The day our Vicky met Gary Barlow...

Tim Frith, Vicky and Gary Barlow      Picture by Rachel Poulton
Tim Frith, Vicky and Gary Barlow Picture by Rachel Poulton

Be still my beating heart! I only snogged Gary flippin’ Barlow! OK, so it was a peck on the cheek, but still!

Given the opportunity to sneak into a final rehearsal and hear some of the songs from The Girls, a new musical comedy that is based on the original story and Tim Firth’s screenplay and stage play of Calendar Girls (which premiered at Chichester Festival Theatre), another Southern Rail strike wasn’t going to stop me getting there.

Five years in the making, The Girls is just about to open at London’s Phoenix Theatre.

Set in Yorkshire, it is the true story of how a small branch of the Women’s Institute took the world by storm with a nude calendar.

But London, Yorkshire or indeed anywhere else in the world – the location is neither here nor there. Because cancer isn’t limited by postcode.

“Our show raises money for Bloodwise, the UK’s specialist blood cancer charity, but we hope that it also helps to raise awareness of the extraordinary work done by local hospitals and hospices everywhere.

Oncology wards at hospitals such as St Richard’s and places like St Wilfrid’s Hospice take care of our loved ones with such expertise, dedication and compassion and they need our ongoing support,” said producer David Pugh, adding:

“The entire company of The Girls sends St Wilfrid’s its very best wishes for the Dreambuilding project. Good on The Observer series for getting behind it.”

“Every performance of this show raises money,” confirmed Tim Firth, director of the show who has also written the book, as well as music and lyrics with Gary Barlow.

“My son’s girlfriend is now doing PHD at Cambridge at Addenbrooke’s Hospital and she’s one of the girls in the labs; a foot soldier. Our money is going to fund people like her who are fighting this disease at the coal face.”

As for Gary, it was the spirit of the original WI ladies that inspired him when he was writing The Girls, his first ever West End musical.

“In the face of adversity they did something so amazing and brave.

That’s what is at the heart of it all; that’s the charm,” he smiled, nodding in the direction of these redoubtable women, who were present to take a peek at what Gary, Tim and their cast, which includes some of our finest actresses and singers over the age of forty, have created.

And they blew our socks off. You must have heard the applause in the Witterings at the end of the rehearsal.

And get this! While talking about the St Wilfrid’s Dreambuilding project, Gary mentioned he’d like to visit our patch of West Sussex!

Assured of its loveliness by Tim, who knows the area having had one of his first plays staged in the CFT Tent in the 1980s, I immediately issued an invite to Mr Barlow.

But, ladies, remember: I saw him first…

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