Archives For Opera

I hope that you have all had a wonderful week and if you have any exciting tales to share you must let me know. My week has been filled with music making and observing my talented peers, which I ended with a Saturday focused on Opera.

Every day when I walk to College I pass the iconic museums that are an important part of South Kensington and on occasion, I love to visit them to break up my busy timetable. I find wandering the great exhibition halls of the Victoria & Albert Museum ( V&A ) fills me with inspiration and provides context about society during the periods of history that have affected many pieces of music that I study. Across the road from the V&A is the grandeur of the Natural History Museum which I often drop in to see the butterflies.

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However, on Saturday I went with my friends to an exhibition at the V&A dedicated to Opera aptly named Opera: Passion, Power , and Politics which is a collaboration between the V&A and the Royal Opera House. This wonderful exhibition aims to map out the journey of opera from its creation in Italy to the worldwide platform that exists today. For my student priced ticket, I received a high-tech audio guided tour, (with pretty awesome headphones by Bower&Wilkins) that glided seamlessly between selected pieces of operatic music beautifully handpicked to frame the amazing layout of the exhibition. It was extra special for me to hear Sir Antonio Pappano, a fantastic world-renowned conductor who holds the position of Music Director of the Royal Opera House, relate his personal interpretation of Shostakovich’s Opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. It felt so personal and exciting that I hung on to his every word. It was an amazing exhibition with so many pieces of beautiful art, videos of performances, librettos and manuscripts, and a working baroque stage. If I am able to, I would like to go again to really soak it all in. Each item was accompanied with a informed explanation that would both interest a new comer to Opera or add to the knowledge of an Opera aficionado. The exhibition ends on February 25th 2018 and if you are in London whilst the exhibition is on I can highly recommend.

Then on Saturday evening, I went to the London Coliseum to watch a performance of Verdi’s Aida. A collaboration between Improbable and the ENO. It was an exciting event for me to attend as my delightful director from Bambino, Phelim McDermott, directed this spellbinding interpretation. The singing was outstanding from the principal cast and the chorus performed with a beautiful blend and incredible dynamic range that kept the intensity of the piece alive. I particularly enjoyed the visually stunning, smokey and dimly lit Sacred Rite scene from Act 1 scene 2, which created a world that was far more intimate. I really believed in the magic of the High Priestess.

In act three the relationship between Aida, Latonia Moore and her father Amonasro King of Ethiopia, Musa Nggungwana, was so raw and honest that it left me guessing as to what would happen in this iconic operatic tale even though I know the story so well. For the production to command your attention in this way was an incredible thing to achieve on stage, as the story develops it draws you in and feels so real that you are there with them for each and every moment.

I want to work on this element in my own singing with the intention to communicate my feelings to the audience as if I myself don’t know how the aria ends, so that I too am in the moment and finding fresh ideas to make each performance unique in its own way.

A truly beautiful interpretation of Aida that is a must see.

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It’s been an absolute dream to be part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer. I took part as a member of the Scottish Opera team, who performed an opera specifically created for babies aged 6 to 18 months, called BambinO! After our successful run in the Manchester International Festival, I was excited to be part of the team to take BambinO to a new venue in Edinburgh, enabling different families to encounter the wonder of this beautiful Opera.

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Back Row: Laura Sergeant & Stuart Semple Front Row: Me & Timothy Connor

My role in the production is Uccellina, a bird who discovers an egg.  The egg grows and hatches revealing a baby bird, called Pulcino (Timothy Connor), he takes Uccellina for his mother and explores the world.  I’m initially happy though a bit annoyed at his hyperactive behaviour, we reconcile quickly being pleased to have found each other.  I tell Pulcino of the sky and its wonders and that it’s his destiny to fly from our nest, although also sad about the thought of being separated, we are caught up in our excitement of his first flight.  When Pulcino is ready to fly we sing our final duet of farewell, he soars among the clouds and I ponder his journey.

The show kept the original music wonderfully performed by Laura Sergeant on Cello and Stuart Semple on Percussion, drama, set and costume and we continued to make babies gurgle, laugh, squeak, sing and occasional cry! I couldn’t believe that our show sold out within the first couple of days and that many who missed out wanted details of the dates for our performances in Glasgow in the Autumn.

