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Celebrities, charities and the Red Devils help make steam rally a success
Published 24/05/13



MORE than 12,000 people attended a huge steam and vintage rally at the Fawley Hill estate over the weekend.

Attractions included more than 400 vehicles, including 60 traction engines, classic cars, wartime aircraft, fairground rides, camel racing, a dog show, a parachute display and performances by Vince Hill and an Elvis Presley impersonator.

Visitors were able to tour Sir William and Lady McAlpine’s 250-acre estate on a restored steam engine and see his railway museum.

The rally, which was in aid of 35 charities, was so successful that the couple are already being asked to repeat it next year.

Lady McAlpine said: “We’ve had hundreds of letters and emails from people saying how fantastic it was and can they book for next year.

“It was bigger and better than I expected it to be — and I was organising it!

“All the charities got a tremendous reception and the one comment that keeps coming through is that everyone was smiling and happy. It was an amazing weekend and so much fun.”

The event was originally organised to celebrate the centenary of the Hudswell Clarke 060 saddle tank engine No 31, which has been in the McAlpine family all its working life and was restored for the occasion.

Families enjoyed rides on a train pulled by the No 31 where they could see the estate’s huge collection of animals including deer, ostriches, llamas, emus and wallabies.

Vintage vehicles on display included more than 20 cars from before 1913, such as a Sunbeam, de Dion Bouton and a Darracq, Ecurie Ecosse transporters full of racing cars and motorcycles, buses, boats, steamrollers, fire engines and military vehicles.

Fawley racing driver Sam Brabham, the 18-year-old grandson of three-times Formula 1 champion Sir Jack, brought his Formula Ford single-seater.

Mr Brabham, a student at The Henley College, let children sit in the driver’s seat and have their photograph taken.

He said: “The kids’ faces lit up when they sat inside the car and got to see what it’s like. It was really fun for them. I thought it would just be racing fans who were interested but a lot of people came up and asked about it.”

Among the traction engines was a 1922 Aveling & Porter C-type eight-tonne steam engine owned by Guy Champion, 28, from Dunsden Green, who helps organise the annual Woodcote Rally.

A Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane performed a flypast and Nick English, who owns the Bremont watch company, based in Henley, flew his 1954 Max Holste Broussard over the estate. Mr English, 42, of

Cromwell Road, Henley, said the view of the rally from the sky was “incredible”, adding: “It’s on top of this hill surrounded by trees and you’ve effectively got a huge village fete.

“It was really fun and people don’t realise just how impressive it is.”

Mr English, who attended the event with his wife Catherine and children, Elodie, six, Euan and Capucine, both seven, said it was an ideal family occasion.

He said: “It’s one of those things you go to that you know the kids will enjoy and you will as well. The kids just kept on going on the merry-go-round. It’s great for the McAlpines to open up their estate.”

There was a parachute display by the Red Devils. Each of the eight-man team jumped from a Cessna Caravan carrying a flag and landed in the display ring.

They then formed a salute as they were greeted by Sir William and his wife.

Street theatre artists from Barcelona gave visitors unusual hairdos, including plaiting hair to form a barbecue skewer and decorating it with wine bottles and mermaid dolls.

Fred Nickson, of Henley-based Chiltern Antiques, sold five vintage post boxes. Charities hosted different activities at their stalls to raise money. The Wyfold Riding for the Disabled group raised £781 with a stall where visitors could have their photographs taken with Shetland ponies.

A five-course dinner for 80 people with chef Jimmy Garcia’s pop-up restaurant, along with a ladies’ vintage tea for 150 people and a stall in which cartoonist Martin Newman drew storyboards for children raised £5,000 for the Chiltern Centre for disabled children in Henley.

Community fund-raiser Emma Lerche-Thomsen said the weekend was a great experience.

She added: “The estate was full of life, families, animals and, of course, the magnificent vintage steam engines and vintage cars.” Among the musical performers were Sam Brown and her ukulele band and Elvis impersonator Ben Portsmouth, who filled the dance floor as he performed the King’s hits.

During his rendition of Love Me Tender, the singer gave a silk scarf to Lady McAlpine and kissed her on the cheek and female fans lined up to receive the same treatment.

Vince Hill, from Shiplake, sang some of his hits as well as a medley of songs from musicals.

The 79-year-old singer said: “I was a bit worried following the Elvis act because he did very well but it went tremendously. I might do more gigs if there’s something I fancy or for a charity I feel I can support.

“It’s not really coming out of retirement but making a little return.”

Lady McAlpine said her highlight of the weekend followed Hill’s performance in the main tent on Saturday night.

She said: “I came out and it had gone dark. There were several layers of Showman’s engines around the front of the tent, making a meeting place.

“When I looked at this big arc of traction engines with their lights on and hordes of people having fun, partying and laughing, it was just magical.”

Asked about repeating the rally, she said: “It was just a resounding success and I’m afraid we are under a lot of pressure to do it again next year.

“We were absolutely adamant we wouldn’t but we’ve learned so much doing this one and we can do even better next year. A lot of charities found it immensely useful.

“I wouldn’t do it other than to raise money but because it seems to be an incredibly good vehicle and people are asking us to do it again, it would be churlish not to — but I need to talk to the village first.

“I want to say a huge general thank-you to all those who put in so much time and effort to make the weekend such a success.

“More than 35 charities and conservation groups raised funds and awareness and are clamouring to come again.

“However, it does cause considerable disruption to our little village and we need the village onside if we are to repeat it.

“It is only one weekend and, as one neighbour said, ‘If people are not happy and their only contribution to the charities is to not complain or to go away for the weekend, that’s fine’. We laughed but she has a point.

“Thanks, too, to the Henley Standard for all the support we had in the run-up.”

Sir William, a lifelong railway enthusiast, said it was a “brilliant” weekend. He said: “Everyone seemed very happy and the steam train was full of visitors. It’s nice to see people having fun.”


Published 24/05/13

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