16 March 2021
This was the first ever virtual OA event, organised in place of the Annual OA Dinner on Saturday 6 March 2021 as this had to be cancelled due to the COVID 19 pandemic.The event attracted 130 online bookings and promised a programme of live entertainment, with poetry, magic and opera, a question-and-answer session, an Aldenham quiz, cocktail making and a tour of the recently completed Aldenham Prep School – Vincent House.James James-Crook, President, compered the evening welcoming OAs as they joined from computers around the world. He introduced an eclectic mix of content to amuse and entertain the audience, in a way that had never been done before by the OA Society announcing that this was “history in the making!”.To start the evening two current members of the Common Room, Luke Harding (CR2019-Present), Assistant Head, and Al Stewart (CR2017-Present), read poetry created by current students. The poems were written in response to Amanda Gorman’s ‘The Hill We Climb’ and set the scene for an impressive evening. Tom Weil (K1997-2004) was then ready to impress with his mind reading and magic skills from his home in Adelaide, South Australia, but sadly was left waiting in the wings by Microsoft Teams! Tom enjoyed the show as a viewer instead and promises to come back another time. April Koyejo (P2008-10) was another victim of Microsoft Teams email incompatibility and was not able to join us to personally introduce her performance of Je dis que rien n’empouvante from the opera Carmen. Fortunately, April, who is a Jette Parker Link Artist for the Royal Opera, had pre-recorded the piece which was played and enjoyed.James James-Crook moved the evening on by introducing members of the Q & A panel, which included James Fowler, Headmaster and CEO of the Aldenham Foundation, Clare Yeabsley (K1988-90), Director at McCarty London, Housemaster’s wife, McGill’s, with 4 children at Aldenham, Dr Nick Schindler (K1998-2005), consultant Paediatrician, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital and David Bott (CR2007-12), Director at the Institute of Positive Education, Melbourne, Australia. It was fascinating to hear the responses from each of them as to how prepared they were professionally and personally for a worldwide pandemic, how they coped with various challenges, what lessons were learnt and what they would do differently in future. Unfortunately David Bott was unable to connect as a presenter but he has agreed to come back and speak to OAs another time. OAs were sending in their own questions via the Q & A facility, demonstrating their engagement with this activity and whilst there wasn’t enough time to answer them all it shows that there is a desire to stay connected to this unique community.The next element of the evening was an Aldenham quiz, ably presented by Mike Yeabsley (CR2008-Present), Housemaster, McGill’s. Viewers were asked to send in their answers, which many did and a winner, James Jarvis (M2006-13) was duly selected, over Molly and Trevor Barton (K1971-75), who it was felt had an unfair advantage, due to their positions held at Aldenham, as former Development and OA Manager and current Chair of Governors! James will be sent a coveted (by McGillian's), McGill’s bow tie as a prize.Chris Stern (P1973-78) was the last OA waiting in the wings. Chris was dressed and prepared to demonstrate the mixing of a Vesper Martini. Viewers were left to follow the recipe themselves as Chris was unable to pass the Microsoft security gates! We will do this next time.Whilst sipping cocktails (those who had been able to follow the recipe provided in advance), the audience were taken on a live tour of the recently completed Vincent Building Development by Vicky Gocher, Headmistress, Aldenham Prep School. It was great to be the first people to see inside this magnificent facility, which was ready to welcome the children back to school the following week. A pre-recorded video provided extra highlights and daylight footage of the new Prep School and the outdoor learning areas it provides. Finally, Sam Austin (CR2011-19) played Jerusalem on the organ at Bridlington Priory to end the evening, while OAs sang along at home and enjoyed iconic views from Aldenham and images of the beautiful School site through the seasons.James James-Crook did a fantastic job of holding the event together despite the refused entry of four of the OA presenters. There were a few technical hitches and the loss of wi-fi signal at times but James continued undaunted. It was an ambitious and interesting exercise, a challenge that the OA Society rose to admirably and it has set a precedent for more, similar events that can be broadcast around the world.