Not feeling happy with “The girl who didn’t want a brother”, Kimberley asked me to write a happier story. The following is the result:
Copyright J. S. Raynor, 2010, 2017
“Please Daddy, let me apply to go on ‘Britain’s got something Extra’.” Kimberley had been content to watch the programme many times on television, but now wanted to actually take part.
“Are you sure you could stand the pressure of performing in front of such a large audience? You’ve seen how children’s nerves break under such pressure, so why put yourself through it?” Her Dad was hoping he could talk her out of the idea, but he realised that, although she had asked before, this time she seemed much more determined.
”I know I can. I’ve been doing many more solos in the choir and feel much more confident than I was a year or two ago.” The eleven-year old was in the school choir, but also was in another, which had the advantage of professional training. This choir had performed several times at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and was gaining a reputation for brilliant productions.
“Well, if you’re certain, I’ll make enquiries about how to apply.”
Keeping to his word, Kimberley’s Dad downloaded an application form, filled it in with his daughter’s details and submitted it. Not surprisingly, Kim anxiously waited for a response, feeling frustrated by the time taken, but, when it did finally arrive, her excitement at the prospect was tremendous.
Details were given of the dates, times and locations of the auditions.
On the day, a nervous, but determined Kimberley and her parents arrived at the studios along with many other hopefuls. The long queue filled the room at Granada Studios in Manchester. Employees at the studio had managed to squeeze the mass of people into the building as torrents of rain made queuing outside impossible.
It was a diverse collection of adults, children and a few, very elderly individuals, all hoping to be included in the popular television programme, “Britain’s Got Something Extra”.
Programme organisers carefully recorded every person’s identity, age and presumed talent. Following this, each person or group was asked to give a brief audition. This would reduce the number of hopefuls from several hundreds to a manageable number. This was the only way that the all-famous television judges could find sufficient time to watch hopeful acts from all over Britain.
Many nervous participants demonstrated their skills, only to be rejected at this early stage. Their faces showed their level of distress at finding their path to success blocked so early in what they believed to be the start of a long career in show-business.
As Kimberley waited patiently for her turn, she saw, at first hand how ruthless the selection process was. Several were in tears as they left after failing to convince the team of their abilities. Occasionally, screams of delight were heard as some of the acts succeeded in this first stage.
Kimberley’s legs began to tremble as the number of people in front of her became less and her time approached.
Directly in front of her were three teenage boys who, all the time, were practicing their harmonies and Kimberley listened with interest to their efforts. The trouble was that they kept arguing between themselves about their respective parts within the song. It did serve as a bit of a distraction, but Kimberley’s nerves were still unsettled.
Following her in the queue was a man who was probably in his early forties, but, at first glance, looked a little odd. He had a very plain, almost ordinary appearance, yet had large, sombre-like eyes. It gave him the appearance of someone who had just been surprised. His clothes were neither scruffy nor smart. In fact, quite ordinary. He was carrying a brown bag, which seemed to be made of canvas. Strangely, he appeared quite calm, compared to most audition entrants. He noticed Kimberley’s anxiety and said, “Don’t worry – I’m certain you’ll be fine.”
Surprisingly, he was quietly spoken, without any hint of accent and very calming.
Kimberley’s Dad, turned to him, saying, “Is this your first attempt to get on the programme?”
“Oh, yes. First and last.”
This seemed a strange answer. He was either so convinced that he would win to never need to try again or that he would give up after his first attempt.
“What is your act?”
“I am a magician and illusionist.” Again, John found this answer surprising, considering the man’s appearance. Still, not everybody had the looks of David Copperfield, David Blain or Darren Brown.
At last, it was the turn of the trio in front of Kimberley. Their details were noted and they were asked to perform their song. Not surprisingly, their harmonies did not work at all, but it came as a shock when they passed to the next level.
Now, it was Kimberley’s turn. She, followed by her mum and dad, walked into the audition area. Thankfully, the two individuals, a man and a woman, who had responsibility for deciding who was good enough for the next stage, were friendly and made the eleven-year old feel as comfortable as possible.
“What are you going to sing, Kimberley?”
“Top of the World, by the Carpenters”, she answered shyly.
