NEWS

June 2014

I cannot believe we are already half way through the year; in fact it is quite a frightening thought. I know we all say the same thing every year in that we don’t know where the time has gone but it seems to me that as we get older, time seems to go just that little bit quicker – shouldn’t be allowed.

The 20th April saw me embarking P&O’s Oriana for a trip to the Canary Islands. This was the one cruise in my schedule that I’d been really looking forward to – why? – Because it was a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ cruise. I’d put my name down to do one last year but alas I wasn’t selected and with only four of them in the diary for 2014 I felt very lucky to have pulled the gig. Usually when I get on the ships I have no sense of thrill as I am going to work but this one was different, I was really excited about the coming 14 days.

The first person I met having just stepped on the ship was an old friend Neil Oliver. I met him on Oriana years and years ago when I was on holiday with mum and Max and he had just taken over as cruise director. He asked me if I’d be interested in doing a television spot on their own in-house station and I agreed. We’d been friends ever since but in the three years I’ve been working for the cruise industry I hadn’t been assigned to his ship, so this was an added treat. He actually wasn’t on board as cruise director, he looks after Azura but he was on leave and Head Office were keen for him to host the ‘Strictly’ shows. What a great choice. Neil trained as a dancer and although he will kill me for saying anything, he actually starred in the original show ‘Come Dancing’.

Having a hug from Neil Oliver

 

If anyone loves ‘Strictly’ or indeed dance, then this is the perfect holiday for you.  Horizon, the ship’s paper which is delivered to your room every night with the following day’s events, was packed out with an itinerary which left you trying to decide how you were going to cram everything in. Each cruise promises you several of the show’s professional dancers and our cruise kicked off with Robin Windsor and Kristina Rihanoff.

Robin joined the popular BBC show in 2010 and was teamed up with Patsy Kensit who was followed over the years by Anita Dobson, Lisa Riley and Deborah Meaden. His dance genesis was initiated by his parents when at the age of three he was enrolled in a local dance school in Ipswich. From the very beginning he studied both Ballroom and Latin dance eventually competing in those disciplines at the highest levels.

Robin’s professional dance partner is Kristina. Her dance journey began in the unforgiving, arctic climate of Siberia. Her father, a musician and composer, enveloped Kristina's home in music, and Kristina fell in love with music and dance at an early age. As a child, Kristina used her ballet training to hone the skills that would one day make her a ballroom champion.                                   

 

In her first year on Strictly, Kristina was paired with John Sergeant. They hit the headlines several times over the series until their departure in Show 9. Headlines have followed the glamorous dancer and model when she famously split from her lover of four years boxer Joe Calzaghe in August 2013. The couple started their romance on screen when Joe was paired up with the Russian beauty in the 2009 series of Strictly Come Dancing.

They gave two separate showcases over the course of the cruise as well as ‘An Audience With and a photograph signing session. The one bonus of seeing your favourites on a cruise is that you also see them about the ship when they are ‘off duty’ and so you have the chance to nab some private time with them.  Not only did I spend time with both dancers during the cruise but I had the pleasure of meeting Kristina’s mum Larisa. She had wanted to try a cruise for years and this was her first opportunity and she loved every minute especially as the trip gave her time with her daughter, a rare commodity in the business. Kristina is now based in London while Larisa lives in Russia but she did fly over to see the final of ‘Strictly’ in December.

DanceSport International (DSI), formerly known as Hearn & Spencer Ltd, is the leading worldwide supplier of Ballgowns and Latin costumes for television. Originally founded in 1982, the company continues to create innovative new dress designs, which are showcased by celebrity dancers around the world. As exclusive suppliers to the BBC for ‘Strictly’, they have spent the past decade dressing professional dancers and celebrities alike, creating stunning costumes which are artworks in their own right and add the final touch of glamour to the show.

The company had a DSI exhibit on Deck 7 for a unique opportunity to find out what really goes on behind the scenes of Britain’s most thrilling show directly from some of those involved in creating these stunning pieces. Not only that but about 40 of the original costumes were displayed throughout Deck 7 giving you the chance to view, touch or even purchase some of the bespoke ‘Strictly’ creations. I fell in love with one of the Tango’s black dramatic dresses but sadly most of the professionals are a size 6. DSI did have a stand with off-the-peg dance wear as well as a fabulous shoe department and lots of glitzy accessories. Over the course of the two weeks I saw both men and women trying on several pairs of dance shoes and buying them so I hate to think how big the containers were to bring all the stock on board. The good news is that they had far less to pack up and go home with.