We began on the 8th August 2017 and continued until our last performances today. Our shows took place at 10:00 am and 11:30 am each day. I loved every minute of each show, and though we had early morning calls it was definitely worth it.  Joining us in Edinburgh to complete our gang were the delightful Lee Reynolds, Julie Burns and Paula Duncan. Their help was outstanding and enabled each show to go on without any troubles. It has been an absolute pleasure working with them. It was also wonderful to see the education team join us at the venue and share in the joy these performances have brought to their young audiences, and their parents, and grandparents, many of whom told me it was their first opera too.

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Back Row: Me, Paula Duncan, Julie Burns Front Row: Lee Reynolds, David Sneddon, Audrey Blake

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Lee Reynolds, Audrey Blake, Julie Burns, and David Sneddon

Waiting For David

Julie Burns, Lee Reynolds, Me, and Laura Sergeant

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Julie Burns, Me, and Lee Reynolds

I was also able to see some of the festival myself as an audience member as my super-duper family came up to support me and to celebrate my Mum and Brother Matt’s birthdays. We saw some fabulous shows and these were the ones that stood out.

 

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Me and my Brother Matt

 

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Ada Campe and the Psychic Duck

We fell upon this show by accident, having joined up with my Mum, Dad and brother Tom and his girlfriend Anna on Saturday 12th we decided to explore what the fringe had to offer.  Walking along we were approached by a persuasive assistant outside the venue and as the show was due to start we decided to pop in.  The show did not disappoint, Ada Campe was an entertaining and articulate performer whose act recounted stories of her life as a variety performer.  She kept the audience enthralled for the 50 minutes she was on stage, delivered adlib lines with aplomb, drew belly laughs from the audience and when she interacted with the audience you laughed with them not at them which is a tremendous skill.  We all enjoyed this little gem.

Meow Meow’s Little Mermaid

This was a late-night show which started at 10:30 pm so the only chance we had to watch it was on Sunday night as my day off was on the Monday.  So, I booked tickets for my two brothers Matt and Tom who came along with me to watch. The show was an enticing cabaret full of laughter, aerial stunts, music and singing.  We had a blast in ‘The Hub’ our seats were a fabulously situated in a fabulous purple booth in which we could truly relax and unwind after a busy day. It was an especially wonderful show for me as my fellow BambinO cast member Stuart Semple was playing! Goodness knows how he managed to juggle his late evening performances for this show with the early starts of our baby opera! He’s a true trooper!

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Velvet Evening Seance

To sample some of the drama of the fringe we decided on my day off to check out some of the shows on offer.  We liked the sound of this one man show, which was set in a Victorian court room.  The monologue was delivered eloquently with sufficient depth to draw you in as the story developed.  The script cleverly twisted in different directions providing enough misdirection to make you think about the guilt of the accused.  Would you send him to the gallows?

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Into The Woods

Though I missed out on this performance my Mum, Dad and brother Matt said they thoroughly enjoyed the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Musical Theatre department production. Maybe I will get the chance to catch it again as they were singing about it for a couple of days.

Into The Woods

It was lovely to combine my holiday with work and take some time to catch up with my family.

On our last performance day, today the cast and crew celebrated with lots of cake, homemade shortbread in the shape of birds (by the wonderful Paula), tarts, cups of tea and surprise party poppers from the marvelous Stuart Semple after our final bow.

I had such a blast and can’t wait to work with everyone again in October!

Please click on the above images to see a larger copy.

Save The Dates !!

July 30, 2017 — 68 Comments

[ This is a new promotional video from Scottish Opera for BambinO ]

With August, almost upon us and preparations for the ‘BambinO’ performances at the Edinburgh Festival about to start, I am busy working on my rehearsal schedules for the coming months.  One of the most important things that I have found whilst studying music is the need for good forward planning.  If you don’t sit down and spend quality time working out rehearsal schedules you can find yourself feeling overwhelmed quite quickly.  I try not to put things off, it is better to know what needs to be accomplished and set time aside to achieve the goals that you have set to complete.

