Famous Freemen lined up to Celebrate the City of London and toast four days in the Square Mile (21-24 June) at a photo call in the 15th-century Great Hall at the historic Guildhall.
Over the course of four days, a wide range of mostly free events will include a champagne ‘sun-downer’ at Tower Bridge (22 June), family entertainment at the Cheapside Fayre (23 June), activities at the Barbican Centre and Museum of London, special exhibitions, City walks and talks, Livery Hall openings, and music in many of the City’s churches. Over 1,000 people are expected to watch the launch event – a free, open air performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in Guildhall Yard – on 21 June at 6pm.
Journalist Stuart Appleby interviewed Freemen of the City of London: Sir Terry Wogan, Barbara Windsor MBE and David Hempleman-Adams LVO, OBE, CStJ, DL about Celebrate the City, as well as Sir Nicholas Kenyon, managing director of the Barbican Centre, one of the event’s key partners.
The adventurer, David Hempleman-Adams, was admitted into the Freedom in 2008 for his record-breaking contribution to ballooning; Barbara Windsor, in 2010, for services to acting; and in 2009, Sir Terry Wogan was given the Freedom in recognition of his outstanding broadcasting career.
Barbara Windsor MBE, best known for her roles in the Carry on Films and as Peggy Mitchell in the BBC soap opera EastEnders described London as “the best City”.
“It’s the best for me because I was born in Bethnal Green and I have a passion for London,” the 74-year-old said.
“I want people to realise that London isn’t just for business and people have got to come here and enjoy themselves. Lots of things are happening during Celebrate the City, so I’d encourage people to come along and get involved. The City of London is absolutely great and there’s so much to see behind all these pretty buildings. I love London, it’s the best City, it really is. I get really emotional about it. The whole world is watching us (they usually are) do some really great, wonderful things.
“I still live here and I worked my way up from Bethnal Green all the way round to Marylebone, which is London at its best with Regent’s Park, Oxford Street – it’s lovely. Nobody does it like us, can you imagine what it’s going to be like at the Olympics? It’s going to be fantastic. During the Diamond Jubilee weekend, I was on the flotilla on the Thames – soaking wet, all my hair back combed and make up ruined, that was awful, but I loved the day so much.”
Hempleman-Adams, who’s achievements include, in 1998, becoming the first man to reach the geographic and magnetic North and South Poles and climb the highest peaks in all seven continents, said he felt “proud to be British”.
“2012 is an extremely important year. It’s one of those years in our lifetime where everything’s happening. To have had the Diamond Jubilee and then the Olympics on top of that this summer is astonishing. To Celebrate the City of London, I’d encourage people to come down to the Guildhall, see some events and everything that’s going on.
“Times are hard at the moment with the economy and the recession – and people are really struggling. When I saw the Queen and Union Jack during the Jubilee weekend, it was one of those times where I felt immensely proud to be British. London is the centre of Britain so come and see what belongs to you.”
Sir Terry Wogan, who is widely regarded as a ‘national treasure’, added: “I took it very, very well (receiving the Freedom of the City of London in December 2009), because now, quite frankly, I can stride about the City with my sword. I’m also a Freemen of the City of Limerick where I was born and I can drive a heard of sheep up O’Connell street. The privileges of being a Freemen are manifold.
“It was wonderful and marvellous to be awarded the Freemenship in London, and at the same time, I got the opportunity to operate the machinery and open Tower Bridge. I held up the traffic for half an hour at least and it was a really memorable day. I’ve got the photographs to prove it, as well as the documentation, so I’m very proud.”
Sir Terry, who is into his sixth decade in broadcasting, played a key role in the BBC’s coverage of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations earlier this month.
“It’s been a busy year for Her Majesty and it’s been a busy one for me as well, and everybody else involved in radio or television. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful time and I was very, very lucky that I turned down the chance to be on a boat for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant up the river! I really did enjoy that enormously watching on the television because with the rain it was much more of a monay than a can of veto.
“If the sun had shone it would have all looked a bit bling, but with the rain, it had a misty quality. If you were stuck at home, particularly. I loved all the celebrations and it’s great to be part of the City. I’m very honoured to be a Freeman and I’m delighted to be here to do this.”
Photography courtesy of William Parker.