Saturday, 31 July 2021

Stuntman helps launch Henley Youth Festival

STUNTMAN Gary Connery wore a flowery skirt and running shoes as he helped open this year’s Henley Youth Festival with a children’s fun run.

STUNTMAN Gary Connery wore a flowery skirt and running shoes as he helped open this year’s Henley Youth Festival with a children’s fun run.

Mr Connery, of Albert Road, Henley, acted as the “March hare”, or pacemaker, as he led runners from local schools at the event at Swiss Farm on Saturday.

He was helped by Charlie Shaw, 11, from Gillotts School, while Henley College student Rory Domville played the part of the “tortoise”.

More than 80 children took part and there were races for boys and girls in years three to six with prizes for the winning individuals and teams as well as for effort.

Every youngster received a medal for completing the hilly course and there was a tuck shop selling food and drink.

Organiser Eileen Unwin, who runs children’s fitness company Go Kids, said: “It was inspiring watching each and every child put so much effort and determination into the race.

“Gary threw his enthusiasm and humour into the event and while presenting the trophies applauded the fitness levels of the children.

“We did giggle over the fact that he was overtaken by a number of year three and four girls!"

Annie Jonkers, nine, from St Mary’s School, enjoyed the race.

She said: “You get a chance to make friends with people from other schools and get fit while having fun running around the fields.”

This year’s festival has a carnival theme ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio and this was evident at the KidsArt event at the Chiltern Centre for disabled children on Saturday.

The youngsters made colourful masks and headdresses before holding a mini-carnival with drummers from the Parasio Samba School of London.

Claire Forno, of the festival’s arts programme, said: “The dazzling art creations were finished just in time for the members of the samba school to bring the party alive.

“Everyone took a turn leading our very own Chiltern Centre samba band, which brought the sound of Rio flowing through the neighbourhood on a gorgeous spring afternoon.”

Art workshops run by the Henley Decorative and Fine Arts Society have been taking place at schools with children learning how to animate drawings, make masks and print designs on to T-shirts.

On Saturday night, teenage musicians performed at a gig night at Lovibonds brewery in Greys Road car park. Twelve performers, including soloists, bands and DJs, took to the stage to play to a packed crowd.

Dolly and the Dinosaurs, a band consisting of students from Gillotts School, dedicated their rendition of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition to staff in Stovell’s fish and chip van, which was serving customers outside.

Lucy Day, 14, who performed a duet with friend Maya Rees, said: “You learn to be confident and it prepares you for the real world. There’s singing in the shower and there’s singing in front of an audience, it’s very different!”

Organiser Kerry Fretwell said: “Henley is bursting with young talent and it’s great to be able to show it off.”

On Sunday, the music continued as more than 60 children took part in the festival’s annual junior proms. Youngsters played instruments and sang in front of an audience of parents and friends at Shiplake College.

Ella Wood, 10, from Trinity Primary School, played The Zephyr Song by Red Hot Chili Peppers on her guitar.

Ella, who has performed at the festival previously, said: “I really look forward to playing. It gets you motivated to play your pieces. It’s not just about improving yourself, you also get to see other people performing and that’s inspiring.”

This year’s festival has more than 20 events over seven days, culminating in an art exhibition and competition at the River and Rowing Museum.

Festival trustee Amanda Heath said: “It was a fabulous start to the festival.

The fun run at Swiss Farm was a great success, the art workshops have gone down a storm with schools and it was topped off with the arts and music event at the Chiltern Centre. The samba drumming in particular produced smiles all round.”

This weekend there will be the sing and dance events at the Kenton Theatre. For more information, visit

Photo courtesy of Rupert Ashby.

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