I had been contacted by English Heritage some weeks ago, as they wanted someone to be Henry on their stand at the Education Exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham for three days. The pay wasn't bad so it seemed like a good idea to get some more exposure. I drove up early on the morning of the 9th March. I had last visited the NEC in 1985 when I saw Howard Jones in concert there when I was 18 - how's about that for a claim to fame? Finding the NEC is no problem, you really can't miss the place, however one was forgetting that Crufts was on at the same time at the venue, albeit in a different show hall. Therefore, as soon as I got within about 10 miles of the NEC everything ground to a halt and I was immediately surrounded by cars with "doggy people" in them. All kennel club stickers and huge hairy, slavvering beasts in the back window - and that was just the wives. I eventually arrived at the NEC and parked about a mile from where I wanted to be - I could get no closer. I trundled over with my hefty suitcase full of the Henry costume. Luckily finding the English Heritage stall was remarkably easy and jolly nice chaps they all were. Next I had to find somewhere to get changed. The organisers office pointed me in the direction of some classy looking toilets. The cubicle I had to use to get changed in was the exact width of my suitcase, so it was going to be a tight fit for me. I emerged from my toilet chrysalis like some Tudor butterfly (hey, I know this is flowery but stick with me) and wandered off round the exhibition. I was asked to wander round distributing English Heritage flyers, encouraging people to come and visit our stall. This went fine for about an hour until I was grabbed by Security and told to stop handing out leaflets - I could quite legally dispense them from our stall but not elsewhere. So for the following two and a half days I was mostly stall bound, which is a little like being egg bound, but slightly less embarrassing when things do get moving (eh?). The three days at the NEC passed nice and quickly, the English Heritage group were lovely, particularly Pippa and Mike and it was nice to meet some other people in the education game. I met an Elizabeth the 1st from another historical stall - possessed as she was of the most cavernous cleavage since Howard Hughes got to grips with Jayne Russell's superstructure. There was a very nice man, half dressed as Socrates (don't ask) and I was delighted to discover another stall which would occasionally give away free samples of red wine - great idea. I spent my evenings at the Tamworth services on the M43 staying in a Travel Lodge which was - exactly like a Travel Lodge really. My evening meal choices ran the entire gamut of Burger King through to Burger King. Another annoyance - loads of people from Crufts were staying at the hotel as well - so every few seconds a dog would go mental in a distant room somewhere and kick every other dog in the building off. My how we laughed. Dear little doggies. The journey into the NEC each morning was not fun. The friday morning, my ten mile journey to the NEC from the Hotel took over an hour. More doggy people.
The whole NEC, English Heritage and exhibition experience was well worth it and I really hope that English Heritage might consider me for next year. However, I am SO glad to be back home! But please, try and organise the education exhibition away from Crufts next time. I didn't even get "Best of Breed" in the "Mock Tudor Monarchs" section. My nose wasn't wet enough.