Photo gallery: Dame Judi Dench inspires pupils as she visits Norwich for Young Norfolk Arts Festival launch

PUBLISHED: 11:04 21 June 2013 | UPDATED: 11:04 21 June 2013

Dame Judi Dench surrounded by schoolchildren at Norwich cathedral during her visit to the city.  Photo: Bill Smith

Dame Judi Dench surrounded by schoolchildren at Norwich cathedral during her visit to the city. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2013

She is one of the best-loved stars of Britain’s acting royalty, as hugely popular with James Bond fans as she is with Shakespeare enthusiasts, and she has a CV that could double as an impressive encyclopaedia of some of Britain’s best shows and films from the past six decades.

New arts festival for young people

Norwich’s historic castle was the backdrop for the launch of a new festival championing the creative talent of the next generation of rising stars.

The Young Norfolk Arts Festival, which is supported by the EDP, was celebrated last night ahead of the festival’s entertainment programme starting on Friday and running until July 7.

The launch followed an afternoon of excitement when Dame Judi Dench visited the city to find out more about the festival. Steffan Griffiths, headmaster of Norwich School and YNAF committee chairman, said: “The festival is a new venture and we wanted to make our mark, and who better to help us do that than Dame Judi who is a great champion of the arts and particularly the opportunities it provides for young people.”

He urged people to join in with the festival, which he hopes will be the first of many. “Classical music, pop music, theatre, dance, art, creative writing, reading – there’s something for everyone!” he said.

Painter and former Norwich School pupil Gerard Stamp said: “The culture of this city is a fantastic environment to launch something like the festival. When I left school in 1972 there was nothing like the YNAF so there’s a little bit of schoolboy envy!”

Festival highlights include Norwich School’s Gala Night of Magical Dreams at the Theatre Royal on Friday, and a Norwich Sound and Vision Live Showcase at Epic Studios on Sunday, June 30.

See or call 01603 728469 for details.

And yesterday Dame Judi Dench, accompanied by her partner David Mills, paid Norwich pupils a visit to share some of her wisdom and find out about the new Young Norfolk Arts Festival on the day of its launch.

Dame Judi, whose partner is a family friend of Norwich School headmaster Steffan Griffiths, said they had a “perfect journey” to Norwich in the morning, arriving shortly after midday, and that she enjoyed talking to the pupils from the moment she arrived. She said she had been delighted to be asked to visit by Mr Griffiths.

“It was the excuse, A, to come to Norwich, wonderful, and B, to meet a lot of children which I love, and also this whole Young Norfolk Arts Festival which seems to me a very, very good idea to do now when people are finishing their exams and want to kick their feet in the air a bit. It’s a lovely time, a perfect time for a festival,” said Dame Judi, who previously visited Norwich when she appeared in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Theatre Royal.

Dame Judi spent the afternoon in Cathedral Close, enjoying lunch with some of the Norwich School pupils before taking part in a question and answer session in Norwich Cathedral with about 300 pupils from Norwich School, Open Academy, Wymondham High, Norwich High School, Notre Dame High School and City Academy Norwich.

The Dean of Norwich, the Very Rev Graham Smith, started the question time and then pupils asked Dame Judi about everything from the differences between stage and screen acting to whether she had ever suffered from stage fright to her favourite role in a Shakespeare play.

When asked about advice for budding actors, she told the students they needed incredible energy, a bit of luck, and should go see as many plays as they could.

Also during the Q&A she inspired the students by talking about her particular love for stage acting and her passion for Shakespeare, and even gave a short impromptu recital of an excerpt from Macbeth.

At the end of the session the excited audience members crowded around for autographs and photos with the star, who was only to happy to oblige.

Norwich School pupil Isabelle Nicholls, 17, who led the Q&A along with fellow students Lasith Ranasinghe, 16, and Marcus Bell, 17, said: “It’s going to be a story I will tell for years.”

Marcus added: “She was so warm and welcoming and so engaging, it was as if you were talking to an old friend. I just think it’s fantastic that she came to visit.”

Afterwards Dame Judi enjoyed watching Norwich School pupils rehearse Much Ado About Nothing, which is one of the events of the Young Norfolk Arts Festival.

Dame Judi, who has performed in and also directed Kenneth Branagh in a production of the play, appeared absolutely enthralled in the pupil’s performance, describing their work as “remarkable”.

“It was so good I want to see the rest of it,” she said, before sharing some of her wealth of experience with the cast.

Gussie Urquhart, 16, who plays Beatrice, said: “It was a bit daunting performing in front of Dame Judi, but she is such a lovely lady. I found it really exciting and was extremely honoured.”

Tom Chamberlain, 17, who plays Benedick, said: “It was certainly one of the highlights of my school life, of my life so far.”

Next Dame Judi visited Norwich Castle where she was shown around exhibitions of work by John Sell Cotman, and former Norwich School student Gerard Stamp, of whose work Dame Judi is a big fan.

As Mr Stamp showed Dame Judi his work she described one of his paintings of Norwich Cathedral as “sublime” and drew gasps in wonder at another painting of Castle Acre Priory.

“What a lovely day I have had,” Dame Judi said as she left Norwich Castle and said her goodbyes to our fine city.

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