Peter Rabbit & pals at Blenheim

Round & About

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

Looking for something fun and immersive to do with your little bunnies in a gorgeous setting?

The Peter Rabbit Garden Adventure is the fabulous live immersive experience in the grounds of Blenheim Palace until 3rd September.

We have some happy bunnies here at Round & About who have loved the magical mix of storytelling, live performance, and puppetry.

Developed in association with Frederick Warne & Co, this is the first time Peter Rabbit has appeared in this way, and is also a first for World Heritage Site Blenheim Palace which has allowed unprecedented access for families trying to save Peter Rabbit from ending up in Mr McGregor’s pie.

The Peter Rabbit Garden Adventure is a fabulous live immersive experience in the grounds of Blenheim Palace

This 50-minute immersive adventure celebrates Beatrix Potter’s beloved rabbit who has starred in 250 million books sold since he first appeared at the start of the 20th century. The experience has been created by the team behind Autumn Treasure Hunt with Percy The Park Keeper At Chiswick House & Gardens.

There are also free activities on site and a Peter Rabbit Farm Shop.

Find out more

For more info or to book your trip please visit PeterRabbitGardenAdventure.com & blenheimpalace.com

Thame Food Festival bursary winner announced

Karen Neville

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

Popular food festival runs on September 24th & 25th and this year more than 180 artisan producers are set to take part

Hartley’s Cookery School, based in Haddenham, has been awarded the Thame Food Festival bursary for 2022.

The bursary, reinstalled after sponsorship by Pinkster Gin, was established a few years ago to celebrate and promote newly-formed artisan food business within a 30-mile radius of Thame.

Hartley’s Cookery School aims to offer cookery class and chef table experiences which explore food, why certain ingredients or techniques are used and how to prepare and cook it. While also creating an environment that is fun and appealing for everyone – whatever their ability.

Creating an environment that is fun and appealing for everyone

Simon Hartley, Chef and owner of Hartley’s Cookery School said of the win: “I am delighted to be receiving this bursary and the support of the team at Thame Food Festival. Since opening our doors at Bradmoor Farm in January it’s been amazing to welcome and cook with our first guests at the school. We want to be a community-led business and have so enjoyed building relationships with other food producers and suppliers. Our vision for the school is to share my knowledge and passion for food in a relaxed environment, offering fun-filled courses for all abilities. Whether you’ve never picked up a knife or are a seasoned foodie, there’s something for everyone!”

The bursary includes an award of £1,000, a free pitch at this year’s Thame Food Festival, content in the festival programme, the opportunity to have an interview in the Food Glorious Food marquee and help with PR and social media.

Previous winners have included Ozi Lala, who has gone on to win Great Taste awards for his unique food products and the original winner was Lisa Hartwright of Tess’ Brilliant Bakes. Both of whom are going from strength to strength and still play an active part in the food festival too.

Supporting young businesses that have the same ethics as the festival is an important part of what we try to do

Patron and event co-ordinator Lotte Duncan said: “We are delighted to be in a position to offer a bursary again – thanks to Pinkster Gin. As a Community Interest Company, supporting young businesses that have the same ethics as the festival is an important part of what we try to do. It was such a pleasure to meet Simon and his partner and hear what they are trying to achieve by giving people friendly, fun cookery courses while learning about the provenance of their food.”

What will he spend the bursary on? Simon said: “As we have only been trading for just over five months, we are looking to use the bursary to invest in upgrading our website, signage and professional photography. Plus, use the support of the judges to broaden awareness of us and explore how we can potentially look at supporting initiatives in the community too.”

Find out more about them at Hartley’s Cookery School and to book tickets for the festival go to Thame Food Festival

It’s come home – at last!

Round & About

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

Now it’s over to you… be inspired by our Lionesses and get involved in football where you are, whatever your age and ability

Football has come home, it’s taken 56 years to win a major honour but it was well worth waiting for as England women’s captain Leah Williamson lifted the Womens Euros 2022 trophy at Wembley on Sunday.

The amazing achievement of beating eight-times winners Germany 2-1 was immense and while many backed the Lionesses as the favourites for the tournament on home soil, the result is truly outstanding and the women deserve all the plaudits and honours that will come their way.