“Okay. When you are ready.”
As she began to sing, without accompaniment, her confidence increased and she put everything into her performance.
Once complete, she waited as the two individuals discussed quietly between themselves. A worried look was on her face, but this was replaced with a huge smile as one of them said, “Okay, Kimberley. You are through to the next stage.”
The triumphant cry was tempered slightly as her Dad gave her a hug and said, “Well done, Kim. Just remember, this is only the first of many performances you may have to give.”
As they moved out of the way to allow the strange-looking magician to audition, they paused, interested to see his act.
He introduced himself as Arthur Jefferson and placed his bag on a low table. Out of this, he removed a small paper bag and, putting this to his mouth, inflated it. What happened next was truly remarkable. He clapped his hands together, bursting the bag and, as he did this, there was aloud bang and hundreds of tiny, glowing stars shot out in all directions. They floated through the air, gradually disappearing and making strange musical noises as they did so. There were gasps of surprise as Arthur clicked his fingers. The bag re-appeared in his hand, all the stars lit up again and raced back into the paper bag. Arthur casually returned this into his canvas bag and waited, impassively for the verdict.
Everybody was stunned by this brilliant performance and it took a minute or two before the judges could speak to agree, without hesitation, to let him through to the next round.
A slight smile appeared on the man’s face as he picked up his bag and moved on.
Kimberley had taken a liking to this strange man and said, “That was brilliant! I love magic and hope you do really well.”
“Thanks, but I think that Simon doesn’t like magicians.”
Kimberley remembered past programmes and realised that what Arthur had just said was quite true. He had been scathing about magic acts which had gone wrong or were just not convincing.
“Well, I’m certain that he’ll love your act.”
Again, a little smile played on his lips, but, strangely, there seemed to be a certain sadness in this unusual character.
Those who were lucky enough to pass this first audition were asked to move into another studio for the next stage. Each act was welcomed by the programme presenters, Rant and Peck, the famous Newcastle duo. For Kimberley, just meeting them was a fantastic experience in itself.
They met each act and talked, in depth, to every person, asking several questions about background and achievements. Television cameras were recording every interview, but, after editing, a great deal would be removed before transmission.
About three months later, Kimberley and her family were watching the auditions on television, eagerly waiting for her appearance. From the Manchester auditions, the three teenage boys had just walked onto the stage.
Amanda Wholesome was the judge to welcome the boys. “Hello. Who are you?”
All three were nervous and had elected Mark, the older boy, to answer. “We are ‘Tri-Star’.”
“And how old are you all?”
“Geoff and Barry are fourteen and I’m fifteen.”
“And what are you going to sing?”
“Flying without wings”
Glamorous Amanda gave them a reassuring smile. “Okay, when you are ready.”
As they started singing, they were somewhat shaky, but managed to recover a little as they progressed through the song. It did not make any difference with the four strict judges. Amanda liked their appearance, but felt that they had difficulty in keeping the harmonies together. David Smalliams felt that their standard was not good enough to go through to the semi-finals.
Simon Growl lived up to his critical reputation. “Listen, boys. I like you, but you were all over the place. You’re just not right together. Okay, let’s vote.” It was a unanimous rejection for the boys, who looked very downcast as they left the stage.
Feeling very apprehensive, Kimberley came onto the stage and was facing the huge audience. Sensing her nervousness, Simon asked, “Hello, what’s your name?”
“And how old are you, Kimberley?”
“I’m eleven years old.
“Good. What are you going to sing for us?”
“Top of the world, by the Carpenters.”
Overcoming her stage fright, she put everything into her performance and, for the next three minutes, sang her heart out. Thankfully, the audience was enthusiastic and cheered wildly for the little girl.
Rant and Peck came back on to the stage. “How do you feel now, Kimberley?”
“Good! I just hope everyone liked it.”
“Right, let’s see what the judges thought. David?”
A wide smile lit his face. “That was a very mature performance, Kimberley. You kept in tune and, what’s more, you actually really sounded like Karen Carpenter.”
The audience erupted into applause, making it difficult for Amanda Wholesome to speak. “I agree entirely with David. You sounded fantastic and I’m certain that you have a good career in front of you.”
