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Once in Royal David's City

Former choristers share their memories of singing the Once in Royal David's City solo at the beginning of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast on Christmas Eve.

Every Christmas Eve at two minutes past three, a choirboy steps up to a microphone and sings the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City. For many people this iconic moment signals the start of their Christmas, as they wrap their final presents or rustle up some mince pies whilst listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge. The tradition of opening the service with a lone treble voice is well-known. What is not so well-known is the fact that the Musical Director chooses this soloist just before the transmission begins giving a twelve or thirteen year old boy just minutes to compose himself before singing the solo live to an audience of millions across the globe.

This programme takes a look at the singing of this iconic solo as a number of former soloists talk about their experience. They include; Rupert Peacock (who is studying for his A levels), Rodney Williams (who sang the solo in 1954 and went on to sing in the Westminster Abbey choir for the funerals of Mountbatten and Princess Diana), Jon Wimpeney (now studying Computer Science) and composer Bob Chilcott (who sang the solo three times in the mid-1960s). In addition, we hear from 100 year-old David Briggs, who sang in the first broadcast Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in 1928 and later became headmaster of the choir school.

Other contributors: The three Johnston brothers (only one of whom actually sang the Once in Royal David's City solo), Jill Etheridge (House Master for the choristers at King’s College School and the mother of a former solosits) and retiring Musical Director Stephen Cleobury.

Producer: Helen Lee

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28 minutes

Last on

Christmas Day 2018 13:15