I had a slightly surreal evening before the March. I found myself on a cramped and sweaty stage in West Bromwich paying tribute to local poet and performer, Alfie Smith, alongside local WM DJ Ed Doolan, former Mayor of Sandwell, Martin Prestige and an old school chum who I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Sweating and addressing a packed Charlement Bowling Club all that I could think was… how did this happen…?
A few weeks before, the school friend, Stu Smith, got in touch asking whether I would be willing to enlarge and frame a photograph of a portrait of his Dad, Alfie that he posed for when I was doing my ‘Seek My Face’ project. He was organising a secret ‘This Is Your Life’ evening for his Dad’s 70th birthday, and wanted to present the portrait as a gift. ‘Would you be happy to come along and hand it over, mate?’ he asked. ‘Why, sure.’ ‘And say a few words?’ ‘No problem.’
So I turned up at his house on the evening, portrait framed under my arm. Cries of ‘Here it is- the famous portrait!’ greeted me as I entered to find a small group of very well-turned out and odd mix of strangers, including the former Mayor and Ed Doolan. I felt a bit underdressed in my jeans and shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot. A man who introduced himself as the compere, handed me a fairly hefty script and I started to feel a little uneasy.
I felt uneasier still as we then found ourselves marching to the nearby bowling club, realizing that this was a bigger event than I had imagined. As we all sat in the cramped backstage ‘Artistes’ dressing room, I was thankful I had had the foresight to write a short few paragraphs the night before about my experience of drawing Alfie, as like the others with me there, I soon found myself climbing a short flight of stairs to the blare of the ‘This Is Your Life’ tune, stumbling through a tinsel curtain into the bright stage lights to be greeted by a slightly perplexed Alfie sat on a throne, beer in hand. Climbing those stairs I had felt like Robespierre as he faced the guillotine.
‘I thought this was going to be in your living room, mate’, I half-joked to Stu after being introduced as a 'famous artist' and a microphone was pushed in my hand and I faced the packed room and walked to the edge of the stage. I gave my short speech and sat rigid beside the others on the stage until the end.
At the end of the event, I made my way to the bar and ordered a pint of mild. A slight panic swept over me as I realized then that I only had £2.50’s worth of change in my pocket, having not visited the cashpoint previously, thinking I was just going to a house party. The pint cost £2.40. I’d have to leave the dry roasted nuts tonight.