This week I wanted to write this column about 2 of my friends. Now in the world I inhabit we probably throw around the term friend more freely than we should. As a radio presenter, every day I meet or chat to world famous people you would normally only hear on the radio.
So, I meet a world-famous popstar, we chat for 15 minutes for a radio interview and I’m probably one interview in a day when they do 20 interviews back to back answering the same questions. From then on, whenever that person crops up in a conversation I casually mentioned that when I last spoke to the popstar I asked them about such and such. I don’t exaggerate the connection but by implication I’m suggesting that somehow we have a special relationship. Well with these 2 people I have proper friendship that goes back a lifetime.
Carolyn Marvelly was always a bright, precocious kid. I first met her at Sunday School in a little Gospel Hall in Phillip Street Manselton. Her dad worked on the buses and I think her mam worked in Marks and Spencer. In my memory Carolyn was a mix between Leana Zavaroni and Lulu. She had curly hair and she could sing, in fact in my memory she sang all the time. As well as Sunday School we also went to proper school together although as I’m sure she will tell you I’m a lot older than her. We did perform together once, maybe it was at an eisteddfod and every time I hear ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ my mind goes back to an unforgettable duet in Manselton.
Later in life, when I returned to Swansea we both started taking our own kids to Phillip Street Gospel Hall Sunday School and we would still