The Maiden's Tower at Leeds Castle, built by King Henry VIII of England to house the Ladies in Waiting of Catherine of Aragon. Next used in 2013 as part of a monster p*** up when Darlene retired.
Time passes. It is the one thing you can be sure of... Nothing lasts forever, even Bruce Forsyth will eventually at some point stop, and that I find a tremendous comfort, don't you? So from the balmy sun drenched days of jousting at Castle Hedingham, the Knights of Royal England, and yours truly, sauntered on down the M25 and M20 and back into Kent for a week of jousting at Leeds Castle. It was actually six days of jousting, of which I was to commentate and host the first three days, and then Roland Bearne was to tackle the final three days. My lovely son James was still in tow and keen for more involvement in the shows. We arrived at Leeds Castle on the 28th May to weather far removed from that we had experienced at Hedingham. It was cold, grey and there was a devilish wind whipping across the tilt yard. We got a smallish turn out for the first show, but they were at least enthusiastic, however shortly after our lunch break the heavens opened and the rain it didst fall mainly downwards and violently sideways. It bucketed down and in the end Jeremy (from Knights of Royal England) was forced to cancel the second show as it was just too dangerous and slippery for the horses in the yard. James and I drove back to my sister Cathy's place in Stockbury and settled down for the evening.
The following morning the weather looked a little more promising as we made our way into the Castle. WRONG! It began raining again, James and I got soaked before we even started the show. Halfway through the first show Frank (one of the Knights) had his horse slip underneath him, nearly throw him and then crash through the middle of the tilt. Following this show the rain fell even more heavily and once more the second show had to be pulled for safety reasons. Finally, on the third day we managed to get through both shows, yes we all got soaked again and frozen to the marrow, but hell, this is English summertime, what were you expecting? Of course as soon as James and I packed up and left Leeds and Roland turned up to commentate, the sun broke through, birds sang, cherubim and seraphim did burst forth into song and, yes, dammit all, even Bruce Forsyth was silenced for five minutes. Yes, the lucky swines roasted for the final three days. But I wasn't jealous - I just sat in a darkened room sticking pins in a wax effigy of Michael Fish and cackling quietly to myself.
I was back at Leeds Castle by myself on the evening of Friday 31st May for the retirement and farewell party for Darlene Cavill. Darlene has worked at Leeds Castle in various guises for the previous 26 years, and it was she who first booked me as Henry VIII in 2005 - and did much to help the fledgling Good King Hal business to survive those early years. It was through her encouragement that my "Henry's Horrid History" shows developed and she also gave me the chance to be Father Christmas at Leeds for eight years! And I still remember with such pride it was she who asked me to be narrator at the Leeds Castle Junior Prom concert in 2006 alongside the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Carl Davis and the beautiful soprano Kathryn Rudge, and all in front of about 6,000 people. Wonderful. Through Darlene, and her initial assistant Helen Pomorski (nee Budd) and later Becky Lander, I made a lot of friends, had tremendous fun and learnt a lot about my trade and performances. On the evening it was so nice to see so many old friends from my years at Leeds, but particularly the lady I think who summed up the early years of fun at the Castle - the lovely Jeanne Beaton. I simply adore this woman, and I am so sad she has been unwell in recent years. I have so missed her presence at Leeds but it was great to see her and her husband Malcolm at the party on Friday. Wonderful. The finale of the evening was a video made by Darlene's son, the very talented Doug Bolton who had made a pop video of the Dolly Parton song "9 to 5" with various different Leeds Castle employees (myself included) miming along to the song. You can catch it on You Tube if you click on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ig0Zfippy8 . You have been warned!
I was back in Somerset by the end of the weekend and got myself ready for heading back to being Henry VIII in schools again. My first show back was today (Wednesday) with an eighth return visit to West Pennard School near Glastonbury. The sun had been shining all week, but then I have always seemed to have visited West Pennard in bright sunshine! It was good to see Tony Wheat the year 4 teacher who books me each year and as ever it was marvellous to see the wonderful Ian Gouge the original booker of Good King Hal all those years ago. It was a nice group, about 30 children and all wonderful fun and good listeners. In fact I can honestly say I don't think I have ever had a duff group at West Pennard, and this lot were no different. After a fun morning we then launched into the afternoon, which was very hot in the hall, but marvellously entertaining. The joust was very loud and popular and ended with that rarest of things - a win for the Gentlemen. Our score goes to:
GENTLEMEN 18 - 24 LADIES
Can they catch them? Who knows! Who cares? Stay tuned for more vagueness and indecision. Or maybe not? Pass the Merlot...