We wake in our room at the Hampton Inn, ready to move on once more: the tour is rushing towards its conclusion now and there are only 5 performing days in two venues to go. Today we are driving further south in Virginia to Colonial Williamsburg.
The plan is to get on the road early, so as to have some R&R time in the luxury of the Williamsburg Inn, but we are a little slow surfacing and the morning pushes on. Breakfast is the standard Hampton fare and Liz finally understands my passion for the chain’s waffles, which are unmatched in the land!
We pack our bags and are on the road by 9.30, returning to the I-95. We start the Christmas music and the miles roll by as we follow Dickens’ own journey to Fredericksburg and on towards Richmond (where he would write passionately about the issues of slavery in America).
The drive takes around two hours, which coincidentally is the same length as my current playlist (Nat King Cole finishing off as we turn into the historic district).
A journey that started in the cold car park of a Hampton Inn concludes on the luxurious, sweeping drive leading to the antebellum frontage of the Williamsburg Inn. Into the lobby where there is no check-in desk in the traditional sense, but a discreet room where we are offered a glass of champagne (which we decline), as the paperwork s completed. We take the keys and walk past cabinets with Wedgewood and fine porcelain on meticulously dusted shelves.
We slip the anachronistic-modern electronic card into the key slot and walk into our suite. Oh, they are treating us well this year and we are to live in the lap of luxury for the next two days: We are in a corridor to begin with, at the end of which is our sitting room complete with antique chairs, sofas and desks. The walls are covered in a simple Regency white paper decorated with golden swathes. The curtains are of plush pale blue silk, offset with gold and white.
The bedroom has a four-poster bed and here the curtains are of salmon pink. A little discreet gold carriage clock sits on the bedside table (no garish electronic clock-radios here). The bathroom is tiled in marble with two basins, a deep bath, large shower cubicle, and a wall-mounted phone for those moments when you need to talk to someone whilst otherwise occupied.
Goodness, life on the road is difficult, and sometimes as a performer you just have to slum it!
Due to our slightly late start we do not have that much time to take in the sheer luxury of the scene, for I have a sound check scheduled for 1pm. We decide to order some lunch from room service and both choose the Regency Salad, which is delivered promptly, and laid out on a table with linen table cloth and a stem vase for a single rose. It is ridiculously overpriced, but feels so good (the Queen has stayed at the Inn on two occasions and probably felt familiar with the surroundings and more at home than we do).
The salad is delicious and comes with a thick rich raspberry dressing, which we immediately christen Razzleberry Dressing in honour of Mr Magoo’s Tiny Tim.
As we are being cosseted by another life, from another era, it is easy to forget that I am actually here to work, and the 1 o’clock appointment is soon upon us. We both walk down to the Regency Dining Room, where our contact at the hotel Michelle DeRosa welcomes us ‘home’, with her is John an English actor who portrays various historical characters, especially Henry VIII.
As we talk there is the rather strange sight of a chef’s hat slowly rising from the floor, followed by a chef: the whole rear section of the room is a lift which allows large items, such as the room’s grand piano, to be stored and as we watch one of the sous chef (literally a sous chef in this case) is being returned to ground level having collected whatever she needed from the cavern.
When the floor is closed in again Donald, the young sound engineer gives me a microphone and I start to perform the opening passages of the show whilst moving among the empty tables which are placed around the large dance floor which doubles as my stage.
We have a brief conversation with John about his introduction and I suggest that he bigs up the programme, as I am confident that it will sell well here (many of the audiences here come year after year and are the perfect demographic for the glossy brochure).
With an hour until show time Liz and I return to our rooms (I love being able to use that ‘s’) and I get into costume ready to perform. I take my spare costume down with me, and meet Donald in the hallway who leads me into the Rockefeller room, which will be my quick-change room today. Donald carefully attaches my microphone pack and ascertains that everything is working before returning to his mission control in the corner of The Regency Room.
The guests are arriving in large numbers and there are lots of greetings and hand-shakes as they take their seats. A little after 2.30 John takes to the floor and begins his carefully scripted and well-rehearsed introduction (having carefully inserted a very nice plug for the programme). As he leaves the stage so I enter to the strains of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman, and the show begins. The tea audience are fun and I am able to include lots of people into various parts of the show, making sure that I move throughout the room, so that even those who are seated at the far edges, feel part of the fun.
As I snooze following the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past there is a slight pause in proceedings as tea cups are replenished, before I continue to the end. I make my way through the standing crowd into the Rockefeller Room and it feels rather inappropriate peeling off my costume beneath the rather disapproving gaze of Mrs Rockefeller.
There is quite a long line waiting for me in the lobby, where my little desk is set up in front of the stylishly decorated Christmas tree; many of the guests are clutching the programme which backs up my suspicions, but is also testament to John’s intro and the sales technique of the lady’s in the gift shop who are have really been encouraging guests to buy.
By the time I have finished signing it is around 5pm, and I have 2 hours before the dinner show starts, so I go back to the room, where Liz is reading on the delicate sofa like the Lady that she is.
I take the opportunity to relax in a bubbly bath, and then watch Willy Wonka staring the late lamented Gene Wilder. I drift in and out of sleep, but 6.30 comes around all too soon, and it is time to have a reviving shower and get back into costume ready for a 7pm dinner.
This evening my introduction will be made by my dear old friend, Ryan Fletcher, who has been a constant companion throughout my 20 years at Williamsburg. Ryan is an opera singer, so understands what life on the road is like and of course he and Liz have their background of a life in classical music in common. Ryan will only be making a short speech of welcome at the beginning of the dinner, before dashing to the historic parish church in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg to sing the Gloria by John Rutter.
My performance actually follows dinner, so I take my seat at the table where Liz and I are accompanied by an off-duty John, and three other guests one of whom, Judy, is completely star struck to be sharing a table with the star of the show, and keeps repeating ‘Oh! What good have I don’t in my live to deserve this!’
When we have devoured the delicious crab soup and supremely tender beef, I absent myself to get ready for the performance whilst the luscious chocolate cakes are served.
Since Ryan is now absent we simply dim the lights for a moment, and the music begins to play, bringing the room to silence. I make my entrance and begin the show, as the room listens, all except for one gentleman who is not happy with the liqueur that he had been served and has a rather vocal conversation with one of the waiters: it is very distracting, and I make a few silly errors during this time.
The audience is rather quiet, as is often the way in such an up-market venue, with the exception of one lady sitting at the edge of the dance floor who laughs loudly at almost every line. Her enjoyment is infectious and little by little the rest of the audience start relaxing more too: her reward for helping me out? She becomes Topper’s girl!
The show finishes up and I am very hot. I take my bows and disappear to reprise my striptease for Mrs Rockefeller, whose expression is as dismissive as ever. The signing line is as long as earlier, and once more lots of returning couples greet me and thank me, and introduce me to friends who are seeing the show for the first time: it is as if they are going through their initiation ceremony into our club.
Finally I am alone with Liz in the lobby, and she has saved me the wonderful dessert cake. We sit in the bar and chat through the evening as I eat, and sip a very welcome glass of wine. As we are chatting the bar tender tells us that the hotel will actually be closing down early next year for a major renovation of the Regency Room and bar area, so when we return next year everything will be different – please let them preserve this most precious atmosphere.
When we return to our room there are further indications of how special the Williamsburg Inn is: there is soft classical music playing through the Bose sound system, and on our pillow is a silk cushion, on which is a silver tray, on which is a little bottle of peach liqueur and two glasses.
Yes, luxury indeed.