A stalwart of the annual North East Last Night of the Proms concert, Janice Cairns is a force for good on three continents, as DAVID WHETSTONE reports
JANICE Cairns missed the very first North East Last Night of the Proms in 1990 in unfortunate circumstances. She was recovering from a broken back sustained during a production of Tosca at the London Coliseum.
It says something for her pluck that the Ashington-born soprano agreed to an interview a few months later, in a pub in Morpeth – because “it’s quiet and the beer’s good”.
Although a twinge of pain meant she had to cut the interview short, she was in good humour and full of optimism.
Explaining her packed diary and accomplishments at English National Opera before that night when a stunt went wrong, she said: “It’s an ideal situation and I’m very lucky” – then laughed as she remembered she was encased in a plastic corset and fortunate not to be paralysed.
Janice made a full recovery and picked up her glittering career. What she wasn’t to know was that the North East Last Night of the Proms, an intended one-off, was to become a regular annual event.
In fact, she was being treated for her back injury at about the same time as the late George Walker, whose diagnosis with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma gave rise to the annual fundraiser, was undergoing a bone marrow transplant at Newcastle’s RVI.
The concert, planned by George and wife Rosalynde to thank hospital staff, has since raised well over £1½m for cancer care and research through the charity North East Promenaders Against Cancer (Nepac).
Since Janice’s first – belated – performance at the Proms concert in 1992, she has been a regular member of the line-up and, on more than one occasion, the only genuine North Easterner. Down the years she has guided bemused singers from Australia, New Zealand and even South Korea – to say nothing of Cornwall – through renditions of The Blaydon Races.
She’ll be back at the City Hall on Saturday in the 23rd annual Proms concert which has a Diamond Jubilee theme.
Resident in Southampton for many years now, it’s another chance for Janice to return to her roots, although she was here last month to sing at the 125th anniversary thanksgiving service at Holy Sepulchre Church in Ashington.
“To be involved in things in the North East and to be able to support things going on there is very important to me,” she says from the south coast.
“Ever since I left home at 18 and went to the Academy (the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow), I’ve kept close links and you can see the good the Proms concert does.
“We all know somebody who has died from cancer, often somebody in the family, such as my grandad and grandmother, so to support cancer research and Macmillan nurses, which the Proms does, is very important.
“It’s not easy in this day and age to get bums on seats but Ros (Rosalynde Walker) works very hard and it’s very important that the concert keeps going.
“Also, of course, it’s a fantastic night out and everyone loves it. I certainly enjoy it.”
With characteristic good cheer Janice confesses to being “past the bus pass age now”.