One of the key aims for The FA and the England Women has been ensuring that this fabulous celebration of football creates a legacy for future generations and encourages as many women and girls as possible to get involved in the beautiful game.

Whatever your age and ability, football is for all and offers a huge opportunity for women and girls to engage in a healthy lifestyle through football, promoting both physical activity and mental health benefits too.

Follow in the Lionesses’ footsteps there are many options open to you.

Whether you just want to have a kick about with your mates, have a go at walking football or want to join a local club and perhaps follow in the Lionesses’ footsteps there are many options open to you.

Oxfordshire FA has a number of initiatives for girls and women to play their part in the “beautiful game” and is currently looking at relaunching the Women’s Small Sided Leagues such as 5-a-side – the ideal introduction to get into the game or get back into it.

Walking football offers a slower version of the game and enables women to play football under the same rules, enjoying the same great game just at a slower pace. Try Oxford United Walking Football Club at The Oxford Academy on Sunday afternoons.

Oxfordshire FA are also taking part in #LetGirlsPlay to celebrate the UEFA Women’s Euros 2022 and give women and girls’ the opportunity to get involved with football in their local community – any age, any ability.

Get involved!

As several players and commentators said after the epic win, this has to be the start of something even more special.

Gilt trip!

Liz Nicholls

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

Liz Nicholls chats to Nat & Ko, whose emporium Gilt & Grain in Southmoor is adding style & pizzazz to homes big and small.

Forget the pub… for more than 2,000 interiors fans, the Friday evening new stock email from Gilt & Grain is the real start of the weekend.

The weekly mail drop of fresh treasures has a sales rate most businesses can only dream of, with more than 60% of items snapped up this way. If you see something you like, you’d better buy it quickly as the beautiful, eclectic items go like hot cakes, as I learned to my cost recently.

I am now primed for buying, which is how I became proud owner of an enormous Tudor-meets Bridgerton upholstered headboard last weekend.

“Customers often refer to the Friday evening email as one of the highlights of their week due to the eclectic list of items,” Ko tells me. “When it arrives they know it is the beginning of their weekend!”

If you see something you like, you’d better buy it quickly as the beautiful, ecletic items go like hot cakes

Gilt & Grain has a gorgeously curated bricks-and-mortar shop in a lovingly restored 19th century chapel featuring a steel mezzanine. But one of the reasons Gilt & Grain has such a loyal fanbase is the couple’s decision to have a strong online presence by operating a website that is updated daily with multiple photographs and dimensions of each item of furniture.

After turning 40, after 24 years as a self-employed carpenter mainly working on period houses, Nat decided to start selling antiques and paintings on Ebay. After 18 months, a run-down shop became available in Oxford which he thought would be good for storage.

And after 20 years in retail Ko, who was at the time manager for TOAST on the High Street, was looking for a new challenge. The East Oxford treasure trove won a loyal customer base (me included) for a few years before the Old Chapel called…

The couple still live in Oxfordshire, and their two-year-old cocker spaniel Millie can often be found lending a paw in the shop.

“Our own interior aesthetic is eclectic,” adds Nat. “Our home is full of what I love whether mid-century or Georgian period furniture. I’ve always believed good design from any period, if carefully selected, can always look good together. We take very little notice of trends so this means interior designers often pick up rather good buys from us! Bamboo and rattan furniture is still selling very swiftly as is furniture with bobbin-turned legs. Due to Instagram, trends are now so swift that they come and go without us even noticing!”

Buying antique and used furniture is sustainable: a lot of the furniture Gilt & Grain sells is at least 200 years old and still perfectly usable, practical and very attractive.

“In recession people look around to save money and antiques are still very affordable,” adds Ko. “For example we recently sold a beautiful Regency sideboard for £185 with the original receipt from a LAPADA member dealer which the previous deceased owner originally purchased in the late 1980s for £1,895. We also often sell used modern good quality or designer pieces as greatly reduced sums.”

Find out more

Thanks to their good eye and high turnover, the shop attracts people from all walks of life, including some high-profile celebrities… And you might hear Ko practising the cello with Millie. Or else join the club of subscribers. Fight you for the best bits!