There was so much on offer from the Strictly passenger dance competition which required contestants to sign up on the first day to Ballroom dance classes with Richard and Teresa, Sequence classes with Avril & Terry McCrum and Line Dancing with ‘Maverick Michaela’, all of which were offered morning and afternoons. Then there were “Strictly’ quizzes every day, two fabulous fashion Shows and the cinema was dance themed throughout the journey

There were also early evening dance dates, Gala Balls and Dance Party Sailaways. Each night the John James Trio presented the music of Ballroom, Sequence and Latin so you could dress up in your finery and take to the floor to show off all your moves. There were even private lessons on offer for those that wanted to learn.

Four days into the cruise, 3.00pm saw the Theatre Royal packed out to see Neil Oliver host ‘An Audience With Richard Curwin and Carole Williams. Richard is Strictly Come Dancing’s’ Executive Producer and Carole represented DSI and it was a wonderful hour learning about life behind the scenes and the work needed in producing new live shows to the buzz of making up 30 dresses in any one week.

One of the trip’s highlights for me was ‘An Audience With Craig Revel Horwood’. Neil Oliver hosted an up close and personal chat with Strictly’s King of put-downs. There was a question and answer session and the ship’s photographers were on hand for a photo shoot at the end of the show although I have to say that was the one thing that left a bitter taste in my mouth. The photographers swooped down at the end of all the Strictly shows and activities giving each passenger a chance to take that special memento back with them but they were charging £13.99 for a 10x8, a pound more then any of the other 10x8s they take of everyone whether disembarking at each port, sailaways,  at the Captain’s Party and so on. I ordered a 7x5 of Craig and me but they still charged £13.99. I feel it is a step too far especially as a lot of people are already grumbling over price hikes throughout the ship as well as things that have disappeared altogether like Coca Cola and Tonic Water. Tsk Tsk.

With Craig and his Partner Damon Scott

Tiaras, tears and tantrums, the Strictly Dance Competition had it all. Neil Oliver and Assistant Cruise Director Michael Paxton presented the final of the contest, which saw Craig Revel Horwood, special guest Lisa Riley and Captain Robert Camby on the judging panel. It was absolutely hysterical, one old bloke dropped his partner on the Tango dip and I just couldn’t stop laughing. Craig insulted everyone and let’s be honest, that is what everyone including the contestants wanted to hear. The couple that won had only booked the cruise at the last minute because they wanted to meet Craig. They lived in Poland and had been dancing together for ten years. “Ten years wasted darlings” was the opening quip of Craig.

The following day Craig offered up a Photo and Book signing session, which was jam-packed while Neil hosted ‘An Audience With Lisa Riley’.  Cadiz was change over day with Robin and Kristina getting off and Ian Waite and Lance Ellington arriving. Natalie Lowe, Ian’s professional partner should have come on as well but it would seem she’d over-slept and missed her flight. It didn’t however dampen anyone’s party mood as the Great British Sailaway saw the decks bathed in glorious sunshine and the sound system allowing patriotic sing-a-longs, anthems and dancing accompanied by lots of flag waving. Craig, Lisa and most of the entertainment officers rounded the dance date off by jumping in the pool fully clothed, as you do on a boiling ho day after two hours of continuous dancing. Craig was the centre of attention wherever he hung out and he even treated the passengers to a rendition of ‘My Way’ on karaoke night. Lisa Riley followed suit but I have to say very little was in-tune but no one seemed to mind.

Ian Waite started dancing at the age of 10. Mary Richardson, a former Latin American champion (and now his stepmother) put him through a rigorous medalist regime. By the age of 14, he had completed all his grades and won almost every competition that he had entered.

He is probably best known for his role as one of the professional dancers on The BBC's hit show Strictly Come Dancing. Having appeared in almost every series aired since he joined the show in Series 2, reaching the Final twice he has built up a following of dedicated fans and has become a highly respected and recognizable figure and personality in the world of dance. With spectacular displays of ballroom grace, Latin fever and sharp-footed freestyle, Ian’s original and innovative choreography shines as brightly as his performances.

Ian Waite and Natalie Lowe formed an amazing partnership when Natalie became one of the Strictly Come Dancing professional dancers in the seventh series. This exceptionally talented couple have become a massive hit with their involvement in all the professional group dances and superb solo numbers, dancing alongside such megastars as Dame Shirley Bassey.

An Audience With Ian Waite was really an insight into the man behind the dancer and he comes over as a really nice person. I was upset that he didn’t appear on Strictly’s 2013 series but he did grab a regular spot on ‘It Takes Two’ with Waite’s Wednesday Warm Up using a telestrator to illustrate his critiques of contestant’s rehearsals.

 

However, there is more to this talented man from Reading than meets the eye, and FitSteps – his collaboration with fellow Strictly Come Dancing professional Natalie Lowe and Strictly celebrity Mark Foster – is set to take the country by storm. It’s the first dance fitness fusion of its kind, and blends a number of classic Latin and ballroom dances and a series of tried and tested fitness methods which work, tone and sculpt the whole body, burning up to a staggering 600 calories in just one 45-minute session.

