James Bond actress Dame Judi Dench officially launched Ardingly College’s first arts festival on Monday, June 24, which boasted an impressive line up of acts.
The star of Skyfall and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel came on board as the patron of the three day event to support the Ardingly College ArtsFest, the brainchild of festival director and composer Tim Coker.
“I have a grandson here and Tim asked if I’d come and I said you bet – anything to get young people interested to perform, watch or appreciate something,” Judi said.
“It’s vitally important because if you’re in the theatre that’s what you’re going to rely on. It’s also the enthusiasm of people, it’s very infectious to see.
Placing an emphasis on the arts in schools amid budget cuts across the country is particularly important to Judi.
“The question you’re always asked is with all that money why shouldn’t you build a hospital and why should it go to the arts? But it’s important and some kind of artistic urge is within everybody.
“A friend of mine has just been to the Ice Age exhibition where you see drawings that are 40,000 years old on the wall. There’s something so uplifting about the fact that 40,000 years ago somebody wanted to decorate a wall.
“People need that – it’s rather a feat to say it’s to do with the soul, but it’s to do with all our psyche really, whether it’s looking at pictures, listening to music, watching something, performing, or even making a pot.”
Widely acclaimed for her enduring theatre, TV and film work that has garnered her 10 BAFTAs, an Academy Award and made her a Dame, the 78-year-old remains best known for her portrayal of M, the head of Secret Intelligence at MI6 in the James Bond franchise, but Judi said she hoped that her hard-nosed portrayal of M does not reflect her own personality off screen.
“Well I hope I’m not bossy like her.
“In one scene I had to get out of a prison in Turkey and I had to do something with this amazingly small contraption and Michael, my husband, said ‘If you ever have to save the world Judi then God help us all.’”
Also in attendance was Judi’s daughter, Finty Williams, who lends her voice to children’s animation character, Angelina Ballerina.
“Finty and my brother Jeffery are both actors too. I’d like to think acting will continue in the family. I also have a cat that can do a few nice handy things [laughs].”
As part of the ArtsFest, Finty read ‘Peter and the Wolf’ to an audience of children.
“It was brilliant and all the kids were absolutely amazing,” Finty said.
Finty is currently performing Macbeth at The Globe, like her mother before her.
“I’m in a play where I have to watch my son being murdered every night, so I’ve been having to scream a lot.
“My mother does give me advice, but I try not to ask her too much. It’s like having the Encyclopaedia Britannica with you all the time.”
Director of Ardingly College ArtsFest and Head of drama at the school Tim Coker said he pulled all his resources together in order to make the event happen.
“I was in York, which is Judi’s home town, to attend the Creativity Action and Service Committee (CAS), and part of that is to develop the arts in the school. I then decided that we should do an arts festival.
“It’s incredible to have Judi as a patron, I’m just star struck.”
Ardingly ArtsFest ran from June 24 to 26 and included workshops for the students, Q&A with Dame Judi Dench, the cast from Stomp, an improvised musical from The Showstoppers, the Fontanella Recorder Quintet, comedian Russell Kane and the Festival Gala Concert, which featured members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
For more details about Ardingly College and the ArtsFest, visit www.ardingly.com/Ardingly-Arts-Festival