Visit giltandgrain.com

Volunteers help maintain Betjeman Millennium Park

Round & About

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

James Kent, a year 12 pupil at King Alfred’s, spends a day with the army of volunteers who help maintain the Betjeman Millennium Park in Wantage, which has just marked its 20th anniversary

Just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Wantage Marketplace is a haven of wildlife, poetry, and relaxation – the Betjeman Millennium Park.

This month, the park enters its 20th year of providing for the local community but why is the park here in the first place? How was the land transformed from an empty derelict wasteland to the vibrant hub it is today? And why is it still so important?

You could be mistaken for wandering down from the parish church or along by the mill and assuming the wild plot of land on the outskirts of Wantage is just a normal park or nature reserve, but this is far from the truth…

You can feel a sense of magic and myth as you wander around the trails

Named after local poet and former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman (who lived in Wantage 1951-72) and dedicated to the start of the new millennium, the park is certainly not your ordinary piece of flat and neatly squared out urban greenery.

Being host to semi-wild woodland, engraved sculptures, a circle of ancient sarsen stones (the same as in Stonehenge) and even a performance area this is less of a park and more of a centre of life. You can feel a sense of magic and myth as you wander around the trails and get lost within the sprawling trees and running rhythms of word.

The freedom and wonder are infectious and not exclusive to humans – wildflowers pop up and enthusiastically cover the ground all around and birds call out from their leafy abodes.

In most places it is us or nature. Houses, pavements, fences keeping us tucked away from wildlife like it’s our enemy, the unkempt sprawling mass that we can’t control. However, here it is (to an extent) beautifully uncontrolled and thriving and a poignant reminder that we can all be here and coexist happily.

To many (myself included) it seems like Betjeman Park has always been there – a permanent feature of Wantage – but, as I’ve learnt, the fight for this park has been hard, the upkeep crucial but most importantly the transformation incredible. The two-acre site of land on which the park lies was once a piece of derelict wasteland that was close to being developed on with property.

Seeing the opportunity for protecting wildlife and how devastating it would be to see this land become swallowed up by more infrastructure, a local group came together to make a charitable trust. Through hard work, they saved the land and bought the plot with help from a council grant in the mid-1990s.

Chelsea Flower Show gold medalist Gabriella Pape was commissioned to design the space and came up with the idea of planting native tree species to increase biodiversity.

Local sculptor and artist Alec Peever was then chosen to engrave and install six sculptures to immortalise Sir John Betjeman’s words and poetry in stone which now make up the poetry trail. Finally, in May 2002 (after seven years of dedication) the ribbon was cut and the park opened to the jazzy sounds of The Wantage Silver Band.

It’s just so lovely to have this place in the centre of town

Today, the park is as relevant as ever in the local community and holds annual events like Art in the Park and the Betjeman Bike Ride and is used by many schools, cub groups and brownies for both education and adventure. It is also loved by locals (young and old) as a calm and relaxing sanctuary which transports you far away from the humdrum of the town.

One local resident told me it’s “just so lovely to have this place in the centre of town” and “it’s a wonderful asset” which has bloomed out of the “rough, unloved ground” she once remembers.

The Park has also been especially helpful to locals during the lockdowns as it provided many with the opportunity to get out of the house and spend some time in nature during those precious windows of exercise.

The essential role it plays in the community has also been acknowledged as it is now recognised as a Local Green Space in the draft Wantage Neighbourhood Plan, which protects it from all future development.

As a park for both people and nature to coexist happily, the upkeep is essential and many dedicated local volunteers help out at monthly work parties. I went down to see what was going on at the April work party and met some of the volunteers and trustees.

From the moment I joined them during their well earnt tea break I could really feel the deep sense of unity between them and the nature they care for. One enthusiastic volunteer, who has been involved for eight years and is one of the current trustees, told me how as a child she had quite self-sufficient parents and grew up “in the middle of nowhere” so it’s quite “a revelation to be in such a community”.

However, it’s not always a walk in the park (!) as she tells me it can be challenging to juggle her job and other responsibilities with the time needed as a trustee but there is such a great “feeling of achievement” and so much social connection.

Not only do those working inside the park’s perimeters feel the connection but I was told how often passersby stop to say how much they appreciate the work being done on the park and how much the park means to them which is “reason enough to do it” for lots of them.

