American golfing sisters Jessica and Nelly Korda returned to the UK last month to participate in the Women’s British Open at Royal Troon in Scotland. Due to Covid-19 it was played without a crowd in attendance and Jessica had to withdraw at the last minute because of a non-coronavirus health issue. Both returned to the US and joined the field in the second major of the year, the ANA Inspirational on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, where Nelly narrowly missed winning her maiden major, finishing second equal after a three-way play-off with the eventual winner, Miriam Lee from South Korea and Canada’s Brooke Henderson. It did however move Nelly up to No 2 in the world rankings.
The daughters of Czech tennis Grand Slam winner Petr Korda, Jessica (27) turned professional in 2011 with Nelly (22) joining her on the LPGA tour six years later. Jessica, who has finished in the top ten in all five majors, has won five LGPA tournaments and Nelly has collected three titles. Both were members of the 2019 US Solheim Cup team.
I sent this sketch to Jessica and Nelly at Royal Troon and was delighted to receive it, signed by both. During the pandemic very few items have been coming back so I was very surprised and especially pleased when the mailman delivered this last week.
It took a few attempts to override spellcheck’s efforts to correct my typing of ‘Shakespears Sister’, but I prevailed, enhanching my skills as a serial misspeller. The group’s name was taken from The Smith’s song ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, which was based on a 1928 Virginia Woolf essay and lecture. Delving further, it was apparently misspelt – dropping the final ‘e’ – in a woodcut artwork for the group’s first single sleeve. The apostrophe ‘subsequently surrendered to pop music.’
Anyway, after that rambling intro and a 26 year gap, Shakespears Sister reunited and played at the London Palladium last November as part of the ‘Ride Again Tour’ tour to support their compilation album ‘Singles Party’ and EP ‘Ride Again’. Formed in 1988, initially as a solo act by Irish singer-songwriter and former member of Bananarama, Siobhan Fahey, Shakespears Sister became a duet a year later when Siobhan was joined by American musician Marcella Detroit. Success and accolades followed with two Top 10 albums and a string of hits, including ‘Stay’ which, true to its meaning, stayed at No 1 on the singles chart for eight weeks, winning a 1992 Brit Award for Video of the Year. It also reached the Top 5 in the US. Their second studio album ‘Hormonally Yours’ achieved double platinum in the UK, spending 55 weeks on the charts with three Top 20 singles. It received the 1993 Ivor Novello Award. In May 2019 the duo performed ‘Stay’ on the Graham Norton Show, their first TV performance since 1993.
Siobhan and Marcella both kindly signed my sketch at the London Palladium after their 5 November performance.
British actress Fay Ripley’s breakthrough role was Jenny Gifford in Granada Television’s production for the ITV network’s award-winning comedy-drama COLD FEET. It’s one of my favourite TV shows, following three couples experiencing the ups-and-downs of romance. The six core cast members were James Nesbitt and Helen Baxendale (Adam and Rachel), Hermione Norris and Robert Bathurst (Karen and David) and Fay and John Thomson (Jenny and Pete).
The nine series includes 60 episodes, beginning with the pilot in early 1997. Fay was part of the main cast through to 2003, guest starring during series five, when she divorced Pete and moved to New York with their son. Fay returned for the second run, starting in September 2016 until February this year. COLD FEET has won 20 major awards, including the BAFTA for Best Drama Series and the National Television Award for Most Popular Comedy Programme. The series also received an International Emmy Award nomination.
Fay is the only cast member to be nominated for a BAFTA Award. She said of her character, “Jenny’s very ballsy and speaks her mind, but she’s more sensitive than people than people give her credit for. She’s seen as very hard, but I don’t think she is – it’s just that she won’t show her vulnerability to everyone.”
Fay signed my sketch at Wogan House after appearing on Graham Norton’s BBC Radio Two show in January this year.