I try and work through my diary and schedule my time as accurately as possible.  I set myself tasks for each day and then again for each week.  This allows me to be realistic about what I can achieve in the time available to me.  Knowing what concert and College commitments I have over the horizon is so important as these need to be introduced into my schedule with enough lead time to complete them.

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Back in December 2016 I received an e-mail quite out of the blue from Gary Waller, the chairman of the Gustav Mahler Society. Having read my blog and listened to my recording of Strauss’s ‘Zueignung’ he invited me to perform at a recital as part of their 2017 programme of events.  I was quite taken aback at the time and was thrilled to have been asked, the fact that the enquiry had come after reading my blog was just ‘the cherry on the top’.

Following the initial enquiry, we exchanged several e-mails, met on a number of occasions, and a date and location for the concert were agreed.  Over the months Gary has been wonderful, supporting my recitals, enthusiastic with his encouragement, and understanding of my work and college commitments. I am hoping to perform a mixed programme with a little something for everyone.  With pieces by Mahler, Strauss, Schubert, Wolf, Liszt, Grieg, Quilter, and Dvorak.  The date is Tuesday 10 October 2017 at St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate Church Hall, Bishopsgate, EC2M 3TL Tickets are available from The Gustav Mahler Society.

Gustav Mahler

To prepare a rehearsal schedule for an event such as this, there are several areas that I need to factor in and work on. For each new song, I have to translate the lyrics, both literally and poetically, trying to visualise in my mind what I think the composer or poet wanted to achieve with the song. I then learn the music and how this interacts with the accompaniment.  I then bring the lyrics and the music together working on the alignment and clarity of vowels and then concentrate on how to articulate each consonant so that the text can be understood, whilst making sure the legato line is not disturbed. Finally, it all comes together so that I have my interpretation of the song which I hope reflects a little of my own personality too.

To close tonight I just want to thank everyone who downloaded a copy of ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ and I hope that you enjoyed it and that it made you smile.

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Update: Monday 31st July 2017, I’ve just received the very sad and quite shocking news that my friend Gary Waller died suddenly and unexpectedly last weekend. We had only spoken recently when Gary asked me to learn Schubert’s ‘An Sylvia’ for the concert as it was one of his favourites and I’ve been singing it today. I will remember him every time I sing it. Even though I’d only met Gary this past year in London, I feel we knew each other really well as he read my blog religiously and always sent me a supportive message to encourage me. Our concert has been postponed whilst the Mahler Society come to terms with his immense loss. We shall miss him, I send my sincere condolences to his family and friends.

I have had a truly special and humbling week! It was the premiere week for Bambino as part of the Manchester International Festival. We have performed in 12 shows with over 258 babies, their parents and family, and some very special guests. It has been an exciting experience and I can’t stop smiling.

The Whole Cast and Crew

The Cast and Crew

I arrived in Manchester on Monday evening in Scottish Opera’s people carrier along with the team and the wonderful Stuart Semple who had driven us down from Glasgow. We settled into our apartments after being welcomed by the magnificent Manchester International Festival team (MIF). I have been working closely with Angela, Sophie and Tracy and many many wonderful volunteers over this week, all of whom have made the show a huge success.

For the first couple of days, we performed in the centre of Manchester in the Pavilion performance space, in Albert Square. It was wonderful to be performing at the heart of the festival and the vibe of MIF was incredible, hosting great food, drink, and music accompanied by a wonderful atmosphere. If you are in the area during the Festival it is well worth a visit.  It was here that I met Emma and Giuseppe Belli’s sweet and fantastic children. They came to watch the first performances in Manchester, making it extra special.

The babies in each show are very inquisitive and engaged in the performance. There is at time some crying but it rarely lasts for longer than a few moments so perhaps they are just overtaken with emotion 🙂    But as my Mum pointed out, there are a lot more chuckles, laughs, claps and plenty of singing along. Whatever their reaction you can guarantee that every show is individual and very special. And as our director Phelim McDermott said, ‘My hope is that in later years, there’ll be adults who are asked, when they’re at the Opera, what was the first opera you saw? and they’ll be able to say, Well, I was 11 months old when I went to see an opera” and they won’t be pretending when they say that.  It will be absolutely true’.