One elderly lady, although unable to do any physical work, regularly pops by to bring home-made biscuits for all the hard workers- not only is the park there for the community to enjoy but also for the community to care for in all the different ways they can.

Not only is the park there for the community to enjoy but also for the community to care for

One student volunteer who got involved just about nine months ago originally to be part of his Duke Of Edinburgh award is now the park’s youngest ever trustee and has spent six months on an ambitious project identifying and mapping out all the trees in the park alongside one of the more experienced and knowledgeable volunteers.

He tells me the yew tree is his favourite in the park with its reddish and purple bark and evergreen spines and how they are very slow to grow but can live for thousands of years. What I really came away feeling like at the end of the work party was that this is no begrudging task or tedious responsibility for those involved but really a great pleasure.

As the chairman John Vandore said it is a real “privilege” to be able to ensure the survival of the magical space the original founding trustees fought so hard to gain.

To find out more about Betjeman Millenium Park or get in touch check out the Facebook page

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Valerian Court: A home from home

Round & About

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

Valerian Court is a brand-new purpose-built luxury care home set to open its doors to welcome new residents in summer 2022

Offering the very best in person-centred care, Valerian Court will be offering all-inclusive residential, nursing, dementia and respite care, providing support and companionship when needed around the clock.

The care of the residents is of paramount importance and the dedicated and caring team ensure privacy, dignity and respect whilst fostering independence, confidence and wellness of each of the residents.

This elegant home has been designed with the residents in mind with no attention to detail being missed. From luxury en-suite bedrooms that are beautifully decorated to a café and an array of dining rooms where you can enjoy quality home-cooked nutritious food lovingly prepared by the team of resident chefs.

There are lounges available on every floor of the home that provide a perfect haven for some R&R or why not pop into the library or one of the quiet rooms to catch up on the newspaper or to read your favourite book.

Moving into a care home really does not mean that you have to miss out on all of your favourite things and with a hairdresser on site you never need to miss an appointment. There’s a café to enjoy a cup of tea and slice of homemade cake and we provide a warm welcome for your family and friends to come in and join you and to be a part of the Valerian Court community.

If watching movies is your thing then relax with some popcorn in the cinema room or why not join in with the extensive activities programme that offers arts and crafts sessions, exercise classes, music and entertainment to name just a few of the activities.

With balconies and a rooftop garden you can enjoy the summer whilst doing some gardening or why not sit back and watch the comings and goings of the Didcot community.

Providing a warm and inviting environment for the residents and their families is what the home prides itself on. Come and discover the lifestyle that Valerian Court has to offer by visiting our Marketing Suite which opens on 18th May.

Find out more at Valerian Court Care Home and email

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A new lease of life

Round & About

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

A move to McCarthy Stone’s Jupiter House in Milton Keynes has helped give a retired newsagent a social network and greater peace of mind  

Having spent nearly 40 years behind the till of their family-run newsagents alongside her husband, Jill Lee, 75, was used to the hustle and bustle that comes with being at the heart of the community. 

After the loss of her husband Graham over 10 years ago, Jill and her family decided that it could be a good time for her to downsize and luckily, spotted McCarthy Stone’s Jupiter House under construction, just a ten-minute walk from daughter Katie’s home near Milton Keynes. 

“There’s always someone to have a chat with and I’ve got all of my friends right on my doorstep!”

Katie says: “We decided to move mum into a relatively new house, in a quiet cul-de-sac but after 40 years of living in a busy newsagents, it was just too quiet for her and she was becoming quite lonely and isolated.” 

Jill’s younger daughter, Isobel, lives in California with her two children, and with the pandemic severely impacting travel, being closer to loved ones was something the family felt would be beneficial for Jill. Katie says: “We were driving around one day near to where we live in Milton Keynes when we spotted the hoardings going up for Jupiter House. I said ‘why don’t you move here so you’re closer to us?’ and mum agreed so we registered as soon as we could!” 

Jill and her daughter Katie

After so many years being surrounded by people, this was an important factor in Jill’s decision to move, as she explains: “Our life was the newsagents, we used to open at 6am and close at 8pm at night, meeting and talking to people – that’s what we loved to do. When my husband died and I moved, although I had neighbours, they were always out at work, and really, I led quite a lonely life and I missed having people around me. Now, there’s always someone to have a chat with and I’ve got all of my friends right on my doorstep!” 

