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Friday 9th July 2004
Henley Festival 2004
By Amanda Sutton
Glass instalation
Glass installation by Emily Bellhouse.

This year's Henley Festival is turning out to be a wet and windy affair. Torrential rain kicked off opening night on Wednesday and the rain returned on Thursday night for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's concert with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra...

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"Honestly, it'll be great. Fine music. Fine wine"...I heard myself trying to convince the other half as we pulled into Henley amidst a torrential storm.

There was a good turnout at the Festival on Thursday night, even though dark clouds and strong winds threatened to spoil everyone's fun.

As well as the music, there are art galleries and sculptures to enjoy - including one of a full-size naked woman lying on the grass (click picture gallery to see more!)

Plus numerous restaurants (of varying prices) where you can sip champagne in this idyllic setting alongside the Thames.

Much of the seating is in front of the grandstand in deckchairs which are, worryingly, not under cover.

As we took to our seats and marveled at the dark clouds overhead, a very kindly gentleman from Row H offered us two grandstand tickets as two of his companions had failed to turn up.

Feeling very smug indeed, the other half and I climbed the steel steps into the grandstand, passing ex-BBC Director General Greg Dyke on the way.

From here we had a fabulous view of the floating stage where Dame Kiri was to perform. The stage is on the Thames, but to say it's 'floating' is a bit of a misdemeanour. It is clearly anchored down very firmly to be able to cope with the full Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on it and it doesn't bob about or anything.

Dame Kiri, resplendent in a turquoise spangly dress and shawl, thrilled the crowd with classical numbers from Handel, Vivaldi, Verdi and Puccini accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Even if you're not an opera buff (which I am not) there's something a bit special about listening to such wonderful music in this tranquil setting - swans floating by on the river, the blue and white stripey canopy of the grandstand willowing in the wind (OK, gale) and the constant trail of boats mooching up and down the river.

One of the funniest moments for me must have been when a crew from Henley Dragonboats rowed past, just as Dame Kiri finished a set to rapturous applause. It's certainly the best reception the rowers have ever had.

Henley Festival really is one of those very British occasions where you see the bizarre sight of women in full evening wear, wearing wellies and rain hats. You can't help but get into the spirit of it when you're there, and you know what they say, if you can't beat them?


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