The great thing about FitSteps is that it’s varied. Because of the differences in techniques and tempo of the dances, the postures are grouped together to create different effects on the body and achieve the results you want. There’s absolutely no way you’ll have as much fun pounding the treadmill as you will learning to jive.

The idea for FitSteps was conceived 15 years ago when Ian was living in Holland. “I used to go to body pump and aerobics classes but didn’t think the sessions had as much effect as the dancing I was doing.
“I thought I would put together a programme and planned to take it to a gym, but to be honest I never really took it anywhere. “When I moved back to the UK about 12 years ago I went straight into Strictly and was really busy. It wasn’t until I stopped doing the show as a regular professional that I decided to return to the programme I had put together.

“Natalie (Lowe) approached me as Mark (Foster) had mentioned to her about putting together a fitness programme using Latin dance steps. Nat knew I had come up with something years ago and so we got together and the rest, as they say, is history.”

It took a year for the trio to perfect the programme and, in March, they officially launched FitSteps, and now have more than 1,500 instructors across the country – including classes in Staffordshire and Derbyshire.
“We started training instructors in March and coached a team to help us roll the programme out as Natalie and I were just about to tour with Strictly Confidential,” said Ian. “We chose some excellent dancers and fitness instructors and had two teams who toured the country. “Dance is a fantastic way to get fit. Depending on what the dance requires you to do – whether you’re in different holds, on your toes or whether you rise and fall for extra movement – your armography, and even the tempo of the track, combined together guarantees that you will hit most muscle groups during one class. FitSteps will help you burn fat, while also sculpting and toning the body fast.

“Because of the range of movement required in dance, you will also improve your circulation as well as overall body mobilization.
“Anything that requires your body to move increases its range of movement, balance and strength. And every time you lean a bit deeper into a step, you will improve your flexibility and posture.”

There are plans to roll out extensions of the programme, including GoldenSteps, which will feature music from the golden era; KidSteps, and there are plans to introduce FitSteps Extreme. “It’s such a new brand and it’s been so successful so quickly we want it to be sustained over the next decade,” said Ian.

To find a class near you log on to the FitSteps website at www.fitsteps.co.uk

Since coming home I spotted this on the Internet for anyone that is interested.

Chesford Grange Hotel, Kenilworth, Warwickshire
Dancing With The Stars Weekend
Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd June 2014

Learn to dance with BBC Strictly Come Dancing stars Natalie Lowe and Ian Waite, Janette Manrara and Aljaz Skorjanec, Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag plus World Ballroom Champions Warren & Kristi Boyce – see them all perform up close & personal for a truly intimate experience unlike any other.

Next on the agenda was a Theatre Royal presentation by Lance Ellington. Lance is one of the UK’s foremost singers with an extraordinary musical pedigree and is known to millions as one of the amazing vocalists on Strictly Come Dancing.

Lance and his sister Nina were brought up in Finchley by their parents, Ray Ellington and the actress and BBC Blue Peter presenter Anita West. Of course dad and Ray were great friends and dad used to get up on the stage every time we popped into ‘White Elephant on the River’ where Ray was the resident entertainer with his quartet. I remember so many of those occasions and it was always a treat so I was thrilled to actually meet up with Ray’s son. We had a great time talking about the old days and boy can this guy sing. His show was full of timeless classics, upbeat swing and sensation ballads, a real treat.

The last showcase of the cruise was the dance presentation by Ian and Natalie, who’d by now safely arrived on board much to the delight of the passengers and the relief of Richard Curwin, Strictly’s Executive producer. It was worth the wait.

Natalie Lowe is a professional ballroom dancer, choreographer, TV personality and star of four series’ of Strictly Come Dancing. She is also a four-time Australian Dance Champion.

In 2004, Natalie auditioned for the Australian version of Strictly Come Dancing and became one of the first female professional ballroom dancers to be a part of the highest rating entertainment show in the history of Australian Television, of which she ultimately became Dancing With The Stars Champion.

Natalie’s first year performing on Strictly Come Dancing saw her partnered with Hollyoaks actor Ricky Whittle. They reached the final, narrowly missing out to Ola Jordan and Chris Hollins. Natalie felt this was a great result for her first year on Strictly Come Dancing back in 2009.

Natalie has reached four finals and two semi finals during her time on Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing With The Stars. In 2010 Natalie was partnered with EastEnders’ heartthrob Scott Maslen, in 2011 Audley Harrison and in 2012 Natalie partnered former England Cricket Captain Michael Vaughn.

Unfortunately during 2013's Premier show rehearsals Natalie was injured, breaking two bones in her foot, meaning Natalie was unable to dance during the 2013 series but she has made a great recovery, appearing on BBC2 It Takes Two and The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 Arena Tour.

Her past injury certainly didn’t impede her giving the most fabulous presentation with Ian and I loved the show so much that I went to all the repeat performances as well.

