Wednesday 13th June 2012
POSH it was: champers and hampers in the car park; vivid evening dresses on the arms of black ties; marquees with chandeliers; had it been muddy, all wellington boots would have been green or polka dot.
To its residents, this swathe of England must still be part of the Home Counties: only media plebs would stoop to calling it a corridor.
We arrived early, following a meeting at Eton, further down river. Guess we were the fringe element, performance poetry being thought of, by some, back then, as the new rock’n’roll.
The gates won’t be open for a couple of hours. I stroll behind the grandstand, catch glimpses of festooned pleasure cruisers at anchor, canopied gondolas moored by the towpath.
You have to be in awe. Even the sound crew are setting the tone, with Beethoven echoing from speakers.
The site is adorned with sculptures and galleries; tented restaurants with wooden floors and fashionable chrome furniture; a picnic pick-up point; bars with terraces. The rich certainly know how to party: Henley is their birthright.
With tickets at these prices, security is light, but the top hat and tails are their own back-stage pass. I turn a corner.
Was wrong about the Beethoven recording then.
To my left, under the arc of a vast music stage, floating on the river itself, sits a mighty orchestra, its players casually dressed, belting out the Ninth’s scherzo second movement… to rows and rows of empty deck-chairs. Is this really happening?
Nothing more than a sound check, but they are running through the whole symphony.
Having found a cup of tea, I return and take a seat, the sole occupant in the grandstand, while, below me, festival staff trundle carts laden with refreshments, attach signs to railings, and put plastic liners into litter bins.
The Ode to Joy soars into an early evening sky. Lesley Garrett sings and the London Philharmonic play to an audience of one: me.
To clap would be wrong, but I mutter ‘thanks, lass’ to myself when this private concert draws to a close.