‘This Is Your Life’: birthday surprise celebrates Potton musical director

A musical director from Potton was in for a big surprise when what he thought was a charity concert turned out to be his very own ‘This Is Your Life’-style celebration.

Composer and conductor Dr Douglas Coombes MBE arrived at Biggleswade’s Trinity Methodist Church on January 19 for what he believed would be a performance with one of his choirs, The Ensemble of Friends.

L-R: Douglas Coombes, Carole Lindsay-Douglas, Barry Haskey (Leader of the New English Concert Orchestra), Pam Rhodes.

L-R: Douglas Coombes, Carole Lindsay-Douglas, Barry Haskey (Leader of the New English Concert Orchestra), Pam Rhodes.

But it had all been a ruse to get him to the church on time, as his good friend, presenter Pam Rhodes, with help from his wife, Carole Lindsay-Douglas, had organised their very own take on the famous television show to honour Douglas for his 85th birthday.

Douglas said: “Last year, Pam contacted me because she wanted to organise a concert for the Leprosy Mission in early 2020 with The Ensemble of Friends.

“When I walked into the church on the day, I thought: ‘This is a sombre gathering - they’re all wearing black?’ I also noticed the Amici Singers - but they weren’t due to sing - and I had a flashback when I saw some choir members whom I recognised from 30 years ago.

“Turns, out Pam and Carole had even secreted guests in a side room!”

Douglas was treated to a visit from friends including Barry Haskey, leader of the New English Concert Orchestra; Adam Slough, organiser of The Battle Proms; and Trish Maude, who is in charge of pastoral care for Homerton College Charter Choir at the University of Cambridge, the college for which Douglas is an Associate Fellow, working with both the Homerton Singers and the Charter Choir.

In the true style of the TV programme, there was an array of video clips, managed by Graham Essenhigh, of Bubble Production, including messages from Aled Jones, BBC producers Charlotte Hindle and Mark Warburton, and Douglas’s friends Walt and Peggy Edmonds.

All, of course, had been recorded in secret over the previous year.

There was also a written note from Gareth Malone.

Wenda Lutterloch, of The Amici Singers(for which Douglas is a director), said: “It was lovely to see Douglas’s face when they were able to come to see him or gave messages on TV screens from far and near, including Germany, the Netherlands, and Gibraltar, to thank him for all the work and pleasure that he had given.”

Douglas’s career highlights include working as a producer at the BBC for 20 years and looking after educational programmes, including Singing Together and Time and Tune; receiving his MBE from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace in 2012; being awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Gloucestershire University; conducting Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem; and establishing The Barnardo’s national youth choral competition.

Recalling another special memory, Douglas said: “Six months after the Twin Towers were destroyed in New York, the Amici Singers were on tour in America and given permission to go to Ground Zero. They had to get through this benediction, but all around there were teddy bears, messages - ‘Have you seen my Daddy?’

“I said, ‘try not to cry’.

“And they did it. With tears.”

After meeting his special guests and enjoying several choir performances, Douglas was presented with a birthday cake and had a chance to mingle with all his visitors.

He added: “Everybody went to a lot of trouble and I am very grateful, and very humbled, as I feel there are more deserving causes.

“Pam is away at the moment, but when she is back, I’m going to ask her about this Leprosy Mission concert!”