It seemed to take ages for the applause to die down before Simon Growl could be heard. “You know, Kimberley, even at this early stage of the competition, I think you will go far, even to the final. And David is quite right. You have that beautiful, warm sound of Karen that many people try to emulate unsuccessfully.” Simon had to wait for the applause to die down. “Let’s vote. David?”
“A definite yes!”
Amanda struggled to be heard. “Absolutely one hundred per cent!”
Taking his usual pause for effect, Simon said, “Kimberley! You are going through to the semi-finals!”
Watching this on television, Kimberley’s parents hugged their triumphant daughter. “I hope you’ve been practicing your song for the semi-final, Kim?”
Even before she answered, John knew that his daughter was determined enough to keep up the pressure on herself and practice. From early in the morning until late at night, the eleven-year old never stopped singing, sometimes to the annoyance of her brother. “I’m ready for the semi-finals. I just hope I can keep my nerve.”
It was now nearing the end of May and Kimberley, together with her Mum, Dad and even her brother would have to travel to London within a couple of weeks for the semi-finals.
Returning to watch the television, it was now the turn of Arthur, the magician.
He walked almost casually onto the stage and was introduced by the comedic duo.
The camera showed the look of disdain on Simon Growl’s face as Arthur was introduced as a magician. There had been several attempts over the years, but, to date, no magicians had ever managed to impress all of the judges.
As usual, Arthur carried his strange bag and, after placing this on the stage, he pulled out a large piece of paper and a pair of scissors. He had only just started cutting out a shape when Simon, true to form pressed his buzzer.
Arthur ignored the interruption and soon had cut out the shape of a figure, only about two feet tall. He peeled off a thin layer from the paper, revealing a colourful picture of a dwarf. What happened next was truly remarkable. He stood the paper on the stage, peeled off another layer to reveal another figure. He repeated this process several times until seven little figures stood motionless on the stage. Calmly, Arthur put a small whistle to his mouth and blew. A strange note could be heard and, to everybody’s astonishment, the figures came to life and started marching around the stage, singing the workers’ song from Snow White and the seven dwarfs. Simon dropped his pen as, what had started out as a sheet of paper, had been replaced with seven, three-dimensional, animated figures marching around the stage and even seemed to be singing.
Once the audience had recovered from the initial shock, they cheered wildly. Arthur took out one more piece of paper, quickly trimmed it and stood it to one side of the stage. In an instant, it had changed to the shape and colour of Snow White, who waved at the marching dwarves.
Still unmoved by the cheering, Arthur put the whistle to his mouth and played a single note. He put his bag sideways on the stage and, obediently, the seven little figures marched towards the opening and disappeared inside. Snow White, similarly, walked towards the bag and with a final wave towards the audience, simply disappeared inside. Arthur picked up the bag and took a little bow. All four judges were standing applauding with the audience.
Simon Growl was visibly shaken. When he could, at last be heard, he said, “Arthur! When I saw you, I thought you were going to be yet another boring, failed magician, but what you did today was absolutely fantastic. I just can not understand how you did it. I could see those little figures only a short distance away and they were certainly not pieces of paper.” He shook his head in bewilderment. “Absolutely fantastic”!”
Amanda Wholesome was equally enthusiastic. “I am truly shocked. I just don’t know how you did it.”
David Smalliams, unusually, was lost for words. “I think I must be dreaming. Things like this just do not happen in real life.”
The intrepid trio voted unanimously, for Arthur to be included in the semi-finals.
Kimberley was spellbound by this performance and asked, “How did he do that, Daddy?”
“I wish I knew. It must have been an illusion of some sort, but it is baffling.”
The week of the semi-finals had arrived and the forty acts lucky enough to reach this stage had moved to London for what could be the most important week of their lives. There were many dancing groups, singers, acrobats, an impressionist, a comedian and, of course, Arthur, the Magician, all hopeful of achieving stardom by winning the final in just seven days time.
In their hotel bedrooms, every contestant practiced relentlessly, except for the larger groups who were provided with space in local gymnasiums.
