KING CHARLES III’S PLACE IN HISTORY

Upon the death of the longest-reigning monarch in British history on September 8, 2022, Charles who was the Prince of Wales and the heir to the throne, became King Charles III. He is the first king to be called Charles since the seventeenth century, and to say that King Charles I and II had mixed success is a real understatement. In fact, this might be the reason that it took a few centuries until the name was once again given to the heir to the throne by the late Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip.

Looking back at English royal history, Charles I ascended to the throne in 1625 and slowly but surely alienated his subjects. In the first year of his reign, Charles offended his Protestant subjects by marrying Henrietta Maria, a Catholic French princess. He later responded to political opposition to his rule by dissolving Parliament on several occasions and in 1629 decided to rule entirely without Parliament. In 1642, the bitter struggle between King and Parliament for supremacy led to the outbreak of the first English civil war. The Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, fought the Royalists in many bloody battles.  By 1648, King Charles I surrendered, was convicted of treason and then beheaded early the next year. Many Americans do not know that the English monarchy was abolished and for a period of about ten years, there was a Republic known as the English Commonwealth.

However, the English people soon became sick of the restrictions Cromwell placed on them. He banned all celebrations, feasting, football, the theatre, dancing, and finally Christmas festivities. People were instructed to wear very plain clothes, with women in particular required to wear modest dresses, linen caps or black hoods.  Make up was outlawed. Many people hated this ‘no fun’ regime especially after Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 when his son Richard took over.  Richard’s rule did not last long, and by the following year he had fled to France and the monarchy was restored. Oliver Cromwell was posthumously convicted of treason, and his body was disinterred from its tomb in Westminster Abbey and hanged from the gallows in London.  King Charles II, the son of Charles I, returned to London on his 30th birthday and was crowned in in 1660. He quickly restored all the fun activities that had been banned under Cromwell and personally indulged in plenty of earthly pleasures.  He reigned for 25 years but his wife, the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza was unable to bear him children and suffered many miscarriages. However, the King had an extensive number of mistresses and left at least 14 illegitimate children.

Turning back to the present day, the coronation of King Charles III will take place on May 6, 2023 at Westminster Abbey in London.  Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Queen Consort, will be crowned in the traditional ceremony, which the palace said “will reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future.”  At 73 years of age, King Charles III has had 70 years to prepare for his new role and the general consensus seems to be that his is doing OK so far. Things are already changing, from the symbolic phasing out of the image of Queen Elizabeth II from currency, stamps, post (mail) boxes to the change of the national anthem from God Save the Queen to God Save the King. Most royal watchers agree that the new King will ‘slim down’ the monarchy.

King Charles is expected to continue to ostracize his brother Prince Andrew and give greater recognition to his other two siblings, Princess Anne and Prince Edward. Of course, his eldest son William has become the new heir to the throne and Prince of Wales with his wife Catherine becoming the Princess of Wales, just as William’s mother Diana was before her tragic death. 

As for his youngest son, the King has publicly declared his love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives in the USA, but clearly there are tensions there. How long this civility will last remains to be seen as Prince Harry has already sparked widespread debate over his choice to name his upcoming memoir ‘Spare’ – a reference to the British saying that a monarch’s key duty is to secure the future of the monarchy by producing “an heir and a spare.” It is reported that the King is concerned about the tone, conflicting memories, and revelations in this book which will be launched in January 2023.  But that is for a future column.

There is more information at www.history.com and www.bbc.com

I say goodbye this week with an insightful quote from King Charles III himself.  “As human beings, we suffer from an innate tendency to judge people too quickly and to pronounce them failures or heroes without due consideration”

God Bless America and God Save The King!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

POLITICAL LEADERS – NOW AND THEN

With the mid-term elections fast approaching, everyone here in the USA is focused on our political leadership. Meanwhile, back in the land of my birth, the UK’s Prime Minister, Liz Truss, resigned after only 45 days in office. During her short time as the country’s political leader, she served under two monarchs, appointed two different Chancellors and two Home Secretaries, and attended the UN general assembly in New York. Her big mistake was to quickly introduce a very aggressive budget, cutting taxes and increasing borrowing against a background of inflation at a 40-year high and rising recession risks.  The markets reacted dramatically, and the British pound fell to its lowest ever level against the American dollar. It was a big gamble at the wrong moment and led to her swift downfall with a new Prime Minister soon appointed. Rishi Sunak, former Treasury chief, was asked by King Charles III to form a government, as is the British tradition. He will be the third Prime Minister this year, the first British leader of color and needs to stabilize the UK after a time of economic and political turbulence.

While this was going on, I happened to be thinking about British leadership during the dark days of World War II. I have long been a fan of the author Erik Larson and a friend recently lent me a copy of his 2020 book, ‘The Splendid and the Vile’. Larson was inspired to write this when he moved to Manhattan a few years ago and realized how different the experience of 9/11 had been for New Yorkers than for those of us who watched the news reports from afar. This made him consider anew how different WWII must have been for the British than for most Americans.

My grandparents fought in the Second World War, and I was raised on reports of when Britain stood alone against Hitler and the rise of Nazism before the USA joined the war in December 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This was two years and three months after England declared war on Germany and eighteen months after France surrendered to the Nazis. It was a long and hard war for the British and Larson’s book focuses on Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister from May 1940 to May 1941. Churchill is revered in the UK as a brilliant and brave wartime leader. Most Brits, like me, believe it is unlikely the British would have held out against the Nazis without Churchill and his leadership. The decisions he made were crucial and, combined with his talent for inspiring and patriotic speeches broadcast by radio across the country, made all the difference to world history.

The challenges Great Britain faced under Churchill were intense and the courage and stoicism he inspired were remarkable. Soon after becoming Prime Minister, the Dunkirk evacuation of the British and Allied troops from this French seaport saved vital numbers of soldiers to fight another day. Many patriotic individuals took their small fishing boats across the English Channel to Dunkirk to join the Royal Navy vessels to rescue as many troops as they could fit onto their boats. Only a few weeks later, the Nazis occupied the British Channel Islands, located between England and France.  

Later that summer, Hitler announced ‘Operation Sea Lion’ to invade Great Britain. First, he ordered the German air force, the Luftwaffe, to establish dominance of the sky but he underestimated the Royal Air Force. Churchill had foreseen the importance of building up military airplanes and training pilots as well as developing an excellent early warning radar system. Having said that, the bravery of the young men who fought the might of the German pilots saved the day. Larson makes the point that they knew that the future of democracy depended on them, and they literally fought for and with their lives.  Churchill summed it up with his memorable speech, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few”. Then came the Blitz – the wholesale bombing of London and other major cities throughout the country by the Nazis. By that time, Hitler had decided to invade Russia in the east and put his invasion of Britain on hold. 

During this terrible year, Churchill was repeatedly in touch with President Roosevelt who was not unsympathetic to Britain’s situation. However, at that time and after the losses of so many American soldiers in World War I, most US citizens wanted to remain neutral. That changed, of course, after the attack on December 7, 1941, and the rest as they say, is history.

Larson is a brilliant author who makes history read like fiction and his research is extensive. He has a real talent for combining personal details and the political landscape to paint a full picture of what it must have been like for Churchill and that generation before me who lived through those dark days. I highly recommend Larson’s book, and there is more information at www.history.com and www.bbc.com

I say goodbye this week with a wise quote from Winston Churchill, in 1940 at the funeral for Neville Chamberlain, his predecessor as Prime Minister: “It is not given to human beings – happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable – to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events.”

God Bless America and Great Britain!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

DO YOU THINK HE’S STILL SEXY? AN EVENING WITH ROD STEWART

A few years ago, my husband and I decided that we should try to see some of the ageing rock stars of our youth while, putting it tactfully, we still could. In other words, before it was too late for either them or us! We made a good start by seeing The Rolling Stones in both Paris and Jacksonville, and my husband bought me a 2019 Christmas gift of tickets for a concert by Rod Stewart and opening act Cheap Trick for the summer of 2020. 

Then of course the pandemic hit, creating a two-year delay! In recent months we have enjoyed concerts by The Eagles and Foreigner in Savannah and, almost three years after buying the tickets, we travelled to Atlanta to see the ageing baby boomer Rod Stewart strutting his stuff!

Rod Stewart was born in January 1945 and although his father was Scottish and his elder four siblings were born in Scotland, by the time Rod arrived they had moved to England where his mother was born and raised. Many people think he is Scottish due to his extensive wearing of plaid (which the British call tartan) and his love of the Scottish football (soccer) team Glasgow Celtic. He also supports Manchester United, the English team. He compares his love of this British national sport to his feelings for girlfriend of two years, the Swedish actress Britt Ekland, immortalized in  his 1977 mega-hit You’re In My Heart: “You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul, you’ll be my breath should I grow old; You are my lover, you’re my best friend.  You’re in my soul.”  Now that is a real soccer fan!

It is fair to say that Rod Stewart was more faithful to football in his earlier years than to the women in his life.  Extensive press coverage of his infidelities over the decades report that Rod’s “type” appears to be tall, attractive, blonde, younger women. After breaking up with Ekland, he married actress and model Alana Hamilton, the former wife of actor George Hamilton, from 1979 to 1984. He had two children with her, Kimberley and Sean, and then after extensively and very publicly playing the field, he went on to marry New Zealand model Rachel Hunter in 1990, and had two more children, Renee and Liam.  Hunter was 21 and Rod was 45 at the time of their wedding and shockingly she left him in 1999, finally divorcing in 2006. He soon met English model Penny Lancaster and they have two sons together, Aiden and Alastair. The two married in 2007 and in spite of a 26-year-old age gap appear to still be happy together. Rod Stewart has a total of eight kids including a daughter with girlfriend Susannah Boffey in 1963 before he became famous, and another daughter, Ruby in 1987, while Rod was dating American model Kelly Emberg.

In addition to his womanizing, Rod Stewart somehow found the time to build his music career during the 1960s and, after singing with the Jeff Beck Group, he released his first solo album in 1969. He was one of the most popular British rock stars of the 1970s and has enjoyed decades of fame, fortune and is a Grammy Award winner. His distinctive raspy voice has been heard in rock and roll, folk music, ballads and frothy pop and disco music. He has maintained his mischievous “working class lad” persona into his seventies, and demonstrated a lot of energy at the Alpharetta Amphitheatre, although he did rely fairly heavily on his outstanding backing singers and band members. In spite of his own advancing years he cheerfully performed his 1971 mega-hit “Maggie May”, the story of a young man trying to tear himself away from a consuming romance with a more mature woman. Rod Stewart combined a solo career with singing in the band The Faces, but this broke up in 1975 when band member Ronnie Wood famously went on to join the Rolling Stones. By 1979, Rod’s sound was pure disco with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rod’s career, like his love life, has had its ups and downs, and his ability to reach the high notes was permanently impaired when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2000. He had to learn to sing again and became active in raising funds for charities to find cures for all types of cancer, especially those affecting children. Just before the pandemic, Rod Stewart revealed that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017 but had received the “all-clear”.

Rod Stewart was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2007 new year list for services to music. Also, the late Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in her 2016 Birthday Honors List for his services to charity and music. With mansions in California and Essex, England, Rod collects luxury cars and model railways and is estimated to be the 12th wealthiest person in the British music industry.  There is a lot more information at www.biography.com

I say goodbye this week with a quote from Hot Rod Stewart himself, one that is very appropriate in these challenging times: “Optimism is my best defense!”.

God Bless America and British rock stars!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

GRAY’S REEF NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY FOUNDATION CELEBRATES NEW OCEAN DISCOVERY CENTER WITH VIP SOIREE IN SAVANNAH – OCTOBER 15

SAVANNAH, GA – OCTOBER 4, 2022 – Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is hosting the “Save Spectacular Celebration” which includes an elegant soirée for members from 4-6pm on Saturday October 15, at the SCAD Pei Ling Chan Gallery in Savannah. This exclusive Soiree invites new and existing members to celebrate the 50th anniversary for national marine sanctuaries and new Gray’s Reef Ocean Discovery Center dedication taking place that day. The Gray’s Reef Ocean Discovery Center is located at 340 Martin Luther King Jr, Blvd in Savannah and is anticipated to open to the public in early 2023. It will offer free programs, activities, and opportunities for residents and visitors to get involved with Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and the local chapter of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

The Gray’s Reef Society Soiree will offer attendees exclusive access to SCAD’s elegant Pei Ling Chan Gallery and Garden for the Arts, live music from the Fabulous Equinox Orchestra, tasty cocktails, divine hors d’oeuvres by The Dive Savannah, ocean-inspired arts on display, and special guests in attendance. All proceeds will support the work of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, a local non-profit partner for NOAA’s Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary and its chief advocate.

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation provides connections to the remote, ocean habitats of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, which is located 19 miles east of Sapelo Island off Georgia’s coast. The local Chapter in Savannah supports programs for community engagement, advocacy, education, and conservation, and engages everyone in protecting our ocean treasures. Tickets to the Soirée are available for $175, which includes an annual membership fee in the Gray’s Reef Ocean Protector Society ($150) and admission to the VIP Soiree ($25). VIP event-access is also available through Keystone Society membership.

Jody Patterson who leads the Gray’s Reef Foundation Chapter said, “Join us for the Gray’s Reef Society Soirée to celebrate the launch of this new visitor center in Savannah. We all recognize the importance of protecting marine life at Gray’s Reef, and this Ocean Discovery Center will engage us all in that work. The Soiree in intended to build our local membership and generate resources in support of the Chapter’s mission; to preserve and protect our pristine Sanctuary. We encourage the community to join us in this mission.” 

For more information, to purchase tickets, become a member of the foundation or make a donation please visit www.graysreeffoundation.org and follow the foundation on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

– ENDS –

For media inquiries and interviews, please contact Lesley Francis at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com or 912-429-3950, Allie Robinson at allie@lesleyfrancispr.com or 912-547-3100 or the team at 912-417-LFPR (5377).

INTRODUCING THE UK’S NEW PRIME MINISTER – LIZ TRUSS

Back in the land of my birth there is an old expression about noticing that you’re getting old when police officers start to look younger.  This resonated with me recently as I realized that the UK’s new Prime Minister is almost a decade younger than me!  Of course, here in the USA I don’t have those kind of worries since our President will be 80 years old this November.

I admit to being rather pleased when, for the third time in history, a woman became Prime Minister in the UK, having won the recent leadership contest to become Leader of the Conservative Party.  Liz Truss follows in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher who was Prime Minister from 1979-1990 and Theresa May from 2016-2019. In the UK there is no general election among citizens to decide who the next Prime Minister will be, as we do here to elect the President of the USA.  That is because the UK has a parliamentary democracy – a form of government in which the party (or a coalition of parties) with the largest representation in the parliament (similar to the House of Representatives) forms the government, with that party’s leader becoming Prime Minister.  So, in simplistic terms, the Members of Parliament (MPs) decide among themselves who will lead them.   If the electorate doesn’t like the Prime Minister, they simply vote that party out at the next general election.

Liz Truss, at the age of 47, replaced Boris Johnson as the UK’s leader of the Conservative party (which is closest to the Republican party here).  It is fitting that another inspirational female leader, Queen Elizabeth II, did her duty until the end by formally inviting the incoming Prime Minister to form a new Government just two days before she passed away.  This ceremony and tradition were so important to the late Queen that Liz Truss flew to the royal residence of Balmoral in Scotland as the Queen was not well enough to travel back to London, the traditional meeting place. Here is an amazing reminder of the Queen’s long reign: Liz Truss, her fifteenth Prime Minister, was born in 1975 and her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was born over 100 years earlier in 1874!  It was also very poignant that one of Ms Truss’ first duties as Prime Minister was, on September 19, to represent the British government by reading a bible passage at the Queen’s funeral in Westminster Abbey.

So what is the story behind the UK’s new ‘Prime Minister, First Lord of Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service, and Minister for the Union’?  Mary Elizabeth Truss was born in Oxford in the South of England, raised in Scotland and then later Yorkshire in the North of England.  Her mother was a nurse and teacher and her father a Professor of Mathematics.   She attended the local comprehensive schools (what Americans call public schools), studied in Canada for a year and then went to England’s top-tier Oxford University.  She started her career as an economist and accountant and then joined the Conservative party.  She met her husband, Hugh O’Leary, in 1997 and they married in 2000.  They have two teenage daughters. 

Her political life began when she was elected as a local councilor in London’s Greenwich in 2006, and then elected as an MP (a “Member of Parliament, which is the UK equivalent of a member of the US House of Representatives) for Southwest Norfolk in 2010. She was one of the first MPs of her “intake year” to enter Government just two years later and rose rapidly up the ranks, serving as Foreign Secretary before her election as Prime Minister.  She is a huge fan of the USA and is committed to cutting taxes, enforcing law and order and cracking down on illegal immigration.  She was very much elected on her own merits, achievements, and policies, and not because of the fact she is female.  As the third female Prime Minister, I think I can safely say the UK has largely moved on from gender-based politics.

Liz Truss faces some pretty tough challenges entering office since Britain’s economy is stagnant, inflation is over 10% and the price of energy is predicted to rise by a massive 80% from a year ago.  The new Prime Minister is committed to cut energy prices and has already made controversial decisions to cut income taxes and property taxes for both citizens and businesses.  She believes that by cutting taxes, her government is “incentivizing businesses to invest and also helping ordinary people….”.  After an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, they reported that “The prime minister embraced a Reagan-style ‘trickle-down’ approach to the economy throughout the Conservative leadership contest, arguing it was wrong to view all economic policy through the ‘lens of redistribution’”.  There is more information at www.elizabethtruss.com and www.bbc.com.

I say goodbye this week with a quote from the new Prime Minister herself: “Britain and the US remain the Wild West for ideas, where pioneers push each other towards ever greater heights in the white heat of free enterprise. No one knows their place, no one fears failure and no one is ashamed of success!”

God Bless America, and go Liz Truss!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

THANK YOU AND REST IN PEACE QUEEN ELIZABETH II

Last week, the world lost a much-loved iconic leader and a massively stabilizing influence. Like most British people, I now feel like a little piece of my heart has gone forever.  Of course, she was 96 years old and logically we knew she could not stay with us always.  But when I heard the news, I felt that the world shifted on its axis and will never be the same again.    The sadness is more intense because – quite simply for almost everyone in Britain, across the Commonwealth, and around the world –  she has always been there.  She was already 40 years old and a mother of four when I was born, but she was steadfast and dutiful and consistent and unchanging.  She was the heart and soul of the UK, and the solid foundation of our long history.

In a speech given on her 21st birthday in 1947, the then-Princess Elizabeth went on the radio and made this promise to post-war Britain and its Commonwealth nations: “My whole life, whether it be short or long, will be devoted to your service.” And so it was to be, right up to the very end.  Two days before her death, she greeted the new British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, and as is the tradition in the UK, asked her to form a government and become prime minister. It was The Queen’s job, her duty, her obligation, and her promise to the British people, and she did it despite the toll it must have taken on her during her last 48 hours on earth. She told us 75 years earlier during that speech that she would always do her duty, and she did it to the end.

Queen Elizabeth II has been consistently true to her words of that 1947 speech, devoting her 70-year reign to her country, her commonwealth nations, and her subjects.  Rarely in history has any leader been more completely, unwaveringly and selflessly devoted to her people.

As monarch, The Queen rose above politics and divisiveness.  She stood firm on the principal of a non-politically aligned monarchy, and always focused on what was best for her subjects.  She constantly promoted goodwill, communication, peace, and making the world a better place. She weathered internal scandals and bad behavior of other members of her royal family, worked with 15 British Prime Ministers, met with 13 of the last 14 US Presidents (somehow LBJ missed out), and guided the monarchy through innumerable changes over her seven decade reign.  She was the longest-serving monarch in British history, and at her passing at age 96 she had been patron to over 800 charitable organizations.  The Queen is currently being mourned by tens of millions of Brits, hundreds of millions across the Commonwealth, and billions around the world.  By some accounts, the Queen was the most popular person in human history. 

I am thankful for the marks of respect given by the other land I love, the USA.  President Joe Biden has announced that he will attend her funeral and said “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was more than a monarch. She defined an era”.   I have been deeply touched by how many American friends have reached out to me to express their sympathy and support for the loss of the Queen.  Many of them really “get” how I feel.  I have even been interviewed on TV and on Georgia Public Broadcasting radio.

So how did it all start? Once upon a time, back in 1926 in the land of my birth, a beautiful princess was born.  This princess was smart, lively, personable, strong-willed and fun.  She and her younger sister were princesses because their grandfather was the King, so their father was The Duke of York, and their slightly older uncle was The Duke of Windsor and in line to be the next King.

When she was just 10 years old, the arc of her life changed in ways she couldn’t completely comprehend as a child.  Her uncle had indeed become King in 1936 but decided later that year that he couldn’t do it.  He didn’t feel he was cut out to be the King, and he was also in love with and wanted to marry an American divorcee, which would have been completely against the 1,000-year-old rules of the monarchy. He therefore abdicated the throne, which is the British phrase meaning he resigned from being King.

So, our princesses’ beloved but very shy father reluctantly had to take on the role and step in and step up to become King George VI, which changed the line of royal ascension over to include our princess, his oldest child.  As a teenager and against her father’s wishes, she joined the armed forces during World War II and worked hard, becoming  a much-admired inspiration to her country during those difficult years.  Britain and the whole world started paying close attention to her.

In 1947, she married her own prince, a British war hero descended from the Greek and Danish royal family who came to England as a child.  He was tall, good-looking, an outdoorsman, a race car driver, a sailor, and a pilot. Prince Philip was a real “man’s man”, and although he was no doubt what today we would call “a handful” during those early years of their marriage, they went on to have four children together, and he became her supportive rock that stood by that young princesses’ side during a 73-year marriage until his death at 99 last year.  Seeing our Queen mourn alone in the chapel, due to COVID-19 restrictions which meant she could not sit close to her family, was heartbreaking and brought millions of us to tears.  But she did not once consider abdication, she just carried on with her job and her commitments…just as she promised.

Back to her life story.  In 1952, while the glamorous young couple were on a royal trip across Africa, the terrible news came:  her much loved father, King George VI, tragically died at the young age of just 52. So that young princess became The Queen.

She took this responsibility at the age of 25 and was an early and  magnificent example of how women can be leaders.  She was inspirational to several generations of young British girls, me included.  She provided a quiet strength, work ethic and dependability, and also had a deep religious faith which sustained her. 

I tearfully say goodbye this week with a quote from the great lady herself, formally known as ‘Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.’  She said back in 2016: “On our own, we cannot end wars or wipe out injustice, but the cumulative impact of thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine”.  

I really do miss her and I am thankful for her life, her contribution to history, and to her impact on me personally.  God Bless America, Great Britain, the Commonwealth, and RIP Queen Elizabeth II 1926-2022.  Thank you, Your Majesty.

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

HE’S STILL STANDING – THANKS TO ELTON JOHN

My discussions with the editor of this newspaper tend to be pretty varied.  They cover the horizon from serious to funny, from the very local to the very international, from books and British TV to music, and lots of things in between.  During one of our email talks, he mentioned the very interesting Tom Cridland, a self-proclaimed British entrepreneur and podcast host, who is currently on a tour of America with his Elton John Tribute band.

Tom’s tour, and much of the journey of his life, has been inspired by 75-year-old Elton John, who is now on his final ‘Farewell Yellow Brick Road’ three year concert tour, which was put on hold for two years due to the pandemic.  The iconic British pop star who was born in the town of Pinner, only two miles away from where I was raised in Greater London, and was christened Reginald Kenneth Dwight.  He changed his name to Elton John long before he found success, and by the 1970s he was the most successful pop artist of his era, collaborating with gifted songwriter Bernie Taupin.  I grew up during the 1970s and 1980s against the background of his music and crazy stage costumes, and I was lucky enough to see him play at Wembley Arena in the early 1980s since this was only a few London Underground rail stations from where I lived. Another memory that most British people have of Elton John is a sad one – playing at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.  He had been a close friend of Diana, and millions of us tearfully watched on live TV as he changed the lyrics of “Candle in the Wind” to “Goodbye England’s Rose”.

Elton John’s piano playing is legendary and he began piano lessons at the age of four, winning a scholarship to London’s Royal Academy of Music at only eleven years old and playing in London pubs during his late teens and early twenties. Success, when it came, was huge.  He has sold over 300 million albums, which includes 50 Top 40 hits and seven consecutive No. 1 hits here in the United States. He has also won five Grammy Awards, five Brit Awards, a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award, a Disney Legends Award and a Tony Award. Elton John has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. He was knighted in 1998 by the Queen for his services to music and philanthropy, especially AIDS research, so is now ‘Sir Elton John’.

However, he has had some major struggles in his life which have been widely reported and documented, not least in the 2019 movie ‘Rocketman’. In the 1970s and 1980s, he suffered from drug and alcohol addiction and bulimia but came through it in one piece.

So back to the journey of Tom Cridland, a fellow Brit and University of Bristol graduate like myself, who has been inspired so deeply by Elton John.  Cridland explains that “Elton’s songs have helped me recover from serious addiction, nearly drinking myself to serious injury and death on a number of occasions”.

Cridland’s story goes like this: “Elton John is my favorite solo artist. I have attended over 30 of his concerts, like a football fan would go to games”.  But Tom used to drink very heavily, and became a danger to himself and obnoxious to those around him.   He used to loudly and constantly play Elton’s latest live rendition of ‘Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting’ on his phone. “Uber drivers can’t have liked this masterpiece as much as me on full volume, as my Uber rating plummeted” he laughs today. “This fandom evolved into endlessly performing this song clad in some novelty glasses at karaoke bars. That karaoke has evolved into writing, singing, recording and now performing professionally.”  He finally made the decision to stop drinking.  “What literally helped me get through each day when I was trying to stop consuming alcohol was listening and playing Elton and Taupin’s timeless songs and making music.  It helped me finally kick the booze. Now I drink 20 herbal teas per day. I’ve lost a lot of friends but I know who the real ones are and I know how unbelievably lucky I am.”

Cridland’s song, Falling off the Rails, caught the attention of the Grammy nominated Philadelphia Soul group The Stylistics, and they invited him to tour with them last month.  Cridland is honoring Elton John’s last concert tour by undertaking one himself, covering every single state in the US, playing covers of Elton’s songs.  There is more information at https://tomcridland.medium.com/ and www.imdb.com.

I say goodbye this week with a quote from Elton John himself: “”The great thing about rock and roll is that someone like me can be a star!”

God Bless America and British rock stars!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

FAREWELL OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN

Like much of the world last week I was very sad to hear of the passing of Olivia Newton John.  I was twelve years old when the iconic movie Grease starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton John was released, and my friends and I were all obsessed with it. I was a well brought up English girl in a traditional and strict all-girls school just outside London, but all of us  had a crush on ‘Danny’ played by Travolta, and we all wanted to be ‘Sandy’ – Newton John’s character.  It all seemed so exciting – not just the 1950s era in which it was set but what we regarded as the glamor of American high school life.  Drive in movies, graduating high school, and not having to wear a boring English school uniform all seemed very cool indeed.  We loved the bright, colorful dresses and pink jackets, and even today I still can’t bear to wear the murky green color from my school’s uniform color, which even extended to itchy green underwear! So my girlfriends and I thought Sandy, Frenchy, Marty, Jan and Rizzo seemed to live fantastically different and exotic lives.

This obviously resonated with a whole generation since Grease became the highest-grossing musical film ever at that time. Its soundtrack album ended 1978 as the second-best-selling album of the year in the USA.

Although Olivia Newton John spent much of her formative years and went to school in Melbourne, Australia, she was actually a British citizen at the time of Grease’s release, so we felt an even greater connection to her.  She was born and lived in Cambridge, England and her parents named her after screen legend, Olivia de Havilland.  She lived in the UK until she was five years old, when her parents decided to emigrate to Australia, although she returned to live in England in her late teens to pursue a career in singing after winning a talent contest in Melbourne.  Olivia did not become an Australian citizen until she was 33 years old and remained a citizen of that country even though she spent most of her life in California after moving to the USA in the mid-1970s.  It was here that she won the role of Sandy in Grease, even though at the age of 29 she was concerned that she was too old to portray a high school student alongside the then 23-year-old Travolta.

Olivia was married twice, firstly to actor Matt Lattanzi, the father of her only child, the singer and actress Chloe Rose Lattanzi.  She met Matt while filming the movie Xanadu which, in my view, was nowhere near as great as Grease!  Newton John also enjoyed success as a singer with her biggest hit being the song Physical, which was famously banned by a radio station in Provo, Utah for its “suggestive” lyrics.

Olivia divorced in 1995 and thirteen years later, she married John Easterling, founder and president of the Amazon Herb Company.  She also spent several years with a cameraman named Patrick McDermott, who went missing after going on an overnight fishing trip on a sport fishing vessel in 2005. In 2009 there was a media frenzy as investigators claimed he was found in a Mexican beach town under an assumed name.

Olivia was very resilient as she bravely and very publicly shared her long fight against breast cancer which ultimately led to her passing away last week. This was first diagnosed and treated in 1992, which was a tough year for her as not only did she undergo surgery, but she also lost her father to liver cancer and declared bankruptcy. Her career recovered in the 1990s and 2000s, although never quite achieving those dizzying heights of the 1970s and 80s. 

Olivia has been widely honored and recognized by Australia, the USA and the UK.  In the land of my and her birth she represented Britain at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. She was also awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II in 1979 for her services to the performing arts and became a Dame in 2020 for her services to charity, cancer research and entertainment. In the USA, she was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Grammy Award in the “Video of the Year” category for Physical.

In Australia, she was awarded the AO (Officer of the Order of Australia) in 2006 for her services to the entertainment industry as a singer and actor, and to the community for supporting breast cancer treatment, education, training and research, as well as the environment. She also appeared on an Australian commemorative postage stamp in the “Living Legends” series.  Last week, monuments and buildings across Australia were lit up in pink to honor the star and her death from breast cancer.  Her family have been offered a state memorial service to honor her memory and legacy.  There is more information at the online entertainment database www.imdb.com

I say goodbye this week with a quote from the star herself: “I do have high standards, but I don’t expect anything from anyone that I don’t expect from myself.”

God Bless America and Rest in Peace Olivia!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

REFLECTIONS ON LAKE OCONEE

One of the highlights of our year is spending a week with our family, including our beautiful granddaughters (now 11 and 7), on a fun summer trip.  My stepson jokes that we only invite him because he brings his boat since recent years have seen us exploring the lakes of North Carolina and Georgia by renting wonderful lake houses with private docks.  This type of vacation is also easy to “sell” to my husband since, after decades of travelling the world on business with over 5 million airmiles to prove it, it is now pretty difficult to persuade him to get on a plane.  Therefore, a road-trip vacation complete with boating, tubing, grill-outs, bright Hawaiian shirts, firepits and s’mores with the family is much more his ‘cup of tea’ as we say in England to communicate ‘highly acceptable for my personal preferences’.

I love living in Coastal Georgia, but I do thoroughly enjoy the tranquility of a lake view as it always soothes my soul and restores my spirits.  The last few months have been extremely challenging on many fronts, as it has for so many people, so I was especially looking forward to a relaxing family vacation this year.

 I have written before of happy memories of trips to the British Lake District,  situated in the far north-west of England about 300 miles from London where we lived.  I also love the work of William Wordsworth, the famous nineteenth century English poet who spent many years living in and writing poems about England’s 16 lakes which make up the Lake District. So as much as I love our local coastal waterways and the open sea, there is a special place in my heart for the peace and tranquility that a pretty and serene lake view brings.

Anyway, back to this summer. We previously have spent a couple of great vacations at Lake Lanier in north Georgia, but we did not enjoy the Atlanta traffic and seemingly endless road construction delays we had to endure to get there.  So last month we spent the July 4th week on the much closer Lake Oconee for some much-needed fun in and on the water.

Lake Oconee is in central Georgia on the Oconee River about 200 miles from our home in Richmond Hill, located about halfway between Atlanta and Augusta.  It is the fourth largest man-made lake in Georgia, created in 1979 with the construction of the Wallace Dam by Georgia Power.  Lake Oconee has also attracted exclusive hotels and housing and golf developments including the Ritz Carlton and the Reynolds Plantation.  The lake totals almost 20,000 acres, and is around half the size of Lake Lanier, Georgia’s biggest lake. The name Oconee takes its name from a group of Creek Indians that long ago lived close to Georgia’s Oconee River basin. “Oconee” means “great waters.” 

The level of Lake Oconee is consistently managed to stay nearly full since it is used both for hydro-electric power generation and extensive recreational activities.  It has three public campground areas on its shoreline along with the 7,400 acre Oconee Wildlife Management Area.  It is exceedingly beautiful.

The nearby town and county seat of Greene County, Greensboro Georgia, is also a very pleasant place with real small-town charm.  Full of interesting little shops, restaurants, and nooks and crannies, it is well worth taking a little time off the water and wondering around the town with the occasional drink or ice cream to beat the Georgia summer heat.

