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I wonder what Millvina would make of Titanic musical tribute

By Eddie McIlwaine

I'm a little bit perplexed today by a musical arriving in Belfast from Southampton next April. You'll wonder why I'm making a fuss about the performance's last port of call before it docks at the Grand Opera House.

Perhaps you'll understand my concern when I point out that it's Titanic the Musical that I'm talking about. This award-winning show opens at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton, the week before it opens at the Grand Opera House.

It will not have escaped your notice that it was from Southampton that the Harland & Wolff-built liner sailed out on her tragic maiden voyage in April 1912.

Titanic the Musical, which I'm assured is being tastefully presented, will be a sure-fire success in Belfast.

I suppose turning the tragedy into a stage performance was inevitable. The curious will turn up in the stalls, along with folk who, after all these years, perhaps had dead relatives who were victims, or remember the H&W craftsmen who built her.

The original version on Broadway won Tony Awards and I'm assured this new version, with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, sets a high standard. But I have to wonder how the late Millvina Dean would have reacted to a musical about the sinking of the Titanic, of which - at just nine weeks old - she was the youngest survivor.

Millvina's mum and brother survived too, but her father perished after he lowered her to a raft, wrapped in a sack.

She told me she never watched the movie Titanic and, for years, she refused to give interviews.

I'll never forget my chat with Millvina, who was 97 when she died in May 2009 after a career as a civil servant.

Will I go to see Titanic the Musical? Probably, although this year alone I've had to take a couple of columnists in national newspapers to task for tasteless jokes about the tragedy.

One of my most memorable experiences was being aboard the Queen Mary II on a voyage to New York and sailing close to where the Titanic went down in the Atlantic.

Along with other passengers, I stood at the ship's rail in silence. There was nothing to say, the ocean was calm that day and there wasn't an iceberg in sight.

Sometimes, I ask myself if it wouldn't have been better if that wreck, which was really a burial site, had been left in peace.

Yule love Nadia in panto ... oh yes you will

Actress Nadia Forde has fallen in love with the pantomime tradition to such an extent that she is about to play Princess Jasmine in Aladdin for the second year in a row.

The 28-year-old had her first experience of the role in her native Dublin in December 2016, when she lit up the stage at the Tivoli with her singing and acting as Aladdin (played by Jake Carter) fell madly in love with her.

This Christmas, Nadia will be starring at the SSE Arena in Belfast, where The Spectacular Aladdin runs from Thursday, December 14 until Wednesday, December 27. Nadia has Italian roots and is still mourning the passing of her mother, Berenice Paolozzi, two years ago.

Nadia was a popular photographic model before moving into singing, acting and hosting programmes on Irish TV.

She was a hit on The Late Late Show and was voted one of the 100 Sexiest Women in the World by FHM magazine readers in 2014.

Also in the panto are Nuala McKeever as The Empress, Ross Anderson-Doherty as The Genie and Rhydian of X Factor fame as evil Abanazer.

Bowled over by Ellis' generosity

I'm reminded today of the love the legendary Jimmy Ellis had for cricket as his passion for the game is about to come under the spotlight, and the hammer, at one of Northern Ireland's biggest charity auctions.

The Belfast actor played time and again for the Lord's Taverners, the charity whose mission is to enhance the lives of disadvantaged young people via recreation.

The Taverners' Northern Ireland regional president, Robin Walsh, tells me that Jimmy's widow, Robina, has donated two pieces of his memorabilia for auction at next Wednesday's Christmas lunch in Belfast's Europa Hotel.

One is a copy of The Croucher - a caricature for Vanity Fair magazine in 1901 of Gilbert Jessop, who a year later hit the fastest-ever Ashes century by an England batsman in just 72 balls.

It will go under the hammer along with an album of 50 cricketing cigarette cards from Jimmy's collection.

Robin, a former BBC NI Controller, was a close friend of Jimmy's and, as an ex-president of Cricket Ireland, shared his feelings for the sport.

Saddling a horse with a dumb name

Imagine giving a racehorse a name like Thank You Very Much. A seven-year-old, owned by John Bethell and ridden by Brian Hughes, was running at Musselburgh the other day with some of my loose change on his nose.

I didn't have much to thank the animal for - it could only finish second, after starting as the favourite.

A silly name? Well, here's an even worse example.

In the 1.40 at Towcester the same day, there was a four-year-old called Who's My Jockey (without a question mark).

The poor animal, who actually had a jockey called Ronnie Johnson on his back, also finished second, even though it also started as favourite.

With a name like that, the animal must have felt inferior.

How our feathered friends  drew sailors to calmer waters

An albatross flying over a ship making its way across the ocean used to be an omen of a storm about to break - and the skipper would head for calmer waters.

I know this bird had nothing to do with the demise of the Titanic, but seamen everywhere used to claim it was responsible for a few sinkings.

Sailors refused to kill the albatross, believing it to embody the soul of a lost mariner.

Indeed Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, written in 1797/98, described the fate of a foolish sailor who was destined to forever drift at sea after he gunned down an albatross.

His ship had been driven off course by a storm until the great bird appeared to lead it out of danger. His shipmates then forced him to wear the dead albatross around his neck to reflect his actions.

These owl tales of yore are nothing but doom and gloom

The hooting of the owl as dusk falls always fills me with dread because the eerie sound conjures up thoughts of ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

It has always been an unlucky kind of creature that roosts in derelict buildings and old churches that have become haunted ruins.

There is a folksy tale out there that if you look into an owl's nest, you will be melancholy for the rest of your life. I know at least two grumpy souls who have spent too long gazing at a nest.

In antiquity, according to the late Bob McKeown, who claimed to know about these things when I was a lad in Carnmoney, the owl was hated by the Romans, who associated it with death and disaster.

However, in Greece it was respected because the owl was favoured by Athene, the goddess of wisdom and war.

Belfast-bound maestro Rieu  brought  classical to masses

Orchestra leader Andre Rieu, who graces the SSE Arena in Belfast tomorrow evening, is now a household name here, and I like to think I was partly responsible for persuading the Dutch national to visit -with the help of late promoter Jim Aiken, of course.

We met up with Andre in the mid-Nineties in Vienna at the birthplace of one of his heroes, Franz Schubert. And we convinced him that Belfast people were anxious to tune in to his kind of music.

Andre listened and, the following year, played to a packed King's Hall.

In Vienna, he told us his father had been a conductor too and that he learned to play the violin at just five years of age. "But as I grew up I thought classical music was too serious," he told me, "and I set out to make it accessible to everyone."

For tickets, telephone the box office on 9073 9074.

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