Kimberley, like the others, was told of which day she would be appearing in the semi-finals. Apparently, she was to be the third act on Thursday, the fourth day of the semi-finals. At least it gave her a few more days to rehearse, but, not surprisingly, her nerves were getting the better of her. She knew that she had to be note-perfect and, to make it worse, she had to rehearse two songs in case she was lucky enough to reach the finals.
Kimberley had become friends with Arthur, who, actually said very little, but he did seem to want to help the little girl. When they were in the hotel lounge, one day, he asked, “What is your favourite toy, Kimberley?”
This was easy to answer. For several years, she had had a teddy bear, called Ellie which she carried everywhere. When he heard this, Arthur said, “When you stand on the stage and start singing, just imagine every person in the audience is your teddy bear. Remember to do this and you will be fine.”
Kimberley thought this a funny thing to suggest, but was grateful for the idea. “Thanks. I will try that.”
She was even more surprised when Arthur took a ring off his finger and handed it to her. “Wear this ring when you are performing.”
“But, I can’t accept your ring and, anyway, I’m certain it won’t fit me.”
Ignoring her protestations, he said, “Don’t worry, I have others. Try it on.”
Obediently, she did as he suggested and was amazed to find that it fitted perfectly. When Kimberley looked up, Arthur had gone. She looked again at the ring. It was made of silver, with fine, intricate patterns etched into the outside of the ring.
Her mother appeared and noticed the ring on Kimberley’s finger. “Where have you got that ring from?”
“Arthur gave it to me. I think it is for good luck in the competition.”
“You can’t keep it. You must give it back.”
“I said that I couldn’t accept it, but he insisted. The strange thing is that it fits me perfectly.”
“He seems a very strange guy.”
“I’m certain he’s okay and he is a fantastic magician.”
Over the first three days, Kimberley and her family watched all the acts with great interest, wondering who would manage to reach the final. By the time Thursday arrived, three dance groups, the impressionist, a ten-year old boy singer and an acrobatic group had qualified for the finals. With increasing anxiety, she watched the first two acts and then, it was her turn. She walked onto the stage where Rant and Peck greeted her enthusiastically.
“Just what would reaching the finals mean to you, Kimberley?”
“I want my parents to be proud of me and it would be so fantastic to be in the finals. I just want to do my best and sing like Karen Carpenter.”
“Okay, Kimberley. The stage is all yours.”
As she stood there on the stage, the backing music started and the eleven-year old looked out towards the huge audience. To her astonishment, every seat was occupied with larger versions of her favourite teddy bear. She blinked her eyes, looked again, but the teddies were still there. She tried to ignore this as she had to pull herself together and sing. She put every ounce of effort into the words of “We’ve only just begun”, and hoped, desperately, that she could still perform. The cheers from the audience re-assured her and, glancing sideways, Rant, Peck and all three judges had also transformed into teddy bears. Poor Kimberley was convinced that she was going mad, but, strangely, it did not adversely affect her performance. The instant she ended her song, all teddies were, again, replaced by real people.
The applause was deafening and all judges were standing in tribute to her efforts.
Amanda Wholesome was the first judge to speak. “Kimberley, that was absolutely amazing. During your performance, I closed my eyes and I was convinced that I was listening to Karen Carpenter.”
David echoed her sentiment. “You have such a mature, articulate voice, I find it incredible that you are only eleven.”
The comment from Simon was equally praiseworthy. “This is what this competition is all about. Who would have expected to come across such an incredible voice as yours?” The audience erupted once again, making it difficult for Rant and Peck to continue.
Not surprisingly, when Kimberley told her parents about what she saw while singing, they did not believe her. “It must be the pressure of the competition”, her Dad whispered to his wife.
Kimberley felt certain that wearing Arthur’s ring had been the source of the strange situation, but thought better of mentioning it to anyone else. After all, if it helps her, why not?
Arthur was last of the evening’s acts. As he walked onto the stage, the audience went wild, as memories of his previous magic had been the source of much discussion, not only across Britain, but the whole world.
Simon Growl welcomed the unconventional magician. “Arthur, you know you are a bit of a mystery. Where do you come from?”
Calmly, he replied, “Originally from Ulverston in Cumbria, but I travel around a lot.”
Again, this was such a strange answer, on which Arthur did not wish to elaborate.
