Saturday 29.3.14 : Same Sex Marriage Equality in the UK.
It's a lovely, bright slightly misty morning on the river and a moment to reflect on today's big gigs to celebrate Equal Marriage first at the Royal Festival Hall thence to a Channel 4 recording for broadcast Monday night. Too late for me? Possibly. Although I've as good as been-there-done-that with 12-year and 8-year relationships. If we'd had equal marriage in 1979 or 1992 when I met them, we'd have done it. Of course, by now one would be under the patio and I'd have driven the other into a mental institution … marriage is not for everyone. But if it's for you, be happy, be proud and be thankful for the generation who brought about the changes that made it happen today.
We gathered on the South Bank before 9am and rehearsed outside in the sunshine to the amusement of passers-by hanging off the balustrades. We have a new choreographer this season, who was due to coach us in the more intricate movement, but he didn't make it. It didn't matter because we were so collectively enthusiastic and eager to get it right.
Which we did. This was not just one of the best-attended performances I've done in recent years, but also one where both singing and movement were accurate and, apart from one chap in the front row persistently wriggling and overselling it like a cheap stripper, together.
I had expected to be entertained by any event involving Sandi Toksvig, but I had not expected to be so moved. The ceremony involved readings and an exchange of renewed vows between Sandi and her long-time partner Debbie, but was largely conducted by their children, from 8-year-old Mary to medical student Megan and with a massive degree of un-cocky self-confidence and charm. When their son Theo spoke of his early experience of explaining his two mums to school friends, you could touch the warmth and pride in the auditorium.
I thought fondly of my ferociously capable Manchester friend Helen Lawson who with her partner Sarah adopted two children who had not had such happy childhoods but who now have blossomed and grown into loving and trusting kids through the stability and support given by two intelligent and balanced parents. This weekend is also Mothers Day and the card they received from their son affirming they are the best mums in the 'intiya' world would make even the most rigorous spelling Nazi celebrate the triumph of enthusiasm over orthography.
Lots of great and good in the audience, too. Peter Tatchell, with whom I once skipped hand-in-hand down Oxford Street at Gay Pride in 1978 and doubt whether either of us anticipated this day would arrive, and Mary Portas who had to spend most of the ceremony outside because her small daughter couldn't stay still. Christopher Biggins with whom I've shared - well, let's just say a 'friend'.
And then parts of my life flashed before me. We had not been told much of running order or guest participants in the event but I had some tenuous connection to each of them. The event was introduced by Jude Kelly, director of the South Bank complex. Thirty-seven years ago (sorry, Jude, you don't look old enough) when we both lived in Southampton and used to dance together in its one gay club, the Magnum, Jude was a struggling actress just setting up Solent People's Theatre, I was the youngest elected member of the City Council and my arts committee gave her her first ever grant.
The first reading in the ceremony was delivered by Sheila Hancock, a long-time friend of the Toksvigs. In 2008 Sheila and I were thrown together in the same weekend 'singles' holiday in Budapest. I'd bought it as a last-minute special offer (discounted by £100 because 'an actress' would be on board) and she was covering it for the Daily Mail. Sharing a dislike of over-organised group tours we struck out on our own one afternoon for the celebrated Gellert spa baths complex. It isn't very foreign-tourist-friendly but without a guide or much grasp of conversational Magyar we managed to buy our entrance tickets and through sign language indicated we'd like a massage. When ushered in to a severe white tile room in the deepest recesses of the building and with what looked like a large mortuary slab it took an extra and urgent session of signing to explain we didn't actually want a 'couples massage' but sequential ones.
Rick Wakeman played the Festival Hall organ for a couple of numbers including the wedding march in 'Get Me To The Church On Time'. It reminded me that I was a hastily-recruited backing singer on his 2004 'comeback' album 'The Wizard and the Forest of All Dreams' when his usual group English Chamber Choir were momentarily short of tenors (as I then was). We recorded it over one weekend in a studio in Wembley while Rick was upstairs writing it, and we got the pages warm from the printer and sight-read them straight onto the recording.
I have history with Sandi, too. She compered the LGMC's Christmas concert in the Barbican in 2006 and in one of the most precarious last-minute things I've ever done, she and I and my friend Daron Oram co-wrote a comedy song in English and Danish during the afternoon rehearsal and sang it with her the same evening.
Our gig was brought to a fantastic climax by the glorious soul diva Sharon D Clarke who led us in 'River Deep, Mountain High'. Apart from the fact I'm a huge fan of her musical theatre work from her more-raucous-than-Whoopi Oda Mae in 'Ghost' to 'The Amen Corner', she's my dear friend Helen Smith's sister-in-law.