THE Sunday for Sammy spirit – and a top drawer double bill of sell-out shows – trumped any celebrity tittle tattle yesterday as the biennial charity gathering made its return to Newcastle City Hall.
It would be fair to say that in its 12-year history, the North-East-soaked concerts haven’t provoked quite as much attention from the tabloid press as they have this time around.
Ever since Geordie actress and presenter Denise Welch announced the end of her 23-year marriage to Tim Healy on live TV last week (and fuelled by the furore surrounding her winning stint on Celebrity Big Brother), celeb-watching publications have been waiting for the curtain to come up on the couple’s first public appearance.
But anyone hoping for even the smallest glimmer of awkwardness or tension between the pair would have been disappointed. No, from the last-minute rehearsals and on-stage surprises, this was business as usual – that business being an afternoon and then evening of kicking feel-goodness from an ensemble of some of the region’s best known and loved entertainers in memory of one of their own.
Ronnie “Sammy” Johnson, best known for his role as Stick in BBC series Spender with Jimmy Nail, died suddenly in 1998, prompting his long-time pals to set up a fund in his name to support up-and-coming performing talent from the North East.
Fundraising concerts have been held every two years since they debuted in 2000 – each building on the success of the last and every one rounded off with a Run For Home sing-a-long.
Yesterday’s concerts certainly did that and saw Tim and Denise come together as always to share a mic for the swaying finale. In the three hours before, audiences had been treated to yet another bill of music and comedy from a mixture of Sunday For Sammy (SFS) veterans and newcomers.
As we have come to expect, Tim and Denise were joined by Tim’s Auf Wiedersehen Pet co-stars Kevin Whately (Neville), Christopher Fairbank (Moxey) and Julia Tobin (Brenda), as well as entertainment all-rounder Brendan Healy, actresses Angela Lonsdale and Charlie Hardwick, Ray Stubbs, Pam Royle, Mike Neville (via the wonder of voiceover) and the houseband, (the Sammy Bandits), led by Billy Mitchell and kept in time by Lindisfarne’s founding drummer, Ray Laidlaw.
Meanwhile those making their SFS debut included Emmerdale stars Chelsea Halfpenny and Chris Chittell; actress and presenter Donna Air, singer Pete Scott, comedians Gavin Webster and Josh Daniels and the homegrown winner of X Factor and Popstar to Operastar, Joe McElderry.
Faces old and new were given the same warm welcome, with special cheers reserved for the custom-written Auf Wiedersehen Pet sketches (provided once again by original writers Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement), and this time set in the knight-filled kingdom of King Arthur.
If you want to find out what happened to Neville after he was caught in bed with a bewitched Queen Guinevere, you’ll have to buy the DVD which was being filmed on the night.
You’ll also see Charlie Hardwick suffering a succession of speed-dating (and very funny) disasters; Denise, Angela and Chelsea serving their community service; Tim singing Meatloaf’s I Would Do Anything For Love with the track’s original female vocalist (and bona fide Geordie) Lorraine Crosby; Joe McElderry performing Solitaire, Big River and Nessun Dorma to a standing ovation; and Billy Mitchell offering a duet with a difference.
As has been the form in recent years, beneficiaries from the ever- important Sunday For Sammy Fund were also given a spotlight slot to showcase their talents and reassure the audience that their hard-earned ticket money is being put to great use.
This year gifted pianist Adam Scott and innovative singer/songwriter Natalie Stern performed and made a duo of lasting impressions.
The above are just a smattering of highlights of course from a warm, fuzzy, rocking and very funny show which was as tightly packed as a box-load of jam.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Heat magazine.