“With a talent like yours, you could do great things at Las Vegas. I must admit that I am curious to know how you are going to better your audition, so let’s see what you are going to do, tonight.”
Again, Arthur was carrying his canvas bag. Placing it on the stage, he retrieved something which looked like a round plastic bowl. He placed it upside down in the middle of the stage, picked up his bag and moved to one side of the stage.
The strange, shrill sound of his whistle was heard and then it happened. The bowl began to spin slowly and, as it did so, it began to rise from the stage. Under the bowl could be seen a tiny roundabout, complete with horses rising and falling. Typical fairground music came from the roundabout, but the miraculous thing was that it was steadily increasing in size. Within a minute, it was a full-size fairground ride, complete with loud organ music. The plastic bowl had now become the centre top of the ride. The audience, for once, was stunned into silence.
Arthur walked calmly up to Amanda Wholesome and said, “Amanda, would you like a ride on a horse?”
“Yes, if only to convince me that it is real. I’m certain I must be dreaming!”
Arthur gave his, now familiar, little smile and blew the whistle again. The ride stopped instantly and he took hold of Amanda’s hand and led her to the horse. She gingerly mounted the horse and held tightly onto the pole above the animal.
“Not too fast, please. It’s a long time since I’ve been on one of these things.”
Another whistle and the ride began to move again. By this time the audience was clapping and cheering at this fantastic, strange spectacle.
After a minute or two, the roundabout began to decrease in speed, following yet another whistle. Amanda climbed off the horse and returned to her seat.
Everybody now waited, expectantly, to see how this huge roundabout would be taken off the stage. A final whistle made the roundabout revolve again and, this time, it started to become smaller and smaller. Within thirty seconds, there was just a plain, plastic bowl on the stage. Picking it up, Arthur deposited it back into his bag and gave a little bow.
Amanda was clearly shaken by the experience of being involved in such a performance. “I’m lost for words. I just don’t know how you do it. It is so…” She was struggling for words. “Magical? There is no doubt that you have a great skill.”
“I agree.” David Smalliams, usually so eloquent, was, equally, lost for words. “I have never seen anything like that. You could easily win this competition.”
Simon Growl was stroking his chin, trying to decide just what to say. “I think you are going to win this competition hands down.” Again, a huge roar of agreement came from the audience. “You know, there is something strangely familiar about you, but I can’t put my finger on it. As for the performance, you have convinced me that there is something in magic, after all my doubts.”
Rant nearly forgot to ask the usual question and, after being prompted, asked, “Arthur, what would winning this competition mean to you?”
“I would feel grateful that what I have done has made a difference.” Again, not the typical, emotional answer given by most contestants, but, this was as much as he was likely to say.
There was a real buzz of excitement as the results of the phone vote started coming in. All eight acts were hopeful, but six would be disappointed.
When it came to the time to announce the vote, Rant and Peck built up the tension, as usual, but the whole place erupted when Arthur was announced as the first winner of the evening and definitely going into the final. For the next two acts, it was Kimberley and a dance group. The judges had to decide which of the two acts should go through to the final. David backed the dance group, much to Kimberley’s sadness. It was such a tremendous relief when Amanda and Simon gave their support to Kimberley. A wide smile lit the eleven-year-old’s face as she thanked everybody who had voted for her.
The day of the grand final had arrived and Kimberley was in good spirits, happy to have reached the final. Again, she had been rehearsing all day, but resting her voice at regular intervals.
The audience were wild with anticipation for a good show. Ten, quite different acts would battle to win the coveted prize of one hundred thousand pounds and an appearance at the Royal Variety performance.
When it came to Kimberley’s turn, she wondered what would happen to the audience while she was singing. She still felt it was just in her mind. She began to sing, “Close to you”, putting all her effort into making it sound as perfect as possible.
Again, everybody in the theatre changed into larger versions of her favourite teddy. The strange thing was that it really did help to make her feel more comfortable and relaxed. It was very difficult to avoid laughing out loud, especially when she noticed Rant and Peck, two suited teddies, standing to one side and smiling at her. The audience continued their enthusiasm for her performance and all the judges, now back as people, gave their opinions. All three praised her performance, but she knew that the final decision was down to the viewers.