Drawing By Eva

I was thrilled that Eva Belli ( Aged 4 ) , Emma and Guiseppe Belli’s daughter, drew me this beautiful picture of Bambino.

Sophie, one of our producers, helped organise tickets for two other shows for us to attend in the evening after our daytime performances. I was able to go to Bridgewater Hall to watch the BBC Philharmonic perform ‘The World Was Once All Miracle’, and ‘Available Light’ a dance choreographed by Lucinda Childs at the Palace Theatre. It was a wonderful performance and took me back to my contemporary dancing days at Knutsford High School.

Available Light

After completing our performances in Manchester City Centre we started taking the show to places outside of the city centre such as Wigan and Hyde. These shows are so important and it brings music out to communities and venues that aren’t usually used for these events. Everyone deserves the chance to experience live music and theatre. I hope that this can continue!

In Wigan, I had the wonderful treat of my best friend Ellie and her family, Rory and baby Annabelle, come to watch the show! This made it extra special for me. I’m sure I’ll be visiting them again soon and we can sing the songs together. Ellie said Annabelle was mesmerised and that as well as Annabelle it was Ellie’s first opera too!

I’m having a day off at my family home tomorrow to recharge and then I’m back into a busy week ahead. I can’t wait!  We have performances in Heywood, Oldham, finishing in Salford.

To finish I must admit that it was very exciting to see the production mentioned in interviews for BBC radio and for the BBC Regional News I’ve shared the links in my facebook if you’d like to take a look.

 

Here is a picture of me with one of the designers, Giuseppe Belli and the Director, Phelim McDermott.

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Giuseppe Belli, Me and Phelim McDermott

One of the best things about getting involved with Scottish Opera on projects like ‘BambinO’ is that you get to work with a great team of amazing people.  Everyone has an important part to play taking the project from concept to final production, the Director, the Composer, the production team, the creative departments like costume and set building to the Designers themselves.  So much goes on behind the scenes to give us, the performers everything we need to bring the production to life.

To give you a flavour of the diverse range of skills used in an opera production one of the designers, Emma Belli kindly agreed to take part in an interview with me so that I could share a little insight into her world.  Emma works closely with her husband Giuseppe and they have been involved in many fabulous projects together.  Those of you who follow my blog may have seen some of their work before as they designed the sets and costumes for ‘La Rondine’ and ‘Sir John In Love’ whilst I was at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

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Designer Emma Belli

Emma – What are the best things about your current job?

When I was about to start University, I saw a show at West Yorkshire Playhouse called ‘Shock Headed Peter’. It was one of the most enjoyable and stunningly visual things I’d ever seen at the theatre…. full of invention, music and dark comedy. It was Phelim’s show. So eventually getting to devise a project with him is a gorgeous thing. I feel so lucky that I get to work with lovely talented people and that I get to share this with my husband. The tremendous support of the Creative departments at Scottish Opera actually make the job rather easy. They can achieve anything you think up… and what a lovely project. It’s quite a gift to us as designers.

Is this work what you wanted to do whilst at school?

I come from a family of artists. My grandad advised me not to be one or marry one! …. because it is hard. You have to be very self-motivated and determined. So I thought I’d choose a job in the Arts that would allow me to use my wider creative skills…. But where I could get a job. I also liked history and English and was a frustrated musician. So, I started to think that theatre might be good. Then I went to a Pet Shop Boys concert. It was really theatrical and over the top. It was designed by a theatre designer David Fielding…. and I thought, ‘gosh, this is his job! I want a little bit of this’. So, at about 12 years old I started to tell people that that’s what I was going to be. When I was training, the landscape of theatre design altered and it was no longer possible to get a residency at a theatre. So actually, it’s been as hard as being an artist after all…. and I married one too! (I later worked with David Fielding on an opera production for Bregenz). I’ve never regretted pursuing it as a career.

What were your favourite subjects at school?

Art. Design Technology. English Lit. Drama and History. But I loved sport too…. and find it has lots of parallels with theatre.

Did you go on to further study, where, and what path did you take?

