So, did you enjoy Boris’s “week of free events” in London for St George’s Day 2009? What did this promised packed programme of events entail? We had a free family day at the Globe Theatre on 19 April, an event which had been sponsored by the Mayor since 2004, a very small selection of English food (including some very tasty-looking SE Asian noodles) and drink at Leadenhall Market and a badly-publicised concert of contemporary folk music in Trafalgar Square, which apparently attracted 1 000 people, as opposed to the 5 567 who turned up in 2007 for the St George’s celebration of English humour and Guinness World Record coconut orchestra.
The budget for 2009 St George’s Day celebrations was set at £100 000 by Boris Johnson. I’ve been examining the Mayor’s monthly reports to the London Assembly back until the first GLA-sponsored St George’s Day celebrations in 2004. Sadly, the Mayor’s report for May 2008 doesn’t mention St George’s Day activities, but let’s start in 2004 and see how many events were funded by the GLA each year:
“I gave my support to a number of events around St George’s Day on 23 April to celebrate traditional English culture. The theme of the day was to highlight some of the unique cultural gifts that England, and London in particular, have brought to the world. A key part of this is this was to recognise the contribution made by William Shakespeare, who is acclaimed by many as the world’s greatest playwright. Shakespeare’s birthday falls on St George’s Day and it was an opportunity to celebrate how his work has shaped the development of arts and culture, not just in Britain but also throughout the world. I also agreed, given the unique status of Shakespeare’s Globe to an exemption of the Contracts Code, and for the provision of an event at Shakespeare’s Globe to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, which coincides with St George’s Day.
In addition to this, the long history of traditional dancing was recognised with and English Folk and Dance music event on Covent Garden piazza. This event has developed over the last few years to mark St George’s Day and the GLA’s contribution allowed an extension to the event, and additional publicity.
There was also a ceremony at the Cenotaph, led by the Royal Society of St George, involving various cadet forces. This well-established ceremony was enhanced by the GLA’s contribution.”
“For the second year running the GLA supported a programme of events to mark St George’s Day in the capital on 23 April. The world-renowned Globe Theatre opened its doors for a free family event marking Shakespeare’s birthday, which is traditionally celebrated on the same day as St George’s. Celebrations took the form of a birthday party with a range of games, tours and performances. Visitors had the a chance to perform their favourite lines from Shakespeare on stage whilst professional actors were on hand to give expert advice and share insights into their experiences.
On Trafalgar Square a giant flag of St George was constructed out of the faces of ordinary Londoners and celebrities. Photographs were taken against a red or a white background to form the flag. The flag celebrated England’s contribution to sport, promoted the Olympic bid and took a stand against racism.
I also supported events organised by the Royal Society of St George including a short service, wreath laying and parade at the Cenotaph whilst at Covent Garden there was English music, song and dance.
I was pleased to be support for the second year, a range of events in London celebrating St George’s Day. Following the success of last year’s event at the Globe Theatre, Londoners again had the opportunity to mark St George’s Day in a fitting style by exploring the huge cultural influence that Shakespeare has had across the world. These events mean that St George’s Day can be enjoyed by thousands of people across the city.”
“This year’s celebrations for St George’s Day again highlighted the English contribution to world and British culture. In addition to the now established event at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, celebrating the contribution of England’s greatest ever playwright and poet, this year there was also a brand new event celebrating a second English icon – Charlie Chaplin. Leicester Square, where a statue of London-born Chaplin now stands, hosted a special presentation of three of his most well known films – The Kid, The Gold Rush and Modern Times. The event was arranged with assistance from Association Chaplin, Roy Export Limited, MK2 and British Film Institute and included a selection of shorts that have recently been restored by the BFI.
Shakespeare’s Globe hosted a day of focussing on the bard’s Roman plays, entitled ‘Warriors and Queens’, it included an event along the river, Roman play themed sideshows and workshops, which are the subject of this year’s Globe Season plus the chance to take to the world-famous Globe stage.
Other St George’s Day events I supported included, on Saturday 22 April, the day before St George’s Day itself, the Royal Society of St George’s annual Festival for St George in Covent Garden with English folk song and dance and their annual service, wreath laying and march past at the Cenotaph in Whitehall.
I approved a budget of £20,000 in 2005/06 and £100,000 in 2006/07 to cover the St Georges Day events and associated programme of publicity. From this total budget, funding of up to £50,000 was approved for Shakespeare’s Globe as a contribution to their event to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday, a contribution of £15,000 to Royal Society of St George for the music event in Covent Garden and the annual laying event at the Cenotaph, £50,000 for the event to celebrate the life and work of Charlie Chaplin and £5,000 for marketing and publicity activities relating to all these events. I agreed a virement of £20,000 from the 2005/06 Youth Arts budget to the 05/06 St George’s Day budget as a contribution towards the £50,000 total budget for Shakespeare’s Globe for youth focussed arts activity to be spend in 2005/06 financial year.”
“English humour was a key theme for activities which were organised by my office this year to mark St George’s Day, including a City Hall exhibition of portraits of British comedians mounted by leading independent photographic press agency and picture library Rex Features.The free exhibition ran from 13-25 April and featured rarely seen photos of such legendary figures as Tony Hancock, Tommy Cooper and Frankie Howerd, as well as more recent kings and queens of comedy including Peter Kay, Catherine Tate, Lenny Henry, Shazia Mirza and Simon Pegg.
Since being established four years ago, St George’s Day events in the capital have highlighted England’s contribution to culture, including theatre (Shakespeare) and film (Charlie Chaplin). The main focus this year was English humour, which is known around the world for its uniqueness.
St George’s Day itself – Monday 23 April – saw Trafalgar Square hosting a free programme of classic film and television comedy that culminated in a special screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In addition, 5,567 people broke the coconut orchestra world record in Trafalgar Square where Monty Python stars Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, plus members of the cast of West End hit Monty Python’s SPAMALOT, joined me on stage before the world record attempt. They beat the previous record, set in New York, of 1,789 people. This event not only broke a world record, it celebrated the unique English sense of humour, making it a great way to celebrate St George’s Day.
In addition, Shakespeare’s Globe hosted its popular family day on Sunday 22 April, plus a celebration of the Bard’s birthday – which is shared with St George’s Day – featuring silent films projected onto the exterior wall of the Globe. Further activities took place on Saturday 21 April in Covent Garden and at the Cenotaph, organised by the Royal Society of St George.
I approved support for these events and the associated programme of publicity and to approve a budget of £15,000 in 2006/07 and £100,000 in 2007/08 to cover these activities. I also approved the provision of funding of up to £50,000 to Shakespeare’s Globe as a contribution to their event to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday on 22 and 23 April and the provision of funding of up to £15, 000 to Royal Society of St George as a contribution for a festival for St George in Covent Garden and the annual parade and wreath laying event at the Cenotaph. In addition I approved the provision of funding of up to £40,000 for event production procurement for an event to celebrate English humour, to include screenings of classic comedy films on Trafalgar Square on 23 April, and funding of up to £100,000 for marketing and publicity activities relating to all these events.”
We see from the budget breakdown of the last year (2007) for which I can find detailed figures that it was rather more than £100 000 in total. The GLA also funded more events in previous years than the three Boris-sponsored funkadelic happenings that you may or may not have attended to celebrate your patron Saint (unless you happen to be Guto Harri) this year.
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