Youth Festival Gala Celebrates 25 Years with a Little Helping from Mary Berry

Henley Youth Festival Gala Mary Berry

Mary Berry was the surprise “cherry on the cake” for the Henley Youth Festival’s 25th anniversary Gala show at the Kenton Theatre on Saturday evening.

Alfie Hay, one of the Founders who opened the compering of the show said, “We always like to welcome new families to Henley”, before calling “Mary, Mary, Mary come on out” to a big applause from the audience. Mary told Alfie that she’d decided to come and live in Henley after living in Penn for 45 years to be close to her children and she loved her new house as she can walk into town and she has own post box in her wall!  Mary then presented prizes to The Badgemore Girls (Zara Perisce-Burrell, Rose Perisce-Burrell, Ines Regueiro Rial, Isla Rose Tate and Beatrice Frazer.) for their special creativity with their Junior Prom performance of Close Every Door which closed the Gala show.

25 years ago Alfie Hay, Janine Voss and Felicity Rutland came up with the idea to create the Henley Youth Festival and over the years has seen thousands of children perform on the Kenton stage, enjoy workshops that have range from drama to jazz, squash to cartoon art, Shakespeare to skipping, take part in a sports and chess tournaments and enter the annual writing, art and film competitions.

The Gala saw a mixture of young performers from last week’s festival along with return alumni from the last 25 years.  There were memories shown through video footage and pictures including one of Henley Mayor, Councillor Kellie Hinton when she performed as the Spice Girls with a group of friends.

Dolly and the Dinosaurs who have performed at Gig Night for the last few years opened the show with their own song Indigo Child.  The show continued with a mixture of past and present performers which included Jodie Anderson and Ellie Vockins from this year’s HYF Sing, Mae Reineke on cello from HYF Prom and the fantastic Ethan Bentley from Entertain with his brilliant combined dance and magic lights routine with rippling stomach moves.  During Mae’s performance the backdrop showed a gorgeous photo of Mae at the age of 5 when she played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for her first HYF cello performance.

Rebecca Dixon and Henry Betts who performed a number of classic music comedy skits over the years were invited on to the stage to reminisce on these and to watch a video of one of their brilliantly clever and funny performances which saw the two squabbling over the use of a music practice room. They also entered a number of films for the competition which they won on several occasions and at the end of last year they won an award for their film Self they made together at the Fisheye Film Festival in High Wycombe.

Bethan Hay (Alfie’s daughter) recounted her memories of the first festival and her Mum saying to her , “You can’t enter every competition!”  She went on to talk about the school Cantata’s her Dad Alfie had written and produced over the years which she’s now hoping to “take out of my Dad’s head and put on to paper so that other schools and children can perform these in the future.”  She thanked everyone who had already supported the crowdfunding project for this.

Simon Classey, a previous regular performer and compere had the audience in stitches with his comic introductions and was joined by Emma Piercey in the second half when they sang Falling Slowly by Hansard and Irglova. Other alumni who performed were Katie Moberly, Emily Heath and Beth Bowden.  Beth said, “HYF gave me the confidence to discover my creativity.”

Every year the Elizabeth Griffin award is presented to someone who has made a special contribution over the years.  This year it was awarded to Molly Liddell who first performed a dance routine Rockin’ Robins with school friends at the age of 6.  Now aged 19, Mollie sings with an a cappella group at Uni who will be performing at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.  On Saturday evening she sang I Dream a Dream, helped compere the show as well as singing with the Acorn Theatre Group.  Lucie Henwood, HYF Trustee who presented the prize said, “I couldn’t believe it when I found a copy of last year’s speech which said Henley Youth Festival is like a Mary Berry cake!  Full of wholesome and nourishing ingredients, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and a really special cake has a big cherry on the top.  In 2003 the family of Elizabeth Griffin donated an award to celebrate her life.  Since then it has been given every year to someone who, like Elizabeth, epitomises the very special ethos of HYF – our equivalent of the cherry on the top of the cake. Mollie just gives and gives.  She always has a smile on her face and just embodies what the Henley Youth Festival is all about.”

Megan Henwood who won the BBC 2 Young Folk Award with her brother Jo in 2009 and has gone onto release 3 albums (the latest one River) first performed at the HYF when she was six, singing the Weather Song with her friend Rosie.  She sent the video ‘thank you’ message below as she couldn’t be there as she was in Germany performing with Thea Gilmore at the ‘Women in Emotion’ Festival near Bremen.

Co-founder Alfie Hay said “I was so proud to see how the Youth Festival has contributed to the nourishment and growth of so many young people in Henley. We were able, last night, to share the pleasure of performance and memory that parents must feel about their own children. I was also proud that a group of volunteers, year on year, has been able to sustain and grow such a vibrant organisation that continues to reflect the current needs and interest of young people.”