Thursday, 06 August 2020

Reliving Pavarotti in the park

A PAVAROTTI tribute act will reunite two well-known faces of Henley almost 25 years after they were involved in the tenor’s famous concert in Hyde Park.

A PAVAROTTI tribute act will reunite two well-known faces of Henley almost 25 years after they were involved in the tenor’s famous concert in Hyde Park.

Ed Simons, chairman of the Kenton Theatre’s trustees, was the promoter of the concert in July 1991 and Lady McAlpine was in charge of hospitality for the VIPs, who included Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales.

Now the pair have teamed up to promote a charity gala night at the Kenton featuring Carl Taylor on Saturday, July 11, during the Henley Festival.

The singer, from Sheffield, will perform all the Italian maestro’s best-known songs, including Nessun Dorma.

More than 100,000 people attended the Hyde Park concert, where it poured with rain.

Mr Simons recalled: “It was an incredible night. The front row was covered in this sort of Perspex sheeting in order to shelter people.

“All the shots the next day were of Diana who was drenched because she refused to take cover.”

Mr Simons, who was then the business partner of promoter Harvey Goldsmith, said the concert was one of a series of worldwide arena concerts organised by Hungarian entrepreneur Tibor Rudas.

A year before the Hyde Park concert, Pavarotti had performed with Placido Domingo and José Carreras at the legendary Three Tenors Concert in Rome on the eve of the World Cup final.

Mr Simons said: “Tibor was responsible for taking him out of opera houses and into large stadiums and arenas.

“He said to Pavarotti ‘how would you like to earn an awful lot of money?’ and he replied ‘where do I sign?’

“Tibor came to Harvey and I and said, ‘we would like to do it in the UK’ and we jumped at the opportunity.

“From that it developed into these wonderful open-air concerts.

“It was the first time Pavarotti had done a major open-air concert in the UK.

“To be involved in concert promotion you couldn’t have got a better era. Those nights for me and my family were irreplaceable.

“I still own the broadcasting rights of the concert, which is a nice thing to have.”

He said Pavarotti, who died in September 2007, had a “wicked” sense of humour and “a permanent twinkle in his eye”.

“When he was performing he was a perfectionist,” said Mr Simons.

“Socially, he was charming to everybody. He made himself available to people and they adored him.

“I have a picture of him picking up my youngest daughter when she was three or four.”

Mr Simons, who parted company with Mr Goldsmith in 1999, is looking forward to working with Lady McAlpine again.

They met up again about 10 years ago and have become firm friends.

He lives with his wife near Marsh Lock in Henley and she lives with her husband Sir William McAlpine at Fawley Hill.

Mr Simons said: “In 1991 we knew what each other did but we didn’t know each other socially the way we have come to know each other living in Henley.

“One night we were having dinner and she said to me, ‘you do remember, don’t you?’ The next day I took her a DVD of the night and she was so thrilled.”

Lady McAlpine, who was then called Judy Nicholls, said the concert was in aid of the Royal Parks Tree Appeal, of which Prince Charles was patron.

It helped repair damage to trees in London’s royal parks after the great storm of 1987.

Her company Images organised an after-show party in a marquee at the Hyde Park Hotel, now known as the Mandarin Oriental, for the Prince and his guests.

She recalled: “The concert was phenomenal. I was very lucky – I was sitting in the second row.

“We all had bin liners on as the weather was so horrible but the atmosphere was amazing.

“I had to rush off during the last song to make sure I was there to greet everybody when they arrived.

“I think half the Cabinet were there. John Major was the Prime Minister and he was there.

“It was amazing really – anyone who was important in any way in the country was there.”

The one person not at the celebration was Pavarotti, who instead made his way to a party staged by Mr Simons and Mr Goldsmith in the hotel’s ballroom.

However, Lady McAlpine had lunch with the singer. She said: “I bumped into Pavarotti who insisted I had lunch with him every day. Tibor Rudas said ‘no’, Pavarotti said ‘yes’ and he pushed somebody off the chair next to him and sat me down!”

She said she was looking forward to hearing Pavarotti’s music again. “When you’re looking at Carl Taylor, you think it’s Pavarotti,” she said.

Taylor won a 2013 National Tribute Award, which is voted for by the Agents’ Association of Great Britain.

Mr Simons said: “There has never been a tenor like Luciano, or will be again – he was exceptional – but Carl is very good and the music is wonderful of course.”

The concert will raise money for the Oxford Haematology Research Fund in memory of Georg Briner, a Kenton trustee, who died in October. Mr Simons said: “Georg was a wonderful man. Tragically, he died from a very rare form of cancer.

“He loved classical music so part of the proceeds will go to the charity, which supports research into the cancer that took him away.”

Tickets for the black-tie evening cost £25 and are available by calling the Kenton Theatre box office on (01491) 575698 or visiting

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