Since moving into her one-bedroom apartment in May 2021, which she did using McCarthy Stone’s convenient ‘Smooth Move’ scheme, Jill has wasted no time getting to know her new neighbours, and has even started what has become known as ‘The 2 O’Clock Club’ with some of her fellow homeowners. 

As well as offering a much-needed social network it has made a positive impact on Jill’s life and also offered the family greater peace of mind and the safety net of knowing Sarah the House Manager and her team are on hand if needed. Jill added: “We can’t speak highly enough of them; they’re always going out of their way to help.” 

Jupiter House features a selection of one and two-bedroom apartments, built exclusively for the over-60’s. Homeowners can also enjoy a spacious communal homeowners lounge and beautiful landscaped gardens while visiting relatives can make use of the handy hotel-style guest suite. 

Prices for the one and two-bedroom apartments at Jupiter House currently start from £225,000 and £340,000 respectively. Rental and part buy part rent options are also available to make moving even easier. 

For more information on Retirement Living in Milton Keynes, please call 0800 201 4743 or visit www.mccarthystone.co.uk. 

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Star Q&A: Gok Wan

Round & About

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

Television star Gok Wan, 47, talks to us ahead of his dazzling star turn as the Man In The Mirror in Snow White at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre from 4th December to 2nd January

Hi Gok! How did you get involved in pantomime? “I’ve dreamt of being on stage forever. I first began to think about panto some years back. I was fascinated… Then one evening, maybe 2012 or 2013, I was with Lionel Blair and the very naughty Louie Spence. They said I really should give it a try. I spoke with my agent and Channel Four got involved. I first met Snow White then. There have been other pantos since then but it’s really great to be back with Snow White.”

Q. What’s your character The Man In The Mirror like to play? “Man In The Mirror sounds like a piece of furniture! I’m not and it isn’t! The script is amazing. I finished re-reading it again this morning – the tradition has again been tweaked for the 2020s and I’m excited. The mirror has messages. The mirror motivates. The mirror is magic.”

Q. And your costume… do you have a professional opinion about it? “Do I have an opinion? Oh yes I do! I like it. I was encouraged from the start to contribute input, although the designer anticipated so much that my suggestions could be called incidental. There’s a vital aspect, though, and one I insist on. An aspect that’s seen and unseen – the fit! My costume has to fit and over the Christmas period that could mean adjustments… It’s gotta be done.”

Q. Do you have any pre-show dressing room rituals? “Haha! Not only in the dressing room! Yes, I’m superstitious and my rituals – as you call them – go on throughout the performance; I don’t leave them to lurk alone in the dressing room. What can I tell you? Ahh, there’s ‘first on stage.’ Of course there is going to be stage crew but I like to be the first cast member on stage before a performance. What else? This year in Snow White I am required to fly and when I’m up high, without fail, I whisper a hello to my Mum. I love the flying bit. Love it, love it!”

Q. What is the secret to a great pantomime? “Three ‘secrets’: the first is definitely the audience; the second is likely to be the audience and the third, in my experience, is probably the audience. I like to open the show, to greet and welcome everyone and I can predict within 20 seconds
just what sort of evening it will be. People
have probably had tensions at work, frustrations with traffic, delays or hold-ups – it’s important to me that everyone feels wanted.”

Q. We’re enjoying your new TV show Bling… “I believe you can get a lot from the series. Jewellery can mean so much more than ‘an accessory’ – so often there is special significance attached to a piece. The series sparkles with stories, memories and emotion, as well as amazing technical skills and explanations. It is fascinating. I learned a lot.”

Q. Do you know this part of the world well? “Not really. My home’s London so I’ll commute. I like town and city life. The hustle, the bustle, the noise, the rush, the dirt, energy, sweat, the crowds. I am a absolutely a city boy! I was brought up and lived over a restaurant so it’s what I’m used to.”

To book, call 0333 009 6690 or visit atgtickets.com

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Plans for homes at Valley Park

Round & About

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

Taylor Wimpey is inviting Didcot and Harwell residents to see the latest plans for the first phase of new homes at Valley Park during a public exhibition in November.