Twenty-one year old Sam Tutty made his West End debut late last year to rave reviews. Playing the title character in the London run of the Broadway musical sensation DEAR EVEN HANSEN, Sam, a recent graduate from the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, plays a teenager with social anxiety. DEAR EVAN HANSEN was written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and opened on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre in the Winter of 2016. It was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning six.
The story of teenage isolation has provided and encouraged open dialogue about its themes of mental illness and youth suicide. Evan Hansen is assigned by his therapist to write daily letters to himself about why every day will be good, which becomes the catalyst for the plot-hence the title DEAR EVAN HANSEN.
It transferred to London’s Noel Coward Theatre with previews beginning in October 2019, before opening on 19 November. “It captures the agonies of youth, allows the songs to grow out of the action and boasts a great role, here memorably taken by Sam Tutty for its lead actor,” wrote the Guardian’s veteran critic Michael Billington.
Sam had stiff competition for the lead role during auditions-competing against 8,000 other aspirants. After 13 callbacks he was offered the alternate Evan Hansen before finally securing the lead. He has since won the WhatsOnStage Award for his performance and is nominated for an Oliver, which was due to be presented at the Royal Albert Hall in April, but was cancelled due to the coronavirus. An announcement of the winners is expected this Autumn.
Sam signed my sketch at the Noel Coward stage door in January this year prior the shutdown of the production due to the pandemic, but is due to reopen “as early as practical” in 2021.
One of the world’s best-known gymnasts, Romanian Nadia Comaneci won five Olympic gold medals, all in individual events. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics the fourteen-year-old Nadia became the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10 score, a feat thought unobtainable. After performing on the uneven bars the scoreboard only allowed three digits and was displayed as 1.00 until it was announced she had scored the perfect 10. She went on to achieve a further six perfect 10’s at that Summer Olympiad, three on the uneven bars and three on the balance beam.
Four years later at the Moscow Olympics, Nadia won another two golds for the balance beam and floor exercise. She has won a total of nine Olympic medals, collecting a silver and a bronze in Montreal and a silver in Moscow. Nadia also won two World Championship and World Cup gold medals and nine European Championship titles.
Since the early 1990s Nadia has lived in Oklahoma, where she and her husband American gold-medalist Bart Conner operate a Gymnastic Academy. I sent Nadia a sketch a few years ago, which came back signed, but damaged in the post so I sent another smaller drawing last year which arrived back this weekend.
One of Britain’s greatest living classical composer-conductors, Sir George Benjamin celebrated his 60th birthday leading the Philharmonia Orchestra in A DUET AND A DREAM at London’s Royal Festival Hall in early March this year. From composing at the age of seven Sir George has become one of today’s most prominent composers, conductors, pianists and music teachers, regularly appearing with some of the world’s leading orchestras and ensembles. Sir George taught composition at The Royal College of Music for sixteen years becoming the first Prince Consort Professor of Composition before succeeding Sir Harrison Birtwistle as the Henry Purcell Professor of Composition at Kings College London in 2001. The recipient of numerous international accolades, Sir George’s honours include the Commandeer de l’Ordre des Arts des Lettres and a Knighthood.
He kindly signed my sketch at the RFH after one of the Southbank venue’s last performances before it closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. All concerts have been cancelled until December this year.
Right-arm England seamer Stuart Broad joined fellow countryman and pace bowler James ‘Jimmy’ Anderson in the 500 Test Wickets club yesterday, dismissing West Indian opening batsman Kraig Braithwaite on the last day of the third and final test at Manchester’s crowdless, covid-secure Old Trafford stadium. It spearheaded the hosts impressive 269 run win and secured a 2-1 series victory. Stuart, in his 140th test was not only the Player of the Match with bowling figures of 6/31 and 4/36 and a rapid-fire first innings 62 off 45 deliveries, but he was also named Player of the Series. He is only the second English bowler behind Jimmy to reach such a milestone and joins an elite group of only seven cricketers who have taken over 500 test wickets.
