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Singer Dame Sarah Connolly pulls out of the Proms

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Christopher Pledger

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The singer said she hoped to return to the stage soon

Dame Sarah Connolly has pulled out of performances at English National Opera and the BBC Proms after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The mezzo-soprano, who was made a dame in 2017, said “imminent surgery” left her unable to attend the concerts.

“I hope, however, to fulfil all of my other concert and recording commitments over the coming months,” she added.

The star’s illustrious career has included appearances at Glyndebourne and the Last Night of the Proms.

She had been due to star in the ENO’s Orpheus and Eurydice, which is choreographer Wayne McGregor’s opera directing debut, this October.

Alice Coote will step in to play the role of Orpheus, while Julie Boulianne will now take her place at the BBC Proms, singing Berlioz’s The Childhood of Christ.

Born in County Durham in 1963, Dame Sarah studied piano and singing at the Royal College of Music, of which she is now a fellow. She was made a dame in 2017.

As a soloist, she became known as a singer of opera’s so-called “trouser” roles – women playing boys or men – and got her big break playing Handel’s petulant emperor Xerxes in Nicholas Hytner’s English National Opera production in 1998.

She’s sung at the Metropolitan Opera, the Opéra national de Paris and the Teatro Réal in Madrid, and poked fun at her masculine roles by singing Rule, Brittania! dressed as an Admiral of the Fleet at 2009’s Last Night of the Proms.

In a statement announcing her temporary withdrawal from the stage, Dame Sarah said: “Last month, I had an unwelcome birthday present, breast cancer.

“Like so many women afflicted with this disease, I will face whatever is coming as best I can.

“I’d like to thank the BBC Proms and the ENO for their kindness and understanding, and I look forward to working with them both in the near future.”

In response, the BBC Proms said: “We at the Proms all wish Sarah well and are thinking of her at this difficult time.”

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Emmerdale actress Sheila Mercier dies aged 100

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Sheila Mercier was part of the first ever episode of Emmerdale Farm

Emmerdale actress Sheila Mercier has died aged 100, ITV has confirmed.

The Hull-born star played Annie Sugden in the soap from its first episode in 1972 until 1994 and continued to make guest appearances up until 2009.

The British Soap Awards remembered Mercier – who was the sister of actor Brian Rix – as the “very definition of a matriarch”.

Claire King, who plays Kim Tate in Emmerdale, has described Mercier as the soap’s “beating heart”.

A spokeswoman for ITV confirmed Mercier’s death in a statement on Friday night.

She said: “It’s always sad to hear of the death of an actor who played a significant part in Emmerdale’s success.

“Even more so when that actor was in the very first episode and around whose family the show was built.”

Emmerdale actor, Mark Charnock, also paid tribute to Mercier.

Charnock, who plays Marlon Dingle, said: “The great Sheila Mercier has left us. What an iconic character Annie Sugden was.

“Used to watch it with my grandparents as a boy, so to meet her in later years was a thrill.”



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John Lennon’s sunglasses sell for £137,000

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The glasses of John Lennon (with Yoko Ono and Paul McCartney) formed a distinctive part of his image

A pair of John Lennon’s sunglasses have sold for £137,500.

The Beatles star left the round-rimmed glasses in the back of Ringo Starr’s Mercedes in the summer of 1968.

Former chauffeur Alan Herring, who sold them at auction at Sotheby’s in London, said he noticed at the time that they were damaged.

“I asked John if he’d like me to get them fixed for him. He told me not to worry they were just for the look,” he said.

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Sotheby’s

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The green-tinted sunglasses were missing a screw but Lennon said they were “just for the look”

Mr Herring said he never did get them fixed. They were sold to an unnamed bidder on Friday.

The sale included other Beatles’ memorabilia, including a necklace with cowbells worn by George Harrison, which sold for £10,000.

“For my family’s sake, it makes sense for me to say goodbye to my collection now while I can still tell all the stories behind everything,” he said.



