Veteran broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson will still appear at tonight’s gala performance of the George Best musical Dancing Shoes — just not in the flesh.
The former chat show host has recorded a heartfelt message to be played at the aftershow reception in the Grand Opera House after he was forced to pull out of the event due to unforeseen circumstances.
It is understood family reasons are keeping the popular presenter from attending the event which is expected to raise thousands of pounds for the George Best Foundation.
Parky, as he is affectionately known, was a close friend of Best and wrote a biography of the Manchester United and Northern Ireland star who died almost five years ago. He was to be guest of honour at the gala evening.
Norman McNarry, who is married to the football star’s sister Barbara, said Parkinson was very disappointed he had to withdraw.
He said: “We know Michael was looking forward to coming and would have been here if he could. But he has very kindly done a piece to camera which will be shown tonight.”
In a statement from the Foundation, the former chat show host said: “George was a footballing genius and one of my favourite guests. He had his problems, of course, but there was never self-pity or complaints about the cruelty and injustices of life, or anything like that.”
However, some of Best’s former team-mates and friends will be at the gala.
Manchester United legends Harry Gregg, Alex Stepney, John Fitzpatrick and Norman Whiteside are all expected, as well as Malcolm Wagner, one of Best’s most loyal friends, and James Murphy, son of Jimmy Murphy, scout and trainer for young Manchester United footballers.
Former Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby’s daughter Sheena will be there, plus golfer Ian Woosnam and actor Sean Bean, who is in Belfast filming HBO series Game Of Thrones.
Dancing Shoes — The George Best Story delves into the turbulent and colourful life of the footballer from his childhood days kicking a ball against a gable wall in the Cregagh estate to his rise as a sports star.
Over recent nights special tributes have also been paid by audience and cast to another Belfast sports star, Alex Higgins, who died last Saturday night.
Actor Paddy Jenkins, who portrays Higgins in the musical, asked for a minute’s applause for the snooker star and the tribute will continue at the end of each show until after the funeral on Monday.