Inspirational talents are jewels in our city’s crown


It’s a shame Prince Philip couldn’t make Saturday’s final of Stoke’s Top Talent.
I genuinely believe even the grumpy, gaffe-prone Royal would have enjoyed himself and been forced to reassess his opinion of our fair city.
I’m not sure what prompted HRH to label the Potteries a “ghastly place” – as revealed in Tony Blair’s autobiography.
Perhaps, during a visit, he spent a bit too long stuck in traffic on the D-Road while desperate for the Royal wee.
Or maybe he visited Ceramica one day – only to find it was closed.
Perhaps it is as simple as he was forced to endure watching a recent Stoke City game on the telly.
Whatever prompted his ill-judged comment to one of our MPs, given the fact that he’s doubtless been eating his tea off our crockery for the last 60 years the one thing Prince Philip can’t dispute is the creative genius inherent in the people of North Staffordshire.
Nowhere was this more evident than at The Regent theatre on Saturday night.
No, I’m not just talking about the contestants – the acts which had made it through to the grand final of this year’s competition.
In the last three years I’ve sat through more than 600 auditions, 13 heats and three finals of a contest which showcases local talent that is either emerging or would otherwise have lain undiscovered.
Saturday night was the best of the lot – not only because the standard was so high but perhaps because it truly reflected all sections of our community.
For example, I defy anyone not to have felt uplifted and inspired by the performance given by The Masque Theatre Company – a group of dancers with disabilities from the Newstead Day Centre in Burslem.
This was their moment in the sun… and boy did they shine.
Here also was the inherent generosity of Potters – with a local businessman who shall remain nameless, so moved by what he had seen during the week, that he doubled the prize fund on the night to £2,000.
I persuaded my best mate to drive up from London to watch the final. Originally a Tunstall boy, he’s been in The Smoke long enough to have become somewhat cynical towards his native North Staffordshire. But by the end of the show he was dancing and clapping along with the other 1,400-odd people lucky enough to witness another life-affirming night at a very special venue.
It seems you can take the boy out of Tunstall but you can’t take Tunstall out of the boy.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so pumped up for a show,” Jonny Wilkes told me before the other judges arrived.
That’s quite a statement given the fact that The Regent is his second home and that Wilkesy has performed in touring shows to packed theatres across the UK.
But I could tell he meant it.
Being a judge on such occasions is a double-edged sword, of course.
It is both a privilege and a burden.
I’m just glad the walls of dressing room number two can’t talk and that I remembered to close the windows so that no-one could ear-wig on our deliberations.
Stoke’s Top Talent is, at its most basic, a competition which gives people like debt-collector Daniel Hewitt and college worker Su-Annagib the chance to star in panto and take their first steps towards a career in musical theatre.
It also earned teenage dancers Aaron and Andrew Corden, from Abbey Hulton, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train at a renowned stage academy.
What few people know, of course, is that since then our Aaron has gone on to win a memorial scholarship for being the top student. It’s Roy Of The Rovers stuff and it couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke.
More than all this, however, Stoke’s Top Talent is a celebration of all that is good about our neck of the woods.
Every aspect of Saturday’s show screamed creativity, passion and endeavour and would have made anyone who has grown up within a five-mile radius of the city centre feel proud.
This time the reaction of the overall winner when Jonny gave us the result was a joy to behold.
Here was a 14-year-old from Chesterton whose raw emotions were there for all to see as we waited for the big announcement.
Little Sam Bloor exploded into life when his name was read out and yours truly wasn’t the only member of the audience who was choked up.
Perhaps Prince Philip just needs to get out more…

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