Lucy Parham’s celebrated Word/Play series comes to Kings Place on 7 December for a very special Celebrity Christmas Gala starring the likes of Alistair McGowan, Katie Derham and Niamh Cusack. Mark Kebble finds out more

Lucy Parham first came to public attention as the Piano Winner of the 1984 BBC Young Musician of the Year. Since her Royal Festival Hall concerto debut at the age of 16, she has played throughout the UK as concerto soloist with most of the major British orchestras and is a frequent recitalist at the Wigmore Hall.

Her life-long passion for the music of Schumann inspired the original concept of the words and music evening, Beloved Clara, and these musical portraits have gone on to tour the UK and abroad. On Sunday 7 December her latest series begins at Kings Place with a Celebrity Christmas Gala starring the likes of Edward Fox, Niamh Cusack, and Alistair McGowan.

We shall come on to the Celebrity Christmas Gala soon, but it’s 30 years since you were the Piano Winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. What do you remember about that?

Yes, 30 years – that’s pretty scary! I remember it really clearly because it was the biggest experience of my life. It’s a big thing today, but I remember being really terrified as it was live on TV and there were less channels in those days. But it was a huge boost to my career because I got so much recognition. It’s still a big competition and it has changed a lot of people’s careers.

We would be here for some time going over every aspect of your career since, but if you had to pick out a couple of highlights, what would they be and why?

Oh my gosh… [Thinks for a moment] I went to the US for six weeks as a soloist with the BBC Concert Orchestra a few years ago when it was their 50th anniversary. It was a really fun tour, but a challenge as we were playing every night. Then last year one of my words and music shows went to LA with Martin Jarvis and that was fun – to go to LA and be put up in the Beverly Hills Hotel…

Tell me about how you came up with the words and music concept…

There are two things. I have always really loved going to the theatre, probably slightly more than going to a concert. I always used to talk a lot in my solo concerts – I sometimes read the letters the composers had written to their lovers. The audience used to say to me it was really interesting, so I began reading more and more and playing less and less. I decided I couldn’t continue reading as I am not an actor, so it came out of me talking too much!

My first one was about Schumann and his wife Clara 12 years ago now and then people started asking if I would be putting another one on. So to be honest it was not particularly planned! Like all the best things in life, I didn’t set out to do it. One became two, two became four…

Why have audiences embraced it?

It’s a nice combination. I would love to sit in the audience! The whole thing of being read to and learning something, and combining that with music… I have just come away from watching [the film] Mr Turner. That wasn’t him, but I feel I have learnt a bit more about his life – and not in a lecture kind of way either.

So many famous names have got involved over the years. Why do they love it so much?


Lucy Parham’s Word/Play series has attracted a host famous names to participate

Ten or so years ago I didn’t know any actors! I think they really enjoy doing it. We get to go to some really good venues, like Wigmore Hall, and actors enjoy doing that. Many have become good friends – there’s a certain sense of camaraderie about jumping on a train and heading up to somewhere like Scotland to perform.

This year’s Celebrity Christmas Gala has a great line-up including The Angel resident’s very own Rosie Millard…

Rosie came to see it last year. I found out she played the piano, so I asked her if she would do it and she said yes. It’s not their job [to play on stage] so it’s probably a terrifying thing to do.

Some of the other participants are the same as last year, but we have some new additions. James Naughtie wasn’t there last year; Richard Sisson is a composer who has written narration that brings all the pieces together; Joanna David is going to be the Christmas fairy… It’s all going to be fun and light-hearted, something for all the family.

What do you make of Kings Place as a venue?

I think it’s such a beautiful venue and I wish more people knew about it. I still think it’s not quite on people’s radars, but it’s fantastic. The hall itself is the perfect size and the venue is so nice you can end up staying in the restaurant or café/bar.

You live locally too I believe – are there lots of great music venues around you?

Yes, I live on the N1/EC1 border. But, yes, 100% about there being great music venues. There’s a whole new 600-seater concert hall at the Barbican, which is joint run by the Barbican and the Guildhall School of Music. There’s so much on at the Barbican. Then you have Kings Place, the wonderful Almeida where I have done these shows three times… Anyone who lives in our area is spoilt for choice.

Lucy Parham’s Word/Play concert series begins at Kings Place on 7 December. For tickets, call 020 7520 1490 or visit

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