I did A levels at Bradford Grammar where David Hockney had given some money for a theatre. They gave me a key as I was so keen! I then went to Leeds College of Art and did a foundation year. Followed by Theatre Design BA Hons at Betton Hall which was part of Leeds University. I started an MA there too but in the same year won a design competition to design King Lear at Cambridge Arts Theatre and another competition where I won a training position with the BBC in costume. I didn’t complete the MA but moved to London to work in TV Costume… it felt like I just needed to go and get on with it.

 

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The set for ‘La Rondine’ at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

 

How did you meet your partner/husband? Do you always work together? How long?

I met Giuseppe at Bretton Hall. He was the Resident Designer on my degree. After university, he was working on a low budget feature film and needed a costume designer. He called me as I had just finished some training with the BBC. We were working closely together but neither of us wanted to mess up our friendship. It took a year of meetings for tea and cake, art galleries, theatre trips and London parks before we got together. We just wanted to make sure it was going to be right and have longevity. At first, I was working long hours in TV and Giuseppe was doing mainly film special effects. We started not wanting to be apart so much and finding filming was totally exhausting and pressurised. We began to seek a way to work together. It’s been about 18 years working together now.

Do you work all around the world?

I haven’t traveled that much for work. Some designers do…. our work has traveled more widely than we have! Once a show is designed, you don’t really need to go with it when it tours. I would find it very difficult to travel outside the country at the moment as I need to be around to be a mum too.

Where do you get inspiration for your designs?

Inspiration is part research, part experience and part gut instinct.

What’s your favourite part of the design process?

I like making models and getting them to look as perfect as possible…. and the anticipation of sharing the design for the first time with the Creative team and cast. Then I like opening night when the work is finished and the pressure is off!

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How difficult is it to manufacture what you visualise?

We carefully design to fit budgets and the support teams available. However, it’s surprising how often we do need to step in to finesse things. Between us, Giuseppe and I can do most things. We are very practical. We always pull it together even if we are let down. We are perfectionists and our own critics, and we keep our standards high. If we find a talented collaborator, we hold on to them for good! Over the years you find companies you trust and makers with a true talent in interpretation and realisation. Working at Scottish Opera is a joy because the skills and experience in the whole building shine.

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Has there ever been anything that you visualised that couldn’t be made? Did you make adjustments?

Part of the designer’s job is to consider practicalities and technical solutions, rigging, construction etc. It involves objects but also the space around objects, the way things move and work. If something wasn’t completely thought through, it wouldn’t leave the studio. This avoids costly mistakes and time wasting later.

What’s the work that you’re most proud of?

We made West Side Story in Wandsworth Prison with Pimlico Opera. Great piece, challenging environment, an enormous impact on all of us. Theatre as rehabilitation is an extraordinary thing. We were very proud of this production.

What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?

I just want to remain interested in my work, earn enough doing it and share the best bits with my husband. I hope I can pass on my love of theatre to my children as I feel it’s made my life very rich.

Do you have any hidden talents? E.g play an instrument, sing, yoga teacher, mathematician?

Hidden talents…

I’m brilliant at soldering?! (which I use model making)

I’m a great swimmer, played netball and hockey for my county. Represented Leeds at rounders and long jump! Hmmm…. very competitive!

We have a great and full kitchen garden…. which I love to do with Giuseppe. It’s bursting with produce right now.

I’m a parish councillor.

I make special birthday cakes for my children….. using all my model making skills!

I’m an expert on Angry birds, Minecraft, Dr Who, Lego, and Playmobil.

 

Thank you, Emma, for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope that you all enjoy reading her fascinating insight

You can check out more of Emma and Giuseppe’s work on their website.

Here is a link to Scottish Opera’s Facebook page with some pictures of the costumes designed by Emma for ‘BambinO’

 

 

 

 

Blog Post 25th June 2017_pp

This has been a very eventful week, rehearsals have been blossoming with energy and imagination as we experiment with how to block ‘Bambino’. Our wonderful director Phelim McDermott uses a fantastic method which allows us to combine the qualities of improvisation and movement, to act instinctively and tell the story. It has been wonderful to work in this way as it is full of freedom.