Simon was particularly praiseworthy, saying, “I think you have a bright future ahead of you, Kimberley and, you know what? In appearance, you remind me of a junior version of Myleen Klass. A superb performance!”
Arthur’s act was last and everybody wondered just what he would do for his final act.
As he stood on the stage, he said, “I know that Simon likes performing dogs, especially if they can do something different, so I hope he and the audience will like this.” As usual, Arthur had been carrying his bag, which he placed on the stage. He then started to pull a couple of poles, much bigger than the bag out of the top. These poles were about two metres tall and this strange magician placed one of them to one side of the stage. Somehow, the pole stayed upright as he let go. He walked across the stage, revealing that there was a cord connecting the two poles. He then returned to the bag and pulled out two equally long ladders. One was attached to each of the poles and with this action, the tightrope was constructed. Still, the audience did not know what to expect. Was Arthur going to climb up to the tightrope?
Next, he pulled what looked like a folded piece of cardboard out of his bag. Unfolding this, he created a little house with a large door on one end. He knocked on the door and stood back, as if waiting for something. Suddenly, the door flew open and three, cute, white terrier dogs ran out of the house. While they ran around the stage, Arthur pulled a drum kit out of his bag and set this up, towards one side of the stage. Two dogs ran up the steps at each end of the tightrope, while the third stood on a little platform at the side of the drum kit. His tail began to wag faster and faster, creating a perfect drum roll as the two dogs started walking towards each other on the tightrope. With a strong paw, the drummer crashed the cymbals at the instant that one of the dogs jumped high into the air, over the other dog, landing perfectly back on to the tightrope. Their act completed, they ran down the steps, joined the other and bowed their heads towards the audience.
After such a spellbinding act, the audience roared their appreciation. Simon Growl’s mouth was wide open, the shock of such a performance making him lose his customary cool.
Finally, the three dogs rushed back into the house, the last one pulling the door closed with his mouth. Arthur folded the house back into a flat piece of board, once again, returning it to his bag. How this, simple-looking bag could fit all these things which were much bigger, was a complete mystery and defied logic. Finally, he took the ladders and poles and, somehow pushed them back into the bag, along with everything else.
Rant and Peck were trying to speak, but could not be heard above the noise from the appreciative audience. All three judges struggled to be heard, but, understandably, were unanimous in their praise of Arthur’s superb performance.
Before they could ask Arthur any questions, he stepped deliberately into the bag, gave one of his familiar little smiles and waved. The audience was suddenly quiet as they watched the mysterious magician slowly shrink, until he had completely disappeared, leaving just the bag on the stage.
Simon could not resist the temptation any longer and walked over to the bag and looked inside. “It’s completely empty!” He rubbed his forehead, indicating his level of confusion.
While all the votes were coming in, Katie Melua, sang one of her songs and the place began to return to a position of normality.
Eventually, Rant and Peck came on to the stage, the results in their hands. After the usual build-up, they came to the crucial moment. “And the winner of Britain’s got something extra, for this year, is … Arthur Jefferson, the magician.”
The audience, once again, erupted in applause, but Peck tried to reduce the level. “Although Arthur has most votes by a long way, we are unable to find him. He literally disappeared after stepping into his bag. In this, somewhat unusual situation, the award must go to the next in level of votes.” He paused, allowing the message to sink in. “Kimberley Raynor is this year’s winner!”
Kimberley could not believe it. She really had won what would be the most unusual contest of all. She ran on to the stage and bowed towards the audience. “I would like to thank everybody who voted for me.”
Finally, Simon came on to the stage. “Congratulations, Kimberley. We are still puzzled as to what happened to Arthur, but I did feel that there was something familiar about him and checked on his name. In full, it was Arthur Stanley Jefferson, whose stage name was Stan Laurel, one half of the comedy duo, Laurel and Hardy. Stan Laurel died in nineteen sixty five, at the age of seventy-four, so, what we have witnessed in this competition was truly magical. I think I need to go and have a lie down, now.”
Kimberley looked at the silver ring on her finger and gave a little smile of satisfaction.
If you have enjoyed this story and would like to find out what happens next for Kimberley, read Part Two (Singing for the Queen).
Copyright J. S. Raynor, 2013, 2017
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