Any downsides to Lake Oconee?  Only one that we could tell.  When it was constructed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a lot of trees and bottom materials were left in place to create habitat for the fish. Maybe the fish like it, but from our perspective there were a lot of submerged trees just below the surface of the water.  Most areas were properly marked with “hazard” buoys but not quite all were highly visible.   A submerged tree just below the surface claimed our boat’s propellor as a prize, but fortunately the local boat supply businesses plus my very capable stepson quickly replaced it so we could get back in the boat, on the tube, and into the water.  All that said, I do admit it was a little disconcerting for the boat’s depth-finder to say you are in 40-foot waters but unexpectedly find yourself standing on a slippery old tree limb just four feet from the surface!  There is more information at www.nationalgeographic.org and www.lakesonline.com

I say goodbye this week with a quote from American author Ilam Shamir: “Advice from a lake: be clear, make positive ripples, look beneath the surface, stay calm, shore up friendships, take time to reflect, be full of life.” Not exactly Wordsworth, but great advice from a lake in any event!

God Bless America!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMELIA EARHART

I think of myself as a “can-do” person, and a woman who likes to get things done. Early in my career in late 1980s and early 1990s London, I modestly thought of myself as a young woman pushing the career envelope by taking on jobs and responsibilities which some thought were too senior for me, or even “too male”.  I worked in healthcare public relations, an industry in which most of the workforce were women but top management was dominated by men.

However, my own tiny contribution to the progress of women in Western society is dwarfed by many others, and right at the top of that list is the great American aviator Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  Sunday is her 125th birthday.

Amelia Mary Earhart was born in Atchinson, Kansas.  Her father was a railroad lawyer and her mother came from a well-to-do family. As a child in Kansas, Amelia was very independent and adventurous. Her mother encouraged this behavior, and Amelia (known well into adulthood as “Meeley”) was dutifully followed around by her younger sister Grace (known as “Pidge”). They shot rats with rifles, climbed trees and jumped off rooftops, collected insects and reptiles, and generally had a boisterous childhood full of rowdiness and “tomboy” activities.

Her father had drifted into alcoholism and had trouble finding and holding a job.  After moving around, the girls eventually finished high school in Chicago.  Amelia graduated in 1916, always dreaming about finding independence through a career.  According to the family’s website 100 years later, she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film production, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.

At the height of World War I, Earhart trained as a nurse’s aide with the Red Cross. After attending a few air shows in 1920, she paid for a short passenger flight from Emory Roger Field on Wiltshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.  The fare was $10 for a 10-minute flight with Frank Hawks, a pilot who became a renowned airplane racer. “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly”.  Over the next few years, she saved every penny she made as a truck driver, secretary and photographer to fund flying lessons, and on May 16, 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman in the United States to be issued a pilot’s license.  Aviation history was changed forever.

Earhart continued to fly on weekends but flying still did not provide a steady source of income. In 1928 she was living in Boston where, among other jobs, she was a salesperson for the Kinner Aircraft Company.  She got a call from Amy Guest, a wealthy American lady living in England.  Charles Lindbergh had just completed the first solo flight across the Atlantic, and Guest wanted to fund a woman to do something similar.  Was Earhart interested?

Amelia Earhart’s first Atlantic crossing was as part of a three-person crew, but it launched her celebrity status.  Then on May 20, 1932, the 34-year-old Earhart set off from Newfoundland.  She intended to fly solo to Paris in her single engine Lockheed Vega to emulate Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight five years earlier, but after a grueling flight of almost 15 hours with icy conditions, strong winds and mechanical problems, she instead landed in a field near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. When a local farmer saw the landing and asked, “Have you flown far?”, she reportedly shocked him with her answer: “From America”.

Between 1930 and 1935, Earhart set seven women’s speed and distance aviation records in a variety of aircraft, and her fame grew. She advocated women’s rights, raced in airshows, was a spokesperson for the aviation industry, and was constantly in the newspapers, especially her meetings with Presidents.  In 1931, she married publisher George Putnam, but pointedly refused to take his last name.  When referred to as “Mrs. Putnam”, she laughed and called her husband “Mr. Earhart”.

In March 1937, Earhart attempted to become the first woman to fly around the world.  The initial attempt ended in a crash landing due to mechanical problems, and on June 1st that year, she and navigator Fred Noonan set off from Miami to try again.  After completing 22,000 of the 29,000-mile trip, they took off from Papua New Guinea on July 2, 1937, and their last radio transmissions indicated they were running low on fuel but could not find their intended destination of Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. The most expensive and exhaustive naval search up to that point in history produced nothing but a string of theories about their disappearance, some of which are still hotly debated today, 85 years later. See www.history.com  for more.

I say goodbye this week with a simple quote from the great lady herself: “The most effective way to do it, is to do it”.  I could not agree more!

God Bless America!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com