Many of you will remember Lee joining the International Staff Songsters of the Salvation Army for a Choral Spectacular at their Oxford Street base, Regent Hall (aka The Rink), back in April 2014. It was a wonderful event and I was therefore absolutely delighted to learn, all the way back in July 2017, that there was to be another one...
I mention when I first knew about the event only to illustrate just how many months of planning had gone into it - it was Murphy's Law amplified a hundred-fold therefore, that Lee should wake on the morning of the concert with no voice. He'd had a slight cold for a while, but had been vocally fine right up until the day before and was absolutely distraught that he couldn't play a full part on the day. Even more so, because one of the other West End stars due to appear - Ben Forster - had been forced to withdraw after breaking his ankle in a serious on stage accident just days before the concert.
Of course Lee being Lee, he wasn't about to disappoint the fifty or so children who'd signed up to be part of his 'choir' for Any Dream Will Do, so he came along anyway. He even had one last try at the rest of his set in soundcheck, just in case his voice had somehow returned, but finally had to concede that a very husky Joseph was all he was going to manage that day.
But as the lights dimmed, most people in the packed hall didn't know that, and the film introducing the 'star guests' Kerry Ellis and Lee Mead was met with a delicious buzz of anticipation. After a video message from Ben Forster, Captain Jo Moir (who you may remember from BBC One's Sally Army and Me with Paul O'Grady) welcomed everyone and broke the news, saying that she'd long known Lee to be "a bit of a legend" but had now learned that he was also a bit of a gentleman - no phoned-in apologies and back-to-bed for him. Can I just pause here to say that Captain Jo, a self-confessed fan of the curly dude - the only person her Mum had ever allowed her to phone vote for - did a cracking job of hosting the evening. Indeed, huge credit to the whole team, not only for putting on a fabulous show, but for filling the Meady gaps in the programme so seamlessly with only three hours' notice.
Lee had asked to say a few words and was greeted with applause and cheers as he took the stage, saying how sad he was not to be singing and that, although he had a speaking voice, as a singer he was like "a sprinter running through mud". He then announced that people should keep hold of their tickets because, subject to being able to find a date, he was going to come back with his band, when he has a voice, to do a show for everyone. Speaking then, with real emotion, of his connection to the Salvation Army, through his nanny Lil and his great grandad Thomas (the latter story putting me in mind of 'Guys and Dolls'!), he ended by wishing everyone a great evening in the company of his good friend, Kerry Ellis, and "this amazing choir".
Then it was time for the music... and with the Salvation Army's renowned International Staff Songsters, West End and Broadway leading lady Kerry Ellis and Australian baritone Nicholas Lester, who was also a guest at the 2014 concert, 'spectacular' was a very good description. Both Kerry and Nicholas had extended their sets to cover for Lee's absence - the presence of autocue lyrics when Nicholas sang Love Changes Everything (a favourite of a certain Kevin F-H!) suggested this was a song originally intended for Lee, though you would never have known from Nicholas' performance. Kerry, meanwhile, looked and sounded absolutely stunning ... I'm not sure if she raised the roof or brought it down with her Defying Gravity but that was only one of many highlights of her performance.
As the first half drew towards a close, it was time for the massed choir to take to the stage... this was an opportunity open to any ticketholder and despite not having sung in a choir since school, I didn't hesitate to sign up for it! When the music arrived with my e-ticket the fear begin to rise - Oh When the Saints was familiar enough, but the Hallelujah Chorus is not for the faint-hearted - but I did some pre-learning of the alto part (thanks YouTube!) and turned up on the day ready to do my best. Thanks and huge respect to ISS Leader, Dorothy Nancekievill, for her patience and skill in drawing out something resembling a performance from a group with such a wide range of experience - I have to say that both rehearsal and performance were SO much fun that I'm now looking for a choir to join!
When we returned from the interval, Captain Jo revealed that there was something of a buzz backstage because a certain someone had put on his technicolor dreamcoat... adding that she'd been reliably informed that Lee had the most loyal (tick) and the most loud (not sure who told her that!) fans in the whole of theatreland! After a little more intro, we were urged to get out our phones, pop on our torches and light up the sky for Lee Mead and the Joseph choir! So the audience swayed and sang along, the children's choir was wonderful and while Lee's voice may have deserted him, his heart and soul shone through as bright as I've ever seen - a true star.
There was more to come from the ISS, from Kerry and Nicholas, and from the massed choir (our Oh When the Saints was significantly better than our Hallelujah Chorus so thankfully it was the former that ISS chose to share!). Finally all the soloists were called back to the stage, to be thanked, given flowers and cheered to the rafters, before the ISS sang a benediction over the heads of the audience. And so ended an utterly joyful evening.
The proceeds from ticket sales and donations on the night are to support the Salvation Army's work with children in Africa's largest slum, Kibera in Kenya. Here, they not only educate the children, but also provide them with their only food, and the film shown during the evening showed very clearly just how much their help is needed. It costs £20 to feed a child in the Kibera nursery school for a whole term, and just £15 to pay a child's school fees for a year... so the total raised of over £10,000, announced shortly before the end of the concert, will make a real difference in a huge number of lives.
The photos you see here are shared with kind permission of the ISS - click on any to see the full gallery and you can see more here - my thanks to them and all involved in putting together this fabulous evening. I do so hope they are able to find a date to accommodate Lee's generous offer of another show. While ticketholders for this concert will have priority for the new date, I'm sure there will also be some tickets available for people who couldn't make it this time. Watch this space ... I'll let you know as soon as I have any information.
There are of course 26 other opportunities to see Lee live this year, as he takes his band and his technicolor dreamcoat on the road for 10 Years - The Annniversary Tour, starting in Newbury on 24 February and running through to a Southend finale on 25 November.
Lee's full concert and events schedule (including past appearances) can be found at - CONCERTS & LIVE EVENTS
Published: 29/09/2017; last updated: 26/01/2018