Day the stars came out for an old friend

BACK stage at the City Hall at 1pm yesterday, there was a nervous energy which the untrained observer may have linked to a bout of food poisoning.

Sunday for Sammy, Kevin Whateley, Timothy Spall, Dave Whitaker, Denise Welch.

BACK stage at the City Hall at 1pm yesterday, there was a nervous energy which the untrained observer may have linked to a bout of food poisoning.

It didn’t matter whether you were in the canteen, the green room or the wings, all and sundry were complaining that they were – how can I put it politely – nervous enough to worry about needing a change of underwear.

What a bunch of drama queens... it didn’t take Galileo to work out that the return of Sunday For Sammy – the biennial gathering of North East entertainment royalty which raises money for the region’s up-and-coming talent – was going to be a resounding, roof-raising success.

It was the fifth such celebration in the name of Sammy Johnson, the popular North East actor who died suddenly in 1998 and the cast of his friends – and their friends – certainly didn’t let him down.

Event founder, Tim Healy, his wife Denise Welch, former Lindisfarner Ray Jackson, Brendan Healy, Emmerdale star Charlie Hardwick and Denise’s Loose Women mates Colleen Nolan and Zoe Tyler were just a clutch of those who had come together to put on two three-hour extravaganzas.

The familiar film montage tribute to Ronnie, as he was known to his nearest and dearest, was followed by an even more familiar guitar riff and Tim leading the house band in a rocking rendition of Auf Wiedersehen Pet theme tune, That’s Living Alright.

On the comedy side we had Doncaster comic, Steve Womak who got the first belly laughs of the show; and a sketch featuring Denise, Charlie and former Corrie actress Angie Lonsdale as three ageing jazz singers who reckoned they were the second, third and fourth legends to return to the Toon after Kevin Keegan.

Then came the first and second big surprises.

It was the first Sunday For Sammy gig which spawned the Auf Wiedersehen comeback when writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais penned a couple of sketches for Tim, and his fellow brickies Kevin Whately and Jimmy Nail... and they’ve come up with the goods for every show since.

So far we’ve seen the lads helping to build Hadrian’s Wall and sort out the foundations of Buckingham Palace during the Blitz. This time they were to refurbish the Castle of Nottingham, during the reign of the dastardly Sheriff and the era of Robin Hood (played with hilarious bewilderment by entertainment all-rounder Brendan).

Sadly Oz (Jimmy Nail) was unable to make this year’s show, but the arrival of surprise No 1 Moxey (Christopher Fairbank) and then surprise No 2 Barry (Timothy Spall) as Friar Tuck, was met by hysterical cheers which left the actors visibly moved.

And surprise No 3? Tim Healy had persuaded Liam Mower, the first young actor to play Billy Elliot in the musical in which Tim starred as Billy’s dad, to perform Electricity – one of the show’s most applauded songs – and dance his talented socks off to boot.

This was shivers-up-the-spine stuff. The second half had a lot to live up to, and it managed just fine.

It included music from Peter Donegan (yes, he is Lonnie’s son); Zoe Tyler with a blinding bluesy performance of Pearl’s a Singer and Ray Jackson who brought the curtain down with Lindisfarne classics and led the ensemble cast in the anthemic Run For Home.

Not many things bring a lump to my throat, but seeing the City Hall going crazy while a packed stage of great people sing Run For Home with smiles as wide as the Tyne is one of them. What a cracking way to spend three hours.

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Fundraiser shows that never fail to move

BEFORE last night’s concerts, the Sammy Johnson Memorial Fund had already reached £200,000.

This morning that figure will have risen by around £70,000.

Twice a year, grants taken from the interest earned by the fund are awarded to young performers from all over the North-East. To date, 112 grants have been given out to musicians, actors, writers and entertainers.

Tim Healy who founded the fund with Jimmy Nail says the support for the Sunday For Sammy events never fails to move him.

“The audiences are just amazing,” he said in between shows yesterday.

“You’ll not see many matinee crowds getting up on their feet like that... it was fantastic.

“Every year we try and give a few surprises and I think we did that this year with Tim (Spall), Chris (Fairbank), the Loose Women and Liam (Mower)... but it’s nice to have all the familiar faces too.

“Obviously, Jimmy (Nail) not being here was a huge miss for us and the crowd... But hopefully we gave everyone a really good time.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer