Black Tie gala 2021

As if dealing with the fallout from COVID-19 wasn’t enough when planning the event, in the week prior to it the Great British public went on a fuel panic buying spree and the weather was bad enough to prevent some guests from travelling on the day itself. But, despite all the turmoil, the postponement from 2020, lack of fuel in the forecourts and the weather, the first Black Tie gala in aid of the Hawker Typhoon Preservation Group was a great success.

The fuel situation did unfortunately cause a number of guests to drop out at the last minute, but at the same time most planned successfully for the journey and guests arrived from as far afield as Aberdeen and Devon. The venue was the airspace hangar on the IWM site, Duxford. Transformed for the evening, with the aircraft exhibited in the museum highlighted in magnificent lighting, the guests were wowed from the moment they entered. A common comment across the evening was “the venue is incredible”. Guests were served champagne on arrival, and then meandered around the up lit aircraft, making their way to Concorde, where dinner would be served. Some guests shared memories of flying particular aircraft types in the museum, some having even flown the specific examples present!

The host for the evening was Mike Ling, former Red Arrows pilot and longest serving team member. Lingy was a fantastic host, seamlessly knitting all the elements of the night together and keeping the guests informed throughout. Following the Champagne reception and an opportunity to meet guests and discuss the project, amongst other things, it was time for the three course meal. The Concorde wasn’t just the backdrop for this meal, it was the rooftop. The food, which was another element of the evening drawing much positive praise, was served to tables directly underneath Concorde – is there a better place to have your meal at an aviation themed charity event?

The overall aim of the evening was, of course, fundraising. This point was touched upon by project director Sam Worthington-Leese in his speech during dinner. Not only that, as those who are connected to him on LinkedIn noticed, but a brief outline of the project, who we are, what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. As well, naturally, as thanks to a number of people who had played a part in making the event possible. A vast amount of work and effort went into pulling off this event. It was postponed, then cancelled, then re-planned due to COVID-19 and the ongoing restrictions; venue, entertainment, media, food, place settings, lighting, auction, partners, and of course – guests! Every element of the planning of this event, from the project side, was facilitated by a volunteer, someone working on the project around their own job, family, and life; it is not an easy task. The project coordinator was Suzie Spreckley, and during his speech Sam thanked her especially for all the effort in drawing everything together, and presented her with a gift from the project, as a small token of thanks for everything she had done to make the event a success.

Throughout the evening a silent auction was running, and after the three course meal the live auction took place. Charity Fundraising Auctions were the partners for this part of the event, and the auctioneer was known to many of the guests as the voice of the multi award winning TV advert for John Smith’s Bitter starring Peter Kay – “top bombing!”. The headline live auction lot was a Battle of Britain fighter experience courtesy of the Duxford based Aerial Collective, the closest thing to a dogfight in a Spitfire vs a Bf109 it is possible to experience. Also up for auction was a pristine collectors’ edition of the SAS War Diaries which was kindly donated for the evening; a 20” (unsmoked) cigar belonging to Winston Churchill which ignited a lively father vs son bidding war; an after dinner speech by WWII Mosquito pilot, Colin Bell; limited edition signed Battle of Britain book courtesy of project ambassador James Holland; bespoke drinks cabinet featuring material from RB396; a tasting menu dinner party with your own private chef, for ten people, which ended up selling twice; and lots more. There were also some excellent lots up for grabs in the silent auction, including a holiday, and many items kindly donated to the project for the auction including adrenaline flight experiences, more sedate flying experiences, a Lancaster taxi experience, Red Arrows signed merchandise, a luxury B&B getaway, sporting memorabilia, jewellery, a photography day and much, much more. It is fair to say there was something for everyone.

Despite the slightly lower number of guests than planned, due to the fuel situation, the auction elements of the evening raised just over £20,000 profit for the project. Special mention must be made of table seven, who were responsible for well over half of that figure! This is a great amount, and when combined with the other elements of the evening, such as the raffle administered by partners Aces High and drawn by Colin Bell, it will allow the team to move the project forward towards the ultimate end goal of funding the airworthy rebuild of Hawker Typhoon RB396.

Perhaps the highlight of the evening, certainly for many of the team, was the after dinner Q&A with WWII Typhoon pilot veteran, Bernard Gardiner, who had joined us for the evening from Jersey, with his grandson Matt to whom we are very grateful for delivery him safely. Bernard took to the stage, slightly later than planned, after dinner with project director Sam for a talk about his time in the RAF during WWII. Having got to know Bernard over the years, and having some “steers” from Matt, Sam teased out some gems from Bernard, who is typical of his age group and has to gently be opened up to allow the stories to flow. He entertained the guests, and had a room full of laughter at times, as he recalled how his unauthorised aerobatic “self-teaching” during his elementary flying training on the Tiger Moth actually led to him being selected to fly fighters, and, how he was authorised on one occasion to go low flying not below 200’ and somehow managed to find the “only 200’ high Hawthorn tree in the UK”, whilst showing off to Land Army girls in the adjoining field…. Following this, there was a standing ovation for Bernard, and Colin stepped forward to the stage to shake his hand, it was a very special moment.

The event was a resounding success. It raised a significant sum of money, and showcased the team and the project in exactly the kind of environment and light that they deserve. Everyone in the room had a wonderful evening, and many are already enthused about next year’s event. This year’s gala was the first event of its kind that we have held, to have executed such a high level event, with everything going on in the world that could easily have prevented it from happening, is testament to the team in place. Following a short break, planning for next year’s gala will begin in earnest. We expect, after the success of this year’s event, for demand to be strong. Project supporters receive first notification of events such as this, as well as helping the project with the subscription contributions. Tickets for next year’s event will be released to supporters first, if you would like to be the first in the queue to obtain tickets and are not already, please consider becoming a supporter. Packages commence from just £25 per year, Platinum supporters receive tickets at a “buy one get one free” rate, and Diamond supporters receive a pair of complimentary tickets, every year.

We would like to thank everyone who played a part in this event, on the project team, but also all the partners who enabled the event and facilitated certain sections of it, especially those that contributed their time at a reduced or complimentary rate, those who sponsored elements, donated auction lots and of course those guests who supported the event, many of whom carried their tickets over from 2020’s event which was cancelled as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.