‘It’s like having a broken heart’ – how the Thursford Christmas Show’s director feels when the curtain falls

John Cushing at the Thursford Collection, after another Christmas season has finished. Picture: Matthew Usher. John Cushing at the Thursford Collection, after another Christmas season has finished. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013
6:30 AM

Thursford impresario John Cushing spends his entire year planning for Christmas – so how does he feel when the show is finally over? ROSA MCMAHON reports.

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He must be one of the only people in the world who spends 12 months of the year thinking about Christmas.

But this man is not Santa Claus – he is John Cushing, impresario of the Thursford Spectacular.

In March he is blocking out the sounds of springtime birds as he tries to imagine a seasonal on-stage sequence, and by July he is hand-picking his favourite festive jingles.

But when the final curtain falls, Mr Cushing described the feeling as “like having a broken heart”.

The show’s 74-year-old director, producer and founder starts planning in January for the extravagant 
explosion of colour, sound and 
festivity in the village near Fakenham – and he said it was a daunting experience.

“It’s a blank sheet of paper and I have to create something that will last two and a half hours,” he said.

“Inspiration comes at different times. But I have every radio and TV on in the house all the time, just for some sound, because it can feel like a lonely old world.

“You get pangs of self-doubt, and worry if people like your ideas. But I am always looking and listening for inspiration.”

And, having spent every day for 37 years seeking that inspiration for the following year’s live, bright and fast show which attracts audiences from as far as America and Australia, Mr Cushing said when it was all over for another year, it was a great loss.

“After Thursford there is an extremity of emotions,” he said.

“There is enjoyment of getting through a wonderful show with everyone keeping well and happy. But as with all elations there’s a feeling that what’s just happened will never take place again with the same people.

“It’s like having a broken heart, losing a job, or having something you love taken away.”

The stage show’s popularity has snowballed from its humble beginnings in the 1970s with eight choral scholars from the King’s College Cambridge choir visiting Thursford on Christmas Eve.

It is now one of the biggest sell-out Christmas shows in Europe, attracting record numbers this year of almost 200,000 visitors.

But once the 400 members of staff and cast have left on December 23 after 45 days of matinee and evening performances, Mr Cushing said he could not return to the empty grand auditorium.

Instead he visits the grave of his parents George and Minnnie Cushing, who brought him up on the Thursford site.

“I do punish myself by coming back to Thursford,” he said. “Everyone has gone and it is so quiet and empty.

“But that is when I remember that it is the energy of the place that I love, and the memories I have there. Especially of my parents and the memories of my mother making the Christmas pudding every year.”

The final performance for this year’s Thursford show was staged yesterday.

Yet for Mr Cushing, his wife and two sons, despite their spectacular on-stage creation, Christmas Eve is the most special day of the season in their home. Together they light candles all over the house, have four Christmas trees fully decorated, leave out treats for Father Christmas and stay up until 3am.

On Christmas Day Mr Cushing reads the letters sent to him by visitors, and responds personally to every one.

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