 

It really was the most fantastic cruise and as well as all P&O’s wonderful entertainment offerings we also visited Lisbon, Madeira, La Palma, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Cadiz and Coruna. To cap the lot we had amazing weather and I can’t wait to do it all again.

I had one night in the Holiday Inn at Southampton before stepping out on Adonia on the 5th May. Being a smaller ship with a gross tonnage of 30,300 we were spoilt by ports we cannot get into on the larger vessels. We started off with a visit to Bordeaux and had the unique opportunity of staying there overnight.

The city of Bordeaux is located on the Garonne River and is the ninth largest city in France with a population of nearly 240.000 people. It is the world's major wine industry capital and home to the world's main wine fair, Vinexpo. Would you believe the wine economy in the metro area takes in 14.5 billion Euros each year. Bordeaux wine has been produced in the region since the 8th century and with so many choices on offer it is a shame I don’t drink. The historic part of the city is on the UNESCO World Heritage List as "an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble" of the 18th century and that is exactly where I headed on the first day.

The city is littered with trams of every size and colour while the main shopping area is pedestrianised. I had a wonderful afternoon especially because the weather was so gorgeous and sitting out at one of the local cafes I was suddenly struck by just how lucky I am to have a job that takes me to such beautiful places.

For dinner I decided to go into the ship’s conservatory and I was met by the smiling face of my old friend Bobby Crush. I haven’t seen him in years although he helped me enormously when I was researching the book on my dad – The Singer’s Singer: The Life and Music of Matt Monro.

Bobby Crush first came to public attention after six winning appearances on Hughie Green's British ITV talent show, Opportunity Knocks, in the early 1970s. He received the Variety Club of Great Britain award for 'Best New Artist' of 1972. He recorded for the Philips record label in the UK and his recordings were produced by Norman Newell who had previously worked with Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland, Johnny Mathis Russ Conway and Matt Monro.

His West End successes include three seasons at the London Palladium (guest starring with Jack Jones, Vic Damone and Julie Andrews). As a regular performer at that venue, Bobby's name appears on the "Roll of Honour" at the Palladium's stage door. He also played a year at the Victoria Palace with Max Bygraves in SwingalongaMax, has appeared at The Royal Variety Performance and starred in his own one-man show at London's Fortune Theatre.

Bobby's latest show "Liberace, Live From Heaven" opened at London's Leicester Square Theatre in October 2009 for a limited season. Written especially for Bobby by respected playwright Julian Woolford, the one-man show was an imagining of Liberace's impact on Heaven following his untimely demise in February 1987.

If ever there was a performer destined to play Liberace, then Bobby Crush is that man. The gifted pianist as Liberace is compelling grotesque, dripping with rhinestones and camp charm. He gives us a taste of a real Liberace show, from the excellent piano playing to the eye watering costumes, frequently asking members of the audience to help him change into something more spectacular.

Sailing into San Sebastian

I was so lucky to have those four days with Bobby before he got off at San Sebastian, we had a fabulous time and bless him if he didn’t come to every one of my shows. I love him to death and if you get a chance to see Bobby live grab the opportunity otherwise you’ll miss out on a thoroughly entertaining evening.

The other artist on board was Martin Gold who believe it or not started his career at the world famous Leeds City Varieties Music Hall at the age of 11, when he was a finalist in the Yorkshire Evening Post talent competition. This young star then went on to be one of the most popular comedians on the British comedy circuit and regularly works the cruise lines. Bobby Martin and I became the terrible threesome and after Bobby had left Martin and I rewarded ourselves with several shopping trips.

with Martin Gold

Our second day in Bordeaux saw Martin and I head to the largest outdoor antique market I’ve ever seen. It was amazing and if I could have carried more I would have bought all sorts but most items were of the larger variety. As it was I ended up buying a small black-jeweled mannequin, which I had to have. I’ve never seen a small version before and I fell in love with it as I did with the cream lace one I saw two days later in San Sebastian. The coastal city lies on the coast of the Bay of Biscay about 12 miles from the French border.

The Parte Vieja (Old Town) is the traditional core area of the city, and was surrounded by walls up to 1863, when they were demolished so as to occupy the stretch of sand and land that connected the town to the mainland (a stretch of the walls still limits the Old Part on its exit to the port through the Portaletas gate). The sail in and out is not for the nervous as it is a very tight squeeze. In fact there are very few cruise ships that can berth in port but if you get the chance you are rewarded by fantastic views and thousands of waving hands as the residents line every street waving their welcome. I found it quite emotional especially as homeowners were swinging their flags out of high-rise windows.

San Sebastian has grown from a fishing village to a sophisticated small city with a taste for first-class food. The city boasts more Michelin-starred restaurants per metre than any other place in the world.  Historical monuments; museums and galleries; green spaces; superb shopping; and attractions including the aquarium complete your sightseeing options, leaving just enough time to sample the city’s famous pintxos. I truly love in and will definitely go for a long weekend when I get the time.

