Access all areas...with McFly

On a sweltering Sunday last weekend, I was invited by Sylvia McCann from Leeds City Council to photograph the 15th annual Party in The Park concert at Temple Newsam in Leeds.

The weather had certainly brought out the crowds and over 70,000 fans , young and old packed the park to be entertained by a string of popstars. Sylvia had very kindly given me the only ‘access all areas’ pass to photograph the event. We’ve worked together before and she knows how I like to get in on all the action at these events so she was confident in me taking the pictures she wanted.

I don’t think the party was that successful last year, mainly due to the rain and the one in Bradford has died a death too so the organisers were working hard to ensure 2008’s event was a hit. The backstage area was amazing �" like a tv set and very professional with a green room and video footage being played constantly. It was a brilliant area for interviewing and photographing the artists too, so that was a great start.

I was on cloud nine being able to wander wherever I wanted and one of the first acts I hunted for was the band Scouting For Girls. But I had no idea how many of them there were or what on earth they looked like and neither did anyone else I asked. The band was formed 3 years ago by Roy Stride and have had huge success, even playing at Glastonbury this year. I’d heard they played to an audience of just 20 people at the Cockpit in Leeds in 2007 so I was hoping they’d go down ok with such a huge crowd.

Someone eventually pointed out 3 ordinary lads to me, who weren’t surrounded by the usual entourage and I went to chat to them. They were really friendly and down to earth and told me that it’s actually a real benefit that no-one recognises them as they don’t keep getting pestered. I also think their popularity has grown through social networking sites like MySpace and Bebo, with most of their single sales through downloads and of course you don’t get to see them on Top of The Pops now (how old do I sound?) so no wonder their faces aren’t familiar.

I’m also a huge fan of boyband McFly who were headlining the event and of course it was almost impossible for anyone to get near them now they are such a huge band. I’ve met them quite a few times before and get on well with their Manager Tommy so I avoided the scrum of the normal press call and was able to get an exclusive photo shoot with the guys.

What I hadn’t expected that day was to be invited on stage by Griffo, the DJ from Radio Aire, and my legs were wobbling as he introduced me as Terry George from Secret Millionaire and Britain’s Best Home. I was really surprised when the crowd cheered as if they knew me, particularly among all these big names. I gave a short interview then was asked to introduce Eurovision contestant and former X Factor finalist Andy Abrahams, however they changed the lineup whilst I was on stage and at the last minute Maria Lawson from X Factor 2005 appeared in the wings.

But stage fright hit me and I couldn’t remember her name at all, so thinking on my feet I asked the crowd to shout her on to stage and joined in with the last part of her surname ‘Awson’ to try and cover up my faux pas.Phew I think I got away with it in front of 70,000 people!

Upcoming star David Jordan was next on my list �" he’s a cross between Prince and Michael Jackson. I met him last year at the Royal Variety Performance and he recognised me so we had a good chat. He’s zany and off the wall but great fun. Even my Mum loves his ‘Sun Goes Down’ hit and she never really listens to pop music.

The funniest people I met though were brother and sister duo Same Difference aka Sean and Sarah Smith who made it to 3rd place in last years X Factor final. They were always smiley smiley on the programme and this is obviously how they are in reality as they kept grinning throughout our chat and didn’t say no to anyone all day. I asked Sarah who her favourite band is and she told me she loves McFly.

I couldn’t resist asking her if she would go on a date with any of them but she was being very coy until her brother piped up ‘Go on, you would’. So being cheeky I asked him which one he would go on a date with and his smile definitely disappeared. They were a huge hit with the crowd as they performed their cheesy numbers and had them singing along to hits from High School Musical. I’ve heard that they are to be the new face of Haribo sweets �" that definitely fits their image!

Moroccan Marquee Mayhem

My partner Michael celebrated his 40th birthday last week, and he thought reaching this milestone would be a nice low key affair as I’d treated him to a luxury pamper day at Titanic Spa in Linthwaite.

What he hadn’t realised was, that his treat was planned to get him out of the way for a day whilst I set the wheels in motion for his surprise party. I’d invited 200 family and friends to our house for an Arabian Nights themed bash, and managed to keep it all hush hush.

On the front lawn I’d arranged for a large Moroccan tent decked out with rugs, cushions, lanterns and draped with loads of plush fabrics and even a dancefloor in one corner. We’ve also recently bought our own inflatable marquee to use for other events but when it arrived in a bag resembling a pile of laundry I wasn’t sure if we’d done the right thing. So we decided to have a go and put that up on the back lawn.

I’d definitely under estimated quite how gigantic it was and as soon as it started to inflate it became clear that the back lawn was in no way big enough so I enlisted the help of 8 guys to help move it. Once it was up it resembled an enormous square ice cube and looked fabulously funky so we set up the bars in there.

On the other side of the lawn I’d hired a Moroccan band and a bucking camel - just like a bucking bronco but a camel to keep with the Arabian theme.

All the guests looked amazing in their Arabian costumes and I’d brought over loads of kaftans, slippers and fez’s from Morocco so everyone was dressed for the occasion.

When Michael drove up the drive we all hid in the Moroccan tent and the band played Happy Birthday Moroccan style. He couldn’t believe his eyes as when he’d set off from home that morning I was still in bed and he hadn’t even had a sniff of suspicion.

I quickly dragged him onto the lawn for a belly dancing lesson with Sophie Mei who reached the semi-finals of Britain’s got talent and the party was in full swing.

Of all the parties we’ve thrown this has to be one of the best �" everyone was having a fantastic time and it was the hottest day of the year, Michael was thrilled.
But he always wants revenge when I pull a surprise on him so when we were all tucking into Moroccan lamb at the barbeque area he asked me to pose for a photo with him next to the pond. The next thing I knew I was pushed in backwards and went completely under �" re-surfacing with my white kaftan covered in mud and reeds!

After getting showered and changed, I got even with him again when he was made to sit on a throne outside the Moroccan tent with a 12 foot python round his neck �" he has a phobia of snakes too so you can imagine that went down well.

We danced the rest of the night away in the Moroccan tent as Michael’s favourite DJ, Karl Lucas entertained us all �" he can always get everyone up on the dancefloor whatever the mood, he’s the best party DJ I’ve ever seen and has given his services for free at our charity bonfire parties over the last few years.

We’ll never forget Michael’s 40th party �" particularly as we took 2000 photos for the family album. After such an exhausting weekend we needed some recovery time so we donned our kaftans again and flew off to Morocco for some authentic Arabian culture.