Valley Park will comprise up to 4,254 new homes, south of the A4130 and west of Great Western Park. The development will include 1,489 affordable homes as well as community facilities including two new primary schools, a Special Education Needs school, shops, sports facilities, playing fields, allotments and open spaces.

Outline planning permission for Valley Park was granted by the Vale of White Horse District Council in July 2021. The first phase, to be known as Primrose at Valley Park, will comprise 293 homes, of which 103 will be classed as affordable housing.

Taylor Wimpey is holding a public exhibition at the District Community Centre at Great Western Park from 12.30pm to 7.30pm on Friday, 12th November. People will be able to see the latest plans for Primrose ahead of the submission of a reserved matters planning application in the new year.

Gary Needham, Land and Planning Manager for Taylor Wimpey Oxfordshire, said: “Valley Park is a major development for the Didcot and Harwell area and we are excited to be able to show off our detailed plans for the first phase of new homes, which will be known as Primrose.

“We’ve seen through our neighbouring Great Western Park development, which is almost sold out, that having a range of great facilities on the doorstep creates a brilliant community, and we know that Valley Park will be no different. We’re eager to meet people in person, talk them through our designs for Primrose and give a real feel for what this new development will be like to live on.”

The public exhibition for Primrose at Valley Park will take place in the Apple Room at the District Community Centre, 1 Gentian Mews, Great Western Park, Didcot, Oxfordshire, OX11 6GR, between 2pm and 7pm on Friday 12th November 2021. People can also visit www.taylorwimpey.co.uk/new-homes/didcot/valley-park to find out more about the plans and register their interest in a new home.

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Star Q&A: Samantha Womack

Round & About

Abingdon & Kingston Bagpuize

Actress, singer, model & director Samantha Womack tells us about festive feelings as she stars as the White Witch in The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre as part of its UK tour

Q. Hello! We’re celebrating Christmas shows. Did you go to many of these as a youngster? “I loved all shows as a child. My grandmother was a choreographer and often had friends in shows. She was a great friend of the theatre manager at the Palladium and so I remember going to see Michael Crawford in Barnum countless times which was an incredible performance.”

Q. What is it about this production of the CS Lewis play that will really make Christmas sparkle? And why should we all book a seat? “This production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is directed by Michael Fentiman whose work I’m a massive fan of. With this production he brings a similar vibrancy and originality that he created with his award-winning Amelie. It is a magicial, spellbinding show with Narnia being revealed in earthy pagan magic and musicians on stage whose physical talent is breathtaking.”

Q. Any favourite hang-outs or places to visit while you’re in town? “Aylesbury is an area I’ve performed in over the years, in South Pacific, Guys & Dolls… so I have many fond memories of here. I always bring my dogs with me as there are so many beautiful walks around Thames Valley.”

Q. What’s your go-to snack or food or drink you could never live without? “I try to eat healthy food as I eat a lot. Avocados and kimchi is my current craving and homegrown veg. Having said that, Lidl does dangerously good ice cream…”

Q. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had & choice for a last supper? “The best meal I’ve ever had? Tricky! Anything my grandmother cooked. She did a mean Welsh rarebit and roast tatties.”

Q. Who would be your six dream dinner party guests, alive or dead, real or fictional? “My six dream dinner guests would be Oliver Reed, Richard Burton, Nick Drake, Edith Piaf, Sidney Poitier and Kathryn Hepburn.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? And your favourite song or album? “My first memory of music was my Dad playing Cat Stevens on acoustic guitar. I miss that sound.”

Q. Do you love Christmas, and what especially are you looking forward to this year? “Christmas is special to me. My father Noel was born on Christmas Eve so that feels bittersweet but I always have a house full of people and music over the Christmas break.”

Q. What other highlights are on your horizon? “I have just bought a retreat business with my partner in Valencia in the mountains and so we will be working on that next year.”

Q. If you could be a real white witch for a moment and make one wish for the world, what would it be? “My wish for the world would be environmental awareness so we stop any more species and plants from being wiped out. And it sounds corny but… to be kind and love one another.”

For tickets please visit atgtickets.co.uk

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