Our next stop was Oporto. Located along the Douro river estuary in northern Portugal, Oporto is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. The city's actual name is Porto, but when preceded by a definite article 'O' in Portuguese meaning 'the' in English, it is written as 'o Porto' meaning 'the port' in English. As a result, the English name evolved from oral evolution, is now referred to as 'Oporto' in modern literature.

Along with being the second-largest Portuguese city after Lisbon, Oporto is also one of the most prominent urban areas in Southern Europe. Its rich history, which dates back to many centuries, enriches its cultural wealth, as the city is one of the oldest European centers. Varied historical monuments including the cathedral with its Romanesque choir, neoclassical Stock Exchange and the typical Portuguese Manueline-style Church of Santa Clara depict cultural richness.

Spain’s southernmost autonomous community, Andalusia is the country’s most geographically varied region and takes up an enormous swathe of land bounded by Portugal to the west and the pulsating waves of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea along its coastline. Its contrasting scenery encompasses over 87,000 square kilometres from the alpine forests of its mountain ranges to the arid desert across its Andalusian Steppes, and the fertile river basins to the razzle dazzle of modern high-rises along its coasts.

Tourism has boosted the Andalusian economy over recent decades and those that travel to its principal city never fail to be impressed by the labyrinthine streets of its historical quarter that lead from one architectural jewel to the next.

Seville has built a name for itself as a convivial and romantic city in hich life is very much celebrated. The passion of its beating heart overflows from the rhythmic throb of its flamenco shows to mingle with the lively laughter from its tapas bars and intense energy emitted from the buildings into the narrow streets whose Moorish, Gothic and Baroque buildings drip with history – like the famous tiles, azulejas, produced in the region and showcased in Seville’s Grand Plaza de Espana, where it is presented as a colourful mosaic of starkly contrasting individual pieces gelling together in a bright and harmonious whole.

Adonia docked at the cruise ship pier known as Muelle de las Delicias on the River Guadalquivir just before 8.00am. The sail in was spectacular and it is easy to understand why ships don’t come here very often, as there were literally inches to spare coming through one of the bridges. We’d been warned the temperatures were going to climb to 34 degrees and even at that early hour of the morning the gauge was showing 22 degrees and rising.

The literature specified we were only a 15 minute walk to the historical centre on the river’s left bank but I treated myself to a horse and carriage ride. For the grand price of 45 Euros I was taken for an hour’s ride stopping at the most breath-taking sights of the city. A little distance from the Cathedral is the magical Palace of Alcazar, where regal peacocks reign amongst the palms and orange trees that grow alongside neatly trimmed hedgerows in the well-maintained grounds.

Rather than go back to the ship as the ride offered I asked the vendor to drop me in the heart of the city so I could walk the streets and breathe in the perfume of the people. I have been to Cadiz about 20 times before but never bothered to do the two-hour coach journey to Seville as time there is always limited time so to be able to sail straight into the heart of the city was a big treat. Couple that with an overnight stay, with no need to clock watch to be back on board was fabulous. For me it was a definite highlight of the cruise and one that wasn’t expected. The only reason I went back to the ship at all that evening was because of the Tropical Deck Party which promised to be a great experience and to be honest it didn’t disappoint.

I have to admit that having done several river journeys in order to get to these smaller ports has inspired me to look at a river cruise brochure in the future. I’d never fancied one before, save the Nile cruise I did a million moons ago but this has given me a great taste.

As it happens the weather turned so bad on the coast that two ships were unable to dock at Cadiz and by the time we left Seville on Day 2 of our trip there and hit the ocean the winds were up to hurricane force. Because of this unexpected turn of events we were unable to dock in Tangier and so we headed straight to our next stop Portimao. It was a huge disappointment as I had been looking forward to exploring the town . I have been to Casablanca before and I’d read that Tangiers was equally colourful and had a vibrant Medina.

Considering the weather the crossing across to Portugal wasn’t too bad but I decided not to get off the ship at Portimao. When I’d originally looked at the Itinerary for this cruise it was the beginning of the schedule that interested me most and Lisbon where we went next I’ve visited at least twelve times, twice this year.

Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal. It is the westernmost large city located in continental Europe, as well as its westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean and the River Tagus.

Don’t get me wrong it is a fabulous city decked out with trams and a million little back streets and an equal amount of outdoor cafes littering all the pavements. It has a great history, wonderful buildings and a hundred places to explore but all I really wanted to do was have a drink and watch the world go by. The weather wasn’t bad but it wasn’t warm enough to do without a sweater and I pretty much stayed rooted to my spot. Any of the good shops are up steep hills and I couldn’t face the climb. One of my fellow passengers had broken her back at the beginning of the year and she was quite unsteady on her feet still. She hadn’t thought to bring a stick so I lent her mine a week earlier and this was one city I would have needed it.

