Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Listen to me, Granddad

TEENAGER Niamh Green is a chip off the old block.

TEENAGER Niamh Green is a chip off the old block.

The granddaughter of evergreen singer Vince Hill has just finished playing her first leading role in a school production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

The 17-year-old, of Mount View, Henley, played the murderer’s partner-in-crime Nellie Lovett, who runs a pie shop next to his salon and turns his victims into meat fillings.

Her 81-year-old grandfather and grandmother Annie, who live in Shiplake, attended the opening night and saw the show again the following evening.

It was the first time that Hill, who is best known for his 1967 recording of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Edelweiss, had heard her sing.

Niamh is the daughter of the singer’s son Athol and his partner Liz Green, with whom she lived in Badgemore Lane, Henley.

Her father, a rock drummer, died suddenly in January 2014, followed about 12 months later by her mother.

She now lives with her grandmother, Maryann Green.

Niamh attended the independent St Mary’s School in St Andrew’s Road, Henley, before going to board at Leighton Park School in Reading when she was 11.

While at St Mary’s she had small parts in plays including the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz and Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

She briefly learned piano when she was younger but found an interest in singing at Leighton Park where she was in the chorus of last year’s production The Phantom of the Opera.

Her friends encouraged her to audition for Sweeney Todd in September.

Rehearsals started immediately and were taking place four or five times a week by the run-up to the first night last week.

Niamh said: “I’ve always been interested in music as it’s something I grew up with, especially with Granddad being who he is. My role in Phantom was a minor one but I really enjoyed it. It boosted my confidence as it was the first time I’d been on stage since year 6.

“Lots of people said I should audition, which pushed me to give it a go. I was really happy to get the part.

“It has taken up a lot of my time and I’ll have to find something else to do when it’s over but I’m glad I did it.”

Niamh was expecting her grandfather to be at the second performance, not on the opening night as well.

She said: “The first show started slowly but still went really well. We’d rehearsed so much that it felt like another run-through, just with people watching.

“I’m not sure if that’s a good thing but it certainly made me less nervous. I was much more relaxed than I expected.

“I felt brilliant coming off the stage because everything had gone right and it was a great surprise to see Granddad.”

Niamh said she wasn’t nervous about singing in front of Hill but was keen to hear his opinion as a professional.

She said: “I’d never sung for him because it had never crossed my mind. I don’t really sing in front of anyone and he’s always just been Granddad to me.”

Niamh is studying for AS-levels in music and drama and hopes to study one or both subjects at university.

She said: “I definitely want a career in singing or acting. I know they’re very competitive professions but I really want to give it a go.”

Hill said: “It was an absolutely stunning performance. I knew Niamh was musical and I think it runs in the family as Athol was an incredible drummer. When she was a child she always used to say, ‘I don’t want to be a professional like you, I just want to do it for my own enjoyment’.

“After seeing her perform at St Mary’s I told her she would be an actress one day and she would say, ‘no, I don’t want to do anything like that’.

“However, Leighton Park saw her talent and her teachers have done a lot to draw it out.

“Now I know how good she is, I can’t believe I’d never heard her before. She’ll always play the piano when she visits us but has never sung a single note.

“I was staggered when she got the part as I never knew that was one of her strengths. I said, ‘how did you manage that?’ and she replied, ‘you’ll have to come and see for yourself’.

“Her performance was gobsmacking because she became a completely different person once she was on stage. She brought her character to life.

“It’s a very challenging role but she did it justice and really set my hairs on end. It brought back memories of seeing Sheila Hancock in the original West End run in the Eighties.”

Despite his granddaughter’s protestations as a child, Hill believes a career in showbusiness could beckon.

He said: “She loves what she’s doing and I think she has been bitten by the bug, which is exactly what happened to me.

“If you’re really dedicated to something, you’ll just go out and do it and I’m sure Niamh is dedicated enough.” Hill added that the performance was a bittersweet occasion because of his son and Niamh’s mother’s deaths.

He said: “She has faced a lot in the past two years and I don’t know how she manages to do so well. She is made of such strong stuff.

“While I was watching her perform I couldn’t help but think of Athol and what he was missing.

“If he could have been there, he would have been beside himself with joy and pride.”

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