look out for plenty of St Georges in the crowd.

Look out for flying rubber chickens! It's a tradition dating back some years for the crowd to throw them (in breaks in the performances).


The Leeds Castle Classical Concert will be held on Saturday, July 14 at Leeds Castle, near Maidstone. Picnic style tickets are £37. Seated tickets are sold out. To book visit leedscastleconcert.co.uk The event, organised by Heritage Events, is sponsored by Brachers.

The stage at Leeds castle Classical Concert
The stage at Leeds castle Classical Concert

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