Keep calm and Gary on! MBE Gary Avis’s Heaven and Hell
- Credit: Archant
Gina Long talks to Gary Avis MBE - Ballet Master & Principal Character Artist with the Royal Ballet, London
What is your connection to East Anglia?
I’m Suffolk through and through, just like a stick of rock, snap me in half and you’ll find written down the middle ‘Ipswich, Suffolk’
Born in Ipswich.
I was raised and educated on the Whitton estate and pursued a very unconventional hobby in my spare time.
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Encouraged by my very supportive parents, I received the best dance training available in the county, joined lots of creatively run organisations and theatre groups and was fortunate enough to learn from many, many incredibly talented people living and working here, in East Anglia. Those of which, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to, for helping springboard me onto what is now a career spanning 30 years and still going strong.
What is your East Anglian Heaven - ie what do you love most about East Anglia?
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To me, there is nothing better than sitting in my Suffolk garden, watching those big white fluffy clouds roll by, in what seems like an endless sky. Here I sit relishing how lucky I am and how much pleasure I get from living in such a beautiful county and thankful for finding such a great village to live in and call my home. My other EA heaven rests with Brancaster Beach, up on the North Norfolk coast. A place that simply is heaven and special for many personal reasons.
What is your East Anglian Hell - ie what you hate most about living here?
If you were to follow me on Twitter, you need not ask!
What’s your favourite East Anglian restaurant?
I don’t eat in restaurants very much these days, as now living in the countryside, it offers a great opportunity to try out all the local pubs and their varied menus, but if I were to go to a restaurant, you can’t go wrong with The Old Counting House in Haughley for a really tasty Indian meal, or The Walnut Tree, a vegetarian restaurant on the A140 at Thwaite, their Mushroom Wellington is to die for! and if I were to name a local pub, it would have to be the Queen’s Head in Eye, for the best Sunday Roast in the county.
What’s your favourite way to spend an East Anglian evening?
In the Summer – there’s nothing better than, having friends over, sat in the garden, fire pit blazing, Betty’s G&T in hand, watching the sunset, putting the world to rights.
In the Winter – on the very rare occasion I’m home on a Saturday evening and not performing, I like nothing more than to be snuggled up on my sofa with a schnauzer or two, or three getting lost in everything ‘Strictly’
What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
Having seen it being built and passing it every day on my commute, in and out of the county, the Orwell Bridge to me is a landmark that signals ‘home’ plus being an architecture geek I love the Willis Building in Ipswich, because I am a huge fan of Norman Foster’s work and love the fact that it was one of his earliest building designs and it’s in my hometown.
What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
East Anglia hosts a multitude of brilliantly organised events every year, many of them supporting local charities and showcasing a wealth of local talent and enterprises, so it seems wrong of me to pick out one in particular, so on a personal level here are three of my favourites.
Suffolk Dog Day. An incredible event organised by Suffolk Community Foundation, that brings together people from all walks of life along with their four-legged friends, to share in the fun and frolics of a great day out, all in the name of local charity.
Suffolk Day. Yes, I’m biased, but to have a whole day dedicated to recognising and celebrating the extraordinary achievements of selfless volunteers, charitable organisations and businesses in the county has to be a ‘thumbs up’ in my opinion.
Snape Proms, Snape Maltings. Unbeatable access to outstanding performers and artists, all on our doorstep and at only ?6.50 for a Prom ticket, how could you not be enticed to experience such wonderful and varied talent!
What your specialist Mastermind subject?
Sadly I don’t have one!If you were to ask my village quiz team, they’d probably say at a push, musicals!
What is always in your fridge?
To be honest, not much, as due to my chaotic work schedule and the daily commute to and from London, food shopping becomes rather a low priority on my list of things to do at weekends, as I find it so dull!
Regrettably I’m not a cook of any sorts, although I am longing to learn.
What’s your simple philosophy of life?
Keep Calm & Gary On!
I strongly believe you should never underestimate the value of individuals who help you on your way in life, as undoubtably one day you’re bound to bump into them again, possibly at a time when you need them the most.
What’s your favourite film?
Belleville Rendezvous-Vous (Les Triplettes de Belleville) – an animated comedy film written and directed by Sylvain Chomet.
The Illusionist - a French-British animated film written by Jacques Tati and directed by Sylvain Chomet.
Anything animated or by Pixar, I’m a big kid at heart!
What was your first job?
During my school years, I had several holiday jobs, as I liked to try and earn my own pocket money if possible.
At Easter time I would work in Boots (Tavern Street) stacking shelves from floor to ceiling with Easter Eggs, I then moved upstairs to work in the Record dept, selling music LPs and cassettes, before moving onto the Photographic dept, where I helped develop and print 35mm film. My last holiday job was working in Pizza Hut (Upper Brooks Street) where I worked my way up the pizza ladder from ‘washer upper’ to pizza maker, waiting tables, to a proposed managerial position…… but the stage bug had bitten by then and I guess, the rest is history.
What is your most treasured possession?
Many, many years ago my family travelled on a day trip to London, as my mum had arranged to meet her childhood pen pal from Sri Lanka. I don’t believe they’d ever met before and I distinctly remember the hesitation and nervousness from my Mum whilst waiting patiently to finally meet her under the ornament clock at the main entrance to Selfridges, Oxford Street. During this unbelievably happy and memorable meeting Sri Lankan pen pal, June, gave my mum a beautiful orchid that had been dipped in gold. This treasured possession is tucked away in a special place at home and always reminds me of how dedicated and committed my mum was to keeping that friendship alive, no matter what the distance.
Who do you admire most?
I admire people who are respectful of those that have a wealth of knowledge to impart and are clever enough to bypass their own ego to embrace that information and learn.
I also have great admiration for the many incredible volunteers in charity that I’ve had the great pleasure to meet and cross paths with over the years, these people, without question, change lives on a daily basis.
What is your biggest indulgence?
My garden and ‘my kids’ (three miniature schnauzers) both of these indulgences eat into my bank balance quite considerably, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do you like about yourself most?
I’d like to think I’m quite an understanding and easy-going person. I’m very happy to share my experiences with people, if they’re willing to listen, but I in no way am a person who likes to boast.
What’s your worst character trait?
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
I am a terrible sun worshipper and like nothing more than lying by a pool in the sunshine in Corfu.
I dislike beach holidays for many reasons but mainly because I find sand annoying and I’m not one for swimming in the sea, so a villa, with a pool, on a hillside on a Greek island is perfect for me.
Holiday time is very precious to me as work commitments are so intense throughout the year we only get one scheduled chance a year to indulge, so when I do holiday it’s usually either a time to catch up with friends who I’ve not had a chance to see all year or I tuck myself away in Suffolk for some much needed peace and quiet.
Best day of your life?
I guess I’ve been a very lucky guy over the years with so many incredible and exciting experiences, but on a personal level it has to be meeting my life partner Tim Holder, who I celebrate 25 very happy years with this year.
On a professional level I’d say, being a member of the Royal Ballet, now in its 25th year, partnering Darcey Bussell in her Farewell performances at the Royal Opera House that went out Live to the BBC, being a special guest with Darcey and Katherine Jenkins in their Viva La Diva Arena Tour around the UK and of course, that ‘once in a lifetime’ experience of being one of the four men partnering Darcey in ‘Spirit of the Flame’ at the 2012 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony in London.
What’s your favourite breakfast?
A full English Breakfast, whilst enjoying the view from the terrace at The Maybush in Waldringfield overlooking the River Deben, or a delicious sausage and double egg granary sandwich from the Deli at the Chilli Farm along the A140, guaranteed to hit the spot, delicious!
What’s your favourite tipple?
Heart of Suffolk Distilleries, Betty’s Gin (and Tonic) purchased from the ‘very heart’ just down the road from my where I live.
What’s your hidden talent?Nothing hidden, what you see, is what you get.
When were you most embarrassed?
It is without doubt, the most enormous privilege and honour to have been recognised in the Queen’s 2018 Birthday Honours list, but I must say I am rather embarrassed to accept it, as how can I possibly aline myself with such extraordinary individuals who dedicate themselves to changing and saving people’s lives on a daily basis.
I am deeply honoured, proud and extremely humbled for being recognised for doing a job I love, for the county I love and accept it on behalf of all those that helped me achieve it.
What’s your earliest memory?
A deep and lasting memory I have as a child, is of appearing in a play-group style programme called ‘Romper Room’ on Anglia Television.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
Without question it would have to be the magical transformation music from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.
A piece of music that is very special and dear to me and one that many people associate me with following the many times I’ve performed the role of Herr Drosselmeyer in the Royal Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker on stage and via the cinema, so I’m guessing people would expect it and probably be hoping I was wearing that magical turquoise cloak.
Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I love architecture, design and tall buildings and secretly wish I could have been an Architect.
Tell us why you live here and nowhere else.
Because it’s home …….and always will be.
What do you want to tell our readers about most?
I’ve been supporting charities by performing at galas and other events for many years now, in London mostly and I’ll keep stepping up to do that as often as I can. I’ve recently even been honoured to be invited to be a Patron of one of the greatest performing arts colleges in the world, Bird College on the outskirts of London and I’m hoping to give something back by sharing my experience with their students. That’s really exciting. But my ‘Gary Avis & Friends’ Royal Ballet Galas in Ipswich for Suffolk Community Foundation helped me become much more aware of the need in Suffolk. I understand so much more now about the importance of local charities and how they really make a difference and need our support. They do so much with volunteer power, but they need money too. So please think locally when you give to charity.
I’m also so proud of Suffolk’s world class dance facility at Dance East in Ipswich. It’s a jewel in the crown of Suffolk and it’s simply one of the finest venues to train or watch dance in the Country. I’m am so please to be patron of their Choreographic Development Fund and also now to be on their board. University of Suffolk were terribly kind to present me with an Honorary Doctorate and I’d love to support them more in the future too. I’m also passionate about the needs of young people where I was brought up and I’m currently finding out more about the incredible team at Whitton Youth Partnership and hope to support them and their young people more in the future.
I’d really like to encourage everyone to consider exploring and possibly engaging with the idea of volunteering for local organisations and charities too. No matter how big or small the contribution, your valuable time and commitment can transform lives forever. Enriching, enlightening and empowering groups of people and individuals to realise and harness their potential value in life.
I’ve received my MBE for my dancing and that makes me so proud, but also because I’m a charity volunteer and I use my talent and profile where I can. It’s also true though, that you receive this award with the expectation that you will carry on and do more in the future.
So really I’m just getting started.
I think sometimes people think that giving is difficult, whether it’s time or money. You just have to do what you can and I promise you get so much back from helping people.