Starstruck in Stokey: Park Gala 2015

by Andrew Wilson

All photos by Darren Bell except where indicated.

Spotted in the crowd...

“Omigod, isn’t that...?” gasps Rose, my fellow Park Friend, clutching my hand as she searches for the name. “Over there, by the door. In the velvet dinner jacket!”

“Orlando Bloom?” I say nonchalantly.

“Yes! Better restrain me, or I may have to jump him.”

It was that kind of evening at the Stoke Newington’s Town Hall. Some highlights :

Stoke Newington Town Hall in evening dress

18:47. On the red carpet at the entrance, slightly blinded by the lights. Why doesn’t this bloke in front of me get a move on? He turns his head - it’s the rakishly handsome Greg Wise ("Oh Willoughby, will you not take my hand?") and he is patiently chatting with BBC television, as another couple of stations and a gaggle of photographers await their moment with him. Grateful for my anonymity, I scuttle past them and enter the elegant Art Deco building.

19:10. In the reception hall, drinking prosecco and doing a bit of omigodding of my own. Isn’t that Honeysuckle Weeks... Tanya Franks... Jane Asher... Derek Jacobi... Anita Dobson... Matthew Kelly... Tanya Moodie (loved her in Intimate Apparel)... and on it goes.

Four great actors and a famous cartoonist: Greg Wise, Gerald Scarfe and Jane Asher, Tanya Moodie, Derek Jacobi.

19:20. A couple of bracing proseccos later, I buy a Lucky Dip Mystery Envelope from some familiar faces, young staffers from the Park Bar. (Hurrah, the envelope yields champagne at Fredericks.)

The Lucky Dip Posse. Left to right: Emma Petrusson, Gemma Barnett, Amy Conway, Charlie Howitt, Olivia Onyehara, Madeleine Hutchins Dresses were loaned by Vivien of Holloway 

19:30. In the great hall: 26 tables with 12 people each. Ian McKellen, the evening’s genial host explains that the Park receives no government subsidies, and the name of the game tonight is money. “So yes, approach any celebrity you wish and ask them for a selfie. But then make a donation. May I suggest, oh, £100 for a selfie with Gillian Anderson. And perhaps a half-crown for...” Is that Derek Jacobi he’s smiling at?

The laughter drowns him out. As it does a moment later when he introduces the theatre's Artistic Director Jez Bond, who saunters onstage with Hazel, the Park’s celebrity dog. As Hazel settles on the floor to listen to Jez’s brief speech, Sir Ian drops down and companionably joins her there. A few minutes later he springs to his feet – he’s 76! – and leads the applause when Jez thanks the theatre staff (Hazel woofs appreciatively).

Sometimes you just need to talk to a friend.

It's unanimous: a heartfelt thanks to the Park staff

19:50. Magician Paul Roffman arrives at our table with astonishing card tricks and gentle comedy. Rose temporarily forgets Orlando Bloom and I temporarily forget Tanya Moodie.

20:15. Over perfectly cooked lamb, I chat with other Park Friends, with Jez’s parents Jeremy and Vicky, and with my table’s designated celeb Barbara Flynn (loved her in the Old Vic’s High Society). The chatter is interrupted by the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn, the Park Theatre’s local MP. True to his anti-politician image, the slightly rumpled Corbyn refrains from making a speech, bless him. We try not to eavesdrop as he parleys at the next table with Park Theatre board member Sir Frank McLoughlin (a different kind of celeb - he chairs the national Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning).

Agent/producer Stuart Piper tweets a selfie with Gillian Anderson, Jez Bond and Jeremy Corbyn

20:30. City Academy choir blows us away with a gospel set. Praise the Lord, Hackney’s got talent to burn!

City Academy choir in full flight.

21:00. Sir Ian introduces comedian Clive Anderson, the evening’s auctioneer.

21:20. The stunning Gloria Onitiri (loved her as the evil Dr Grimm in the Park Christmas show last year) tweets that her husband, artist Nick Cuthell, is about to be auctioned. Result: a portrait to be painted by Nick is bagged by an anonymous bidder for £14,000.

21.30. Park Friend and Board member Mars Lord introduces me to glamorous writer-in-residence Sarah Rutherford. Starstruck, I confess that her play Adult Supervision was what made me decide to become a Park Friend. Realize I'm over-using the word love.

21:45. Okay, I’ve got this chatting-to-celebrities lark down, no problem. Approach Mark Cameron, tell him I hated him in Hurling Rubble.



Backtracking furiously, I explain that it was not him but his character, a spectacularly vile football hooligan, that I’d hated. Cameron grins, accepts the explanation, tells me more about Rubble and the Christmas shows he writes with Jez, talks passionately about the Park and its mission. Inspiring.

Mark Cameron at Gala and as the despicable Dean in Hurling Rubble (photo by Mark Douet)

22.00 Auction winds up scores of thousands of pounds later, and the cracking Get Funked band takes over. People dance, some of them beautifully, some... enthusiastically. Tamzin Outhwaite, charisma cranked up to 11, shimmies next to the lead singer. Around the room there is much laughter, schmoozing, flirting...

Tamzin Outhwaite dances the Hackney Fandango with lead singer of Get Funked!

Charlie Howitt twirling and tweeting.

23:30. Music continues with "djane" Annie O. I say goodnight to Dorcas Morgan, Park Theatre's Development Director, whose baby this gala is. Still on duty, she flashes a smile – this evening has been a smashing success. Danced-out, eardrums throbbing, smile muscles aching, I walk home through a quiet North London. Loved it.

Sir Ian McKellen, Dorcas Morgan, and Jez Bond.

*          *          *

Tuesday, 17 November. It’s official. The Gala raised £220,000.



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