I had my second costume fitting, which is beautiful and I am very excited and I can’t wait to see it when it is finished!  I’m not sure how much I can reveal just yet, but there are feathers! I can’t wait to get to wear it next week. We also had the pleasure to invite some babies along to our rehearsal on Thursday, for this, we focused on the music and performed it in a concert format. In rehearsals leading up to an opera there is a session where the cast and the orchestra finally come together to play through the score, this is known as a ‘Sitzprobe’ It was great fun to think that Bambino’s ‘Sitzprobe’ included babies who would be able to openly react to our music making and decide whether it was enjoyable.  Luckily, we had no crying! but we did have the occasional singing along which was adorable.  Next week we have our dress rehearsal and preview performances. I can’t wait. It’s getting very exciting.

 

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The Cast Of ‘BambinO’ : Stuart Semple, Timothy Connor, Laura Sergeant and Me

 

 

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Picture From The Rehearsals ( MIF Twitter )

 

As the week progressed it did get me thinking though on how important these education programmes are to the future of Opera.  Finding interesting and innovative ways to connect with a new audience is so important for any Opera House and there are many now which are fully involved taking opera out into their local community.  Scottish Opera, for example, take opera out and about using a converted articulated trailer.  This version of a pop-up opera allows small taster shows to be hosted in a much wider area and introduce the artistry and storytelling of opera to those that want to give it a try.

Through the Connect Company, with whom I performed in “The Walk From The Garden”, Scottish Opera provide a programme of classes for teenagers throughout the year culminating in a fully staged production.  The connect company allows both instrumentalists and singers the chance to work with some amazing coaches and learn about what makes opera such a vibrant and absorbing art form.  This also introduces the families of the students to the intricacies of a live performance and encourages them to maybe go along and watch one of Scottish Opera’s main stage productions.

There is also a programme ‘Opera for Schools’ which provides primary school teachers with educational activities along with a full day of immersive participation which ends with a performance for friends and family.  I would have loved to have been a part of one of these days when I was at primary school.

These are just some of the ways that Scottish Opera are trying to broaden the appeal of opera within the wider Scottish Community and I am excited to be a small part of it.  It is the responsibility of all of us who wish work in this wonderful industry to help where we can to explain why we love it so much and with our passion and enthusiasm encourage as many people as possible to give it try.

Happy Father’s Day 

June 18, 2017 — 52 Comments

 

Me and Dad

Me and My Dad

It’s that time of year when we can thank someone who is very special, for their support, love, and reliability. In the U.K., today is Father’s Day and my dad is my superhero. He has superhuman powers of dedication and supports my crazy dream of becoming an opera singer. Especially on days when I need reminding that the final push or the hard work is worth it and that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. The belief he has in me is magical and I swear he gives phenomenal pep talks that he could tour the country giving to people. He has the power to make anyone feel great and always finds the positive in any situation. He is proud of the smallest achievements and always reminds me that when they are all added together these tiny tasks come together to make a huge accomplishment. What seemed insurmountable at the beginning, broken down into smaller tasks is suddenly not so bad and the sense of accomplishment on completion can be breathtaking. I love my dad so much and I’m so thankful that he is my dad.

He is also courageous and he has a fighting spirit that encourages him to never give up. He has taken many risks in his lifetime through business and life choices. Sometimes they pay off and other times they don’t, but he would never regret trying something and once started would never give up.  It reminds me of when we all (my dad, my brothers and I) went to karate and we were training for fighting and he got kicked in his side and broke a rib, but he stayed for the whole session because me and my brothers were having so much fun and were learning new skills, he just got on with it and always encourages us to do the same.

 

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My Dad and Me on my graduation day

He has the strong moral code of a superhero and will help people in need, he has taught me right and wrong in life. He also had a keen sense of motivation and a sense of responsibility in which he wants to provide for his loved ones so that we can do anything we dream of as long as we all work hard for it. He is extremely intelligent and honest, even though I joke that this was soaked up by my elder brother Matthew who is incredibly smart. My dad loves Manchester City Football Club and this love and dedication continue in my younger brother Thomas. My dad’s undying love for my mum is also something from a fairy tale, and did I mention he makes the most amazing mash!! (Mash potato)

Keep being amazing Dad!!

In London At Christmas 2016