In a nice piece of symmetry, Jimmy’s 500th wicket was also the same batsman, on the second day of the Third Test against the West Indies at Lords in September 2017, in his 129th test match. Stuart and Jimmy are presently the most successful fast bowling pair in world cricket, their credentials with the red ball are unmatched. Jimmy’s 589 test wickets from 153 matches are the most by any fast bowler and places him fourth on the all-time wicket-taking list behind Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan (800), Australia’s Shane Warne (708) and India’s Anul Kimble (619) but ahead of Australian Glen McGrath (563), Courtney Walsh (519) from the West Indies and now Stuart (501).
He signed my drawing at the Headingly Cricket Ground in Leeds in August last year during the Ashes series against Australia. Stuart signed his sketch at the Oval on the last day of the fifth and final test against India in September 2018.
One of the last surviving stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Dame Olivia de Havilland passed away peacefully at her home in Paris on Saturday, just a few weeks after her 104th Birthday. Her career spanned five decades, from 1935-1988, including 49 films. At the time of her death she was the oldest living performer to have won an Oscar.
Dame Olivia was renowned for playing strong, beguiling characters in difficult circumstances. The first of her Academy Award nominations, was for Best Supporting Actress, as Melanie Hamilton in the 1939 classic GONE WITH THE WIND. She won the Best Actress Oscar twice, the first for her performance as WW II fire warden Josephine ‘Jody’ Norris in TO EACH HIS OWN (1946) and her second, three years later as Catherine Sloper, a women who is controlled by her wealthy father and betrayed by her greedy lover in William Wyler’s THE HERIESS. She also won a Golden Globe for the role.
Dame Olivia continued to act until the late 1980’s winning her second Golden Globe Award in 1986 for ANASTASIA:THE MYSTERY OF ANNA. She also featured on the stage, appearing three times on Broadway, ROMEO AND JULIET (1951), CANDIDA (1952) and A GIFT OF TIME (1962). In 2017 she was appointed a Dame Commander of the British Empire, the oldest recipient of the honour.
Last year I sent this sketch to Dame Olivia with a signature request, but it was returned with the attached letter, which is self explanatory.
RIP Dame Olivia.
Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne, known simply as Hozier made his international breakthrough with the single ‘Take Me to Church’ and the subsequent music video which highlights the injustices and violence perpetrated against members of LGBT community. It went viral and multi-platinum in several countries, including the UK, US and Canada and was Grammy nominated in 2015 for Song of the Year. It is a mild tempo soul song, with lyrics using religious terminolgy to describe a romantic relationship. “Growing up, I always saw the hypocrisy of the Catholic church”, Hozier said in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Hozier established the organisation ‘Home Sweet Home’ led by celebrities Saoirse Roman and Glen Hansard. In 2016 it illegally took over an office building in Dublin to house 31 homeless families. Last month he realised ‘Jackboot Jump’, with royalties going to the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.
In early October last year he had a five-night residency at the London Palladium. “Stunning atmospheric performance leaves the audience mesmerised”, headlined Rachael O’Connor’s review in The Irish Post. Hozier kindly signed my drawing that I left at the stage door.
German operatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann has established himself among the greats. The New York Times described him “as the important tenor of his generation.” The Discover Music website wrote, “Combining the holy trinity of brooding good looks, charismatic stage presence and a powerful and versatile voice.” Jonas began his professional career at Staatstheatre Saarbrucken in 1994. Since then has played all the major operatic roles at all the major venues including his debut at the Royal Opera House in London in 2006-2007 as Don Jose in Bizet’s CARMEN to critical acclaim.
Jonas returned to Covent Garden earlier this year in the Royal Opera’s new production of Beethoven’s only opera FIDELIO as the political prisoner Florestan. In his five star review for The Stage, George Hall wrote, “An announcement excuses Kaufmann for being under the weather, but for his thrilling crescendo on his very first note onwards he is outstanding.” Due to the coronavirus pandemic the run closed in mid March, but Jonas kindly signed my drawing before he left.