Our last port Biarritz is a city on the Bay of Biscay, on the Atlantic coast in the Pyrénées Atlantiques department in southwestern France. It is a luxurious seaside town and is popular with tourists and surfers. I am not really sure why this port was on the itinerary, firstly the city it is nowhere near where we berthed and required a coach journey of 45 minutes each way. Secondly having made the trip, which I was loath to do, I found out that it was closed on a Monday. As it was in Lisbon the area is hilly with steep slopes and it wasn’t until I’d traversed one long street and reached the top that all the main shops were closed. DISAPPOINTED.

There was nothing left to do but to catch the coach back as I didn’t feel inclined to spend a lot of money having lunch out when I could get a fabulous portion of scampi back on board the ship. It is actually a shame that this might be my last voyage on P&O. It would seem that I haven’t been obtaining the scores on the Guest Questionnaires that they required. Head Office had mentioned before I came away that they would see how Oriana and Adonia went and they would then decide whether they left my other dates in for the year.

The trouble is that I didn’t really have a lot going for me. Firstly I did 8 talks, because we didn’t stop in Tangiers I was asked if I’d mind to do an extra, which I happily did. Nearly every talk was slotted for 10.00am. This is too early for most of the passengers especially as on four occasions the clocks had been put forward in the night. The one talk that was scheduled for 2.00am was against the British Sailaway - enough said – and it would seem that the majority expected two speakers and a specialized subject. I’m not sure what my score was although I achieved 82% on Oriana. Mind you being a Strictly cruise the passengers were geared up to having a great time and wanted to be entertained. Adonia’s guests were not so inclined. Anyway it is out of my hands although I would be upset to lose a line that is so quintessentially British. I’ll let you know.

As you all know from the past nine months of ‘News’ I had hoped to exchange on the bungalow weeks and weeks ago and I have been hit by barriers and problems every step of the way.

They say that moving is one of the three most stressful things in life and I can attest to that. Losing the buyer on Monro Towers last year was an awful period as that meant I had to pull out of the sale of the bungalow and then it got another offer, which was accepted. The thing is the prospective buyers fell out because of cold feet and I can understand why. Telford is an area known for its mining and a lot of properties are built over old mine shafts. Having said that once I obtained the mining report I was fairly appeased by the fact that the Coal Mining Authority confirmed the plot was not at risk from subsidence, heave or landslip but there were so many questions raised once the searches came back that it took more than a month of going back and forth from one solicitor to the next to try and gather answers. If I hadn’t fallen in love with the property I would have walked away from the purchase but I persevered.

Instead of exchanging once I got home I was presented with 25 outstanding issues, everything from missing Radon reports to an enforcement notice on the property that dated back to the time of the build. The wayleave agreement was missing and Severn Trent Water conveyed to me that there was no foul water drainage on the site even though I confirmed there wasn’t a septic tank. Both my future neighbours confirmed the water drained to mains sewer in the road but as far as the water board was concerned it didn’t.

The other major issue was that there was a restrictive covenant in place that prevents anyone building over the electricity cables that pass under the land but guess what? You got it, there was no drawing confirming where the cables were. Because I want to build an extension onto the side of the property, you can understand that the plans were vital. Three weeks after getting home we were no nearer exchange than before as the other side quite simply didn’t answer any of the outstanding issues. That meant I had a choice, either walk away or get on the case myself.

I was absolutely gobsmacked to find that most of the issues took me very little time to get to the bottom of. The electricity cables map took five working days but everything was doable. That made me mad because I realised the other side just didn’t bother to try and bring the matter to a conclusion. One never knows whether to blame the sellers or the solicitor in this situation but in this case I think both were to blame. I have to say thank goodness for great friends.

I met Kath and Barrie on a cruise two years back and unbeknown to me when I put the offer in on the bungalow last year, they only lived 7 minutes away. I’ve lived in London for 54 years so the thought of moving several hundred miles away was incredibly scary, that and the fact it was a long drive to view potential properties. I probably looked at near on 2000 on line but I kept going back to the bungalow and had it in my ‘save’ file. It was actually Kath and Barrie who went to see it first to save me the drive as did my friend Lucia who was visiting her brother in Birmingham. All of them thought it worth my while to come to Telford and look at it myself.

My son drove me up to the area and we arrived by midday at which point Barrie took over as chauffeur and drove us around Shropshire so I could view the 8 properties I’d selected. I saw no point in only going to view the bungalow because if I’d hated it the whole trip would have been a wash-out. By 7.30pm we were all exhausted and we picked a local restaurant to have dinner in but it was hard to keep my eyes open. My body was screaming with pain and I was already dreading the other four properties we had appointments for the next morning. It was worth it because by the end of the exercise I was 100% sure the bungalow was the one for me.