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Yola: From ‘house screamer’ to four-time Grammy nominee

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“It’s unreal. Surreal. I was crying intermittently for 24 hours when I found out.”

British singer Yola says her phone and Insta messages “blew up” when she realised she had four nominations for the 2020 Grammys.

Alongside Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, that’s the most of any British artist including big names like Lewis Capaldi and Ed Sheeran.

She’s up for Best New Artist with other breakout acts of the year including Lil Nas X, Lizzo and Billie Eilish.

However, despite being nominated in a new talent category, the singer says it’s been a long journey to get where she is now.

“It’s been a struggle,” she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat, backstage before her recent gig in London.

Yola describes herself as a “genre-fluid artist” who takes soul, rock ‘n’ roll, country and pop, and blends it with sounds of the 1960s and 1970s.

What emerged from that musical melting pot was Walk Through Fire – her debut album which was released in February.

“When people care about what you’re doing for yourself, it’s very validating. I had those times when I was told no-one wanted to hear me or they wanted to hear the person next to me. It hurt every time.”

Over the years, she’s gone through the highs and lows of the music industry.

‘Complete belief’

She was in the band Phantom Limb (under her full name Yolanda Quartey) but also experienced homelessness and slept on friends’ couches and mattresses.

She also had to deal with numerous people telling her she wouldn’t make it as a solo artist and to give up her dream.

To conquer it, she says took “complete belief” that she could be successful.

“I can sing a song. I can write a song. I have confidence in those two skills. If someone says they have a problem with that I can say they’re wrong – as clearly as night is night and day is day.”

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David McClister

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After Elton John said he was a fan, Yola has just released a cover of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Years before, she had a career as (what she calls) a “house screamer”, providing vocals on anthems such as Chase and Status’s Blind Faith and Duke Dumont’s Won’t Look Back.

She was a touring vocalist with Massive Attack and her samples were used on Chemical Brothers’ tracks. But that genre wasn’t her passion.

“I mean… you could wear an outfit looking like Ronald McDonald. But that doesn’t mean you want to dress like that all the time does it?”

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ALYSSE GAFKJEN

Instead, to pursue the music she wanted to make, she went to the home of country music – Nashville. It’s a city which she says is “far more influential than a lot of people are aware.”

“When you go there to work and you say you’re a musician, people look at you like you just told them you’re a doctor. It’s serious business.”

Initially, Nashville was intimidating for her because there was “a legend in every studio”.

“It took me a little while to get over the fear thing. I really wasn’t embodying that stereotype of the strong black woman. Instead, I was the terrified black woman.”

Image copyright
ALYSSE GAFKJEN

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Yola and The Black Keys’ lead singer Dan Auerbach, who produced her debut album, Walk Through Fire

She’s also been nominated in the Best Americana Album category for Walk Through Fire. The album received pretty glowing reviews when it was released, with one critic at NPR calling it the work “of an artist sure to stun audiences for years to come”.

It was produced by the Black Keys’ lead singer Dan Auerbach. Opening track, Faraway Look, is also nominated for Best Americana Roots Song and Best Americana Roots Performance.

Yola says her success is down to “a lot of work and a lot of figuring out who I am,” and reckons nobody should be happy being pigeonholed.

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Getty Images

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Yola currently lives between Nashville (pictured) and Bristol

Asked what she says to the people who doubted her: “One… You’re a muppet. Two… you’re a muppet. And three… guess what you are!”

Now she’s making it big, Yola’s had messages from some of those who said she wouldn’t get anywhere.

“Everyone’s got short term memories,” she says.

“It’s insane but it’s conditioning. They don’t realise they’re sexist. They just don’t have any female friends or work with any females. They don’t realise they have cognitive bias on issues of race. They just don’t have any friends of colour.

“You don’t realise you have these problems until you end up having to call on them in some way, or call on their support… not even to do anything, just to not be down on you for trying to live your best life.

“That’s all any of us are trying to do… live our best darned lives.”

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