A deserving, if dubious, honour

The British have an odd Christmas tradition. For some reason, massive importance is attached to the song that achieves number 1 status in the charts during the week before Christmas Day. I really don’t get it – especially when you look at the list of songs that have acquired this honour and realise just how much dross it includes (I offer you Exhibit A: Mr Blobby and Exhibit B: Bob the Builder.) 
When thinking about this post, I was fairly sure that I’d only ever contributed to one Christmas number 1 (and even then, when I say ‘I’, I mean my sister bought the tape from Woolworths) – that being the Christmas classic Stay Another Day by East 17. (It is Christmassy because the band wore fur edged parkas in the video and there’s some nice tubular bell work, and that is all.) However, looking at the list reminded me that I’d also bought the 20th anniversary recreation of Do They Know It’s Christmas (don’t judge – my Godson was born they day they recorded it and I was feeling sentimental). Anyway, the point to this post is that I think I’ve probably just bought this year’s too…
No, not Dominick The Donkey (though it has been a Christmas highlight for several years and I was tempted), but the Military Wives singing Wherever You Are. If you’d told me a month ago that I’d do this, I wouldn’t have believed you.
If you’re reading this on the blog itself, on the right-hand sidebar you’ll find a list of my most popular posts. Number 1, by a long way, is a four year old post about Gareth Malone, specifically, the amusing ways in which people had googled him, resulting in their landing upon my original blog about his second TV series. Every time he reappears on our screens my stats spike – in fact this has become almost my default way of discovering what he’s up to (well, that and his Twitter feed). For a little while this blog was almost the top entry if you googled his name – terrifying. Anyway, as much as I dislike what he does for my stats, I do love him and his work. Watching him bring people together in singing is utterly inspiring and I think his passion for community singing is infectious.

However, his latest series had me conflicted – in fact, I didn’t begin watching it until it had finished. (I know that doesn’t make sense, but that’s the bonus of iPlayer.) This time he was working with military wives and it was the ‘military’ bit I had an issue with. Being a pacifist, I find the media’s obsession with the military difficult. I don’t believe that we ought to have troops in Afghanistan and I think that the waste of human life is atrocious. But, I read brilliant reviews of the show, so thought I’d give it a go. 
What I discovered was three hours of the most moving TV I’ve seen in a long time. Military life is by no means glamorous and those left behind by soldiers serving overseas have a miserable time – often left on bases miles away from their families, with little support. Moving bases regularly also makes it difficult to build any kind of community with the other families, even when you’re all going through the same hideous experience of having loved ones fighting in a war zone. The show captured this perfectly and I was moved to tears on more than one occasion. Think I’m a sap? [You’d probably be right.] What about this clip of the women and children welcoming the soldiers home:

Plus, the project also demonstrated just how transformative singing can be. Several of the women featured didn’t believe that they could sing, or that they had anything to offer to the choir – but through Gareth’s determination not to let them give up, and ensure they felt valued, they realised that they did have worth. Take Sam, for example (she’s the lady with the tattoos in the above video) – she was amongst a minority of wives who had previous choral experience, yet genuinely didn’t seem to believe that she had a voice worth hearing. Any time she sang on her own there was a flurry of apologies as she felt she was messing up, it was heartbreaking to watch. In an amazing triumph over adversity (nerves, low self-esteem and family illness) she came to sing the solo in the choir’s Royal Albert Hall performance – a performance that I defy anyone to sit through dry-eyed.

The song they sang had been written by Paul Mealor (he’s the John Rutter of the 21st century), based upon letters written between them and their husbands. It’s simply beautiful and in the best tradition of choral singing. Within minutes of the final programme finishing I was humming the melody to myself. Thus, when I discovered it was being released in time for Christmas Number 1 I was actually pleased – this song, more than almost any other (except the original Band Aid single) deserves the strange honour, and so does the lovely Gareth Malone. Yesterday’s mid-week chart had it at Number 1 and I suspect it will stay there, an excellent antidote to the dross of previous years.

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