I put the offer in immediately and that was it until disaster struck and my buyer pulled out. I can completely empathize with anyone that has been in that situation before. I felt devastated and betrayed because I’d believed all the buyer’s bull and when it came down to the wire they pulled out without even telling me. I didn’t have time to dwell on my misery because I had to go back to work but I left strict instructions with the estate agents to sell my house as quickly as possible so I could grab the bungalow back. For some reason the weeks between August and December produced no serious offers and on 20th December the Estate Agent in Telford rang to say the bungalow had received another offer and the owners had accepted. There are no words to describe the loss I felt.

Unbelievably four days later I myself received an offer that I accepted and got onto to the other agent straight away to ask them to put a higher offer into the bungalow for me. It was turned down so I upped my offer again but it proved fruitless because the owner had found a property they wanted to move to and wanted to exchange at the end of January which I couldn’t do because I was away at sea until the end of March.

I’m a great believer in fate. Because of the events on Marco Polo and because I missed my connection to Madeira I was back at Monro Towers between 17-21 February. Thirty minutes after I exchanged on my house I received an email from the Estate Agent in Telford saying the prospective buyers had pulled out and was I still interested. It was 5.45pm on Friday afternoon and I was flying to Barbados at 6.00am the next morning. I’m not sure how I managed it but by the end of business hours I had my new offer on the bungalow accepted and left instructions with my solicitor to instigate the searches and get a structural survey done. I’d worked out that when I returned to England on 24 March we’d be ready to exchange.

The bungalow is in a gated community of three but that didn’t stop Kath and Barrie driving round and getting hold of one of my prospective neighbours. They gave them their phone umber so that I could ring and talk to them. The call lasted an hour but in that time they were able to answer at least 10 on the outstanding issues. I have to be honest I have never understood why buying a house is such a long drawn out process but I’m more convinced them ever that it is just a way for solicitors to make more money and justify their large fees. When mum and I bought Monro Towers 29 years ago we finalized everything in just 10 days! Having said that I have to say my solicitor, Malcolm Dear, has been fabulous. I’ve had him all the way through the process and not once have I been fobbed off onto a junior. He answers phone calls and works on Saturdays when necessary. He was also happy to email the other side to hurry up the process so it proves there are some good ones about.

Eight weeks ago my architect came round with the plans and with everything signed off they were submitted to Telford & Wrekin Council the following Monday morning so all being equal I am hoping for an answer prior to moving in. I had already got pre-application approval so that should hurry the process up. I have builders in place, moving vans and storage. I’ve started emptying the house and garage of rubbish and bought storage boxes by the dozen so I can pack certain items up myself. I’ve bought clothes rails because there are no wardrobes and picked up the mail forwarding forms – all well and good but at that point I didn’t actually have anywhere to move to from a legal point of view.

Because the floors slope on the bungalow, the area has to be leveled before the under floor heating is laid, that means I cannot move any furniture other than my bed and a kitchen table because it would all have to be moved again which is an unnecessary expense. That means 95% of my stuff has to go into storage for about three months so that is proving to be a nightmare. The majority of stuff will go in a massive moving truck and the stuff coming to the property will come in a van but trying to work out what I need isn’t that easy, but then what is.

Having grasped the reality of what I’d taken on I decided to cancel the Princess cruise as the timing was just too tight. It’s a massive shame, as it would have given me the chance to see my girlfriend Lucia pus I was desperate to see Venice again but one can’t have it all. So that’s it – come hell or high water I have to be out of here by midday on the 30th June and the clock is ticking.

….. on the 17 April, the day of exchange, the client pulled out in that she is not willing to complete until she has found a property herself! Absolutely devastated is a word that best describes how I felt. Because the owners are now divorced it is a mess but I am now waiting for the husband’s solicitor to take it back to court and get an order for her to be removed from the property by 30th June. Time will tell but I had to leave England with everything up in the air and if this can’t be resolved I will effectively be homeless when I leave Monro Towers.

On 20th May, the day before coming home I exchanged. To be honest I just burst out into tears on deck. Over the course of the last month I was told I might exchange tomorrow and every day there was another problem. Then the other side came and said they would exchange on 13 May but my solicitor was on holiday and his partner effused to do the exchange because he couldn’t find the signed contract from me and so it went on. I’d decided that once I got home on the 21st I would have to look for something else and damn fast. To be honest I’d had enough and couldn’t bear to wait any longer as the whole episode was making me ill. I certainly wasn’t sleeping and I didn’t want food. I was more irritable as the days went on and I spoke to Max and put him on warning that he’d have to take me round the country and start again in our search.

Thank God it is all over so on Monday 30th June we complete. Of course no one told me not to complete on a Monday – why? Because the moving company doesn’t work on a Sunday so in fact they are coming to pack up and load on the 27th and 28th thereafter I am leaving the keys with the Estate Agent and Max and I are driving up to Telford and staying at the Holiday Inn for two nights. That will at least break up the intensity of the move and we’ve arranged to have dinner with Kath and Barrie on the Saturday night.

Having submitted planning to the council back in April, the decision is going to come on 3rd of this month and if a miracle happens and permission is granted then the builders come in on 7th July. I’m having a lot of work done on the property and so nearly everything is going into storage for the first four months, after which I will play it by ear.

Now because I’m moving in to the property on Monday 30th June it is possible that I won’t be able to do updates next month. It all depends on how much time I have and if I have an Internet connection but if it deems impossible I hope you’ll all understand.

I had lunch with Graham Pass on Tuesday 27th June. He kindly brought over all the dubs of the show East End Lads, which aired on BBC Radio 2 in February. Because of the show’s success I was hoping to convince him to do something for dad’s 30th anniversary next year but unfortunately or should I say fortunately East End Lads has proved so successful that the BBC are re-airing it in February 2015 so I can understand they aren’t interested in a separate show at this point in time.

On the other hand Odeon and myself are working on releasing a brand new DVD to the market for the occasion. The set will include never-before seen material of television shows that dad did for the various stations around the world including Australia and the States. Final negotiations are happening as I write and at the end of the day it will all come down to price. It amazes me how stupid some stations are. For instance dad did three Ed Sullivan shows in the very early 60s. They have sat in a vault for the last fifty odd years and the chances that anyone else will want to release it are pretty slim so you’d think the station would be realistic about their pricing. Sadly not, SOFA Entertainment want $3000 a minute for the use of the footage. This is also the case with other American channels, which is ridiculous. One wouldn’t be able to break even on the project let alone make any money so no doubt the footage will sit there another fifty years. Having said that Alan Byron, Richard Moore and myself have unearthed some wonderful hidden gems…. Watch this space.

With regards to the upcoming release, ‘The Definitive Matt Monro’ is still delayed. It was due out for Mother’ Day but it seems that Warners had a spate of new albums coming out over that period so they felt it best to give the new album a different release date. Still waiting…… although we now know all the tracks have been cleared and the artwork has been approved. They in turn are also not be interested in doing something special for the 30th anniversary, which is very disappointing but to be honest it seems to me that Warners is completely up in the air and no one knows who is in charge of what. It remains to be seen whether Richard and I release something on Richard’s new label Mint Audio.

If you’d like to do me a tremendous favour then a review of either my book or dad’s new albums on www.amazon.co.uk or www.amazon.com would be fabulous. You don’t even have to have bought the item there and your words could very well influence someone else investing their hard-earned money so it really could make a big difference.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the 2014 cruising season. As of today, the dates that are in are:

2014

2 -8 June – Cruise & Maritime - Marco Polo
29 July – 6 August – Cruise & Maritime - Marco Polo
21 August – 2 September – Cruise & Maritime Marco Polo
21 September – 3 October – Cruise & Maritime – Marco Polo
5 – 16 October – Fred Olsen - Braemar
21 October – 7 November – Cruise & Maritime – Discovery
18-29 November – P&O – Aurora
30 November – 12 December – Cunard – QM2

2015
8 January – 8 April – P&O Adonia (five back to back cruises)


Of course while I am away it will be business as usual. The wonderful thing about email, Skype and mobile phones is that you are never really out of touch. If any of you need anything in my absence I am still available on email but you can also contact Richard on richard@mint-audio-restoration.co.uk.
Don’t forget that if any of you have an attic full of old tapes that you want rescued or reel-to-reels that you want transferred then Richard would be happy to oblige. It’s amazing what we stuff into our attics and I am still hoping that some of you have a Matt Monro television show or radio that you taped years ago that you have forgotten about. You never know, you might just be harboring one of dad’s jingles without knowing it.
Don’t forget to check out our Spotlight feature this month, I know so many of you enjoy them. This time round we look in on  The Walker Brothers.

Check out the ‘Rough Guide to mattmonro.com’, which is available towards the bottom of the Homepage. If you don’t know how to access certain areas of the site or in fact are unaware of new areas, this guide will explain how easy this website is to get around, once you know how.

There is also another information box “How to Use the Forum’. I know a lot of people have been tempted to join in on some of our conversations but are slightly nervous of doing so. For that reason I have printed step-by-step instructions of how to access it. It really does only take a few minutes.

Whatever the coming year holds, suffice to say that I shall be plugging Matt Monro’s music at every opportunity.  That is the wonderful thing about working the ships, it gives me a brand new audience each time and if then, a small percentage go home a fan, then it is worth all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the Bay of Biscay!!!!

Until next month

Warmest to you and yours.

Michele

Past News - May 2014

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Past News - December 2012

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Past News - December 2011

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Past News - July 2011

 

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