The Queen's 92nd birthday party



Many of you will remember George Formby who was born in 1904 in Wigan. After an early career as a jockey he went on to become a huge variety star by entertaining with his ukulele. Shortly after George’s death in 1961, a small group of enthusiasts inaugurated the George Formby Society.  It now boasts a membership of around 1000 internationally.  Fairly recently a list of the Queen’s favourite songs was compiled, and it revealed that she also was a fan of George Formby in her younger days.

 A few weeks ago, the Society was thrilled to receive an invitation from the B.B.C. to take part in the Queen’s upcoming 92nd birthday party at the Royal Albert Hall.  A decision was taken to select around 40 members, which included 35 ukulele players, from all over the U.K. to attend the event.  Not an easy task as you can imagine. We were amongst the 35 chosen.

 Everyone was accommodated at a hotel in Ealing and on the evening of our arrival a rehearsal was held in the studio from which “The X Factor” & “The Voice” are broadcast.  The B.B.C. Concert Orchestra played along with us – it was superb and all the staff and technicians were so pleasant.  It was here that we were informed of the celebrities who were to accompany us, Frank Skinner, Harry Hill & Ed Balls.  The song was played through three times – after only the first time, one of the heads of the BBC announced that we were going to steal the show!

  On the following day we assembled at 9.45am to be transported by coach to the Royal Albert Hall.  After security checks we were admitted to find the place buzzing with activity.  As we were led to our dressing rooms we passed those for Kylie Minogue and Tom Jones.  Several performers engaged our party in conversation including  Sting and Jamie Cullum.  Around lunchtime, we had a couple of runs through on the stage to make sure we knew where we were standing and to practise our entrance and exit.  Everything was done with precision timing, even the erecting and dismantling of our platform was all timed so that everything would work perfectly on the night.  This was also the time for sound, camera and lighting checks. 

A runner was assigned to look after us all day and we were issued with vouchers for our meals.  We had our own green room to relax in and watch the concert on a big screen.  Of course, we also did what the George Formby Society does best – played George’s songs with big smiles on our faces with that wonderful sound of ukuleles being played in syncopation!

 We had a full dress rehearsal at 4.30pm and then sat in the green room watching TV as the seats filled up.  At last our moment arrived and we were escorted past all the dressing rooms to where Zoe Ball, the presenter, greeted us. Imagine the excitement amongst us as we walked onto the stage with our ukes, listening to George playing “With My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock”.  We assembled on our platform and looked around at the amazing audience with Her Majesty and other members of the royal family watching us.  The Royal Albert Hall seats 5,272 people and the concert had an estimated audience of over 2.6 billion!  It was broadcast live on BBC1, Radio 2 and the BBC World Service. We sailed through our song “When I’m Cleaning Windows” which was followed by rapturous applause – we could hardly believe we were really there! As we followed each other off the stage, one of our ladies burst into tears – the excitement was all too much!

 We watched the rest of the show in the green room and played some songs amongst ourselves until the coach came to collect us at around 11.00pm.  Back at the hotel, we stayed in the bar partying until the early hours, where, of course, we sang “When I’m Cleaning Windows” again.

 Next morning, we were collected by three coaches taking us to Euston, King’s Cross and St. Pancras stations.  The biggest crowd was ours so on the concourse at Euston Station we did what we always do – got out our ukes and started to play.  We attracted a large crowd and played several songs whilst awaiting the train! 

 We knew all our colleagues but now we are much firmer friends having shared this wonderful experience.  We feel privileged to have been asked to take part in this momentous occasion, an event which is surely the highpoint of the Society’s history. What an unforgettable episode in our lives!  The main message we would wish to pass on to everyone is that George Formby is not forgotten and the George Formby Society, now in its 57th year, is still doing such a grand job in keeping the Formby name alive throughout the world.

It turned out nice again didn’t it?

Debbie & Dennis Lee