02 June 2012
Walking past the Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane today I suddenly remembered an evening from my teenage years that brought a broad smile to my face. In 1983 London theatreland staged a tribute to the armed services for the victory in the Falklands. To be introduced by Laurence Olivier, it would feature stars from opera, ballet, theatre and music. I saw it advertised on TV and knicked my Dad’s credit to buy three tickets for my Mum and Dad to see it with me. Unfortunately they were not amused and not at all interested in seeing the show, but eventually allowed me to go to London to see it with my best friend Jonathan in the hope we could sell the third ticket. When we arrived for our first ever black tie event, we realised there was no way we were going to be able to sell it – crowds of people were waiting behind barriers to see the arrival of Prince Charles – and we realised it was a much bigger night than we had expected. So with only five minutes left before it started, I suggested to Jonathan we just give the ticket away. Then behind one of the barriers I spotted an elderly woman, dressed in her raincoat, clutching a carrier bag. I crossed the road and asked if she wanted to join us for the show.
“Oh no!” she said, horrified “I can’t go in there dressed like this”. I assured her I felt much more stupid dressed as I was and that no-one would notice in the packed foyer. But she still wouldn't have it, until the crowd around her picked up my protestations and we all began encouraging her to go in. “I’ve only come to see Prince Charles” she told them. “Then come and see him inside” I said and finally we convinced Edna to come through the crowd into the theatre. I still remember walking into the foyer holding her carrier bag, surrounded by people in dinner suits as we took our seats for the show – an amazing show as it happens and the only time I saw Laurence Olivier on stage. At the interval I asked if she wanted to come with us to the bar. “I just want to sit here and look” she said. At the end of the show we went back into the foyer and she turned to me: “That was the best night of my life”. And saying goodbye, Edna walked back into the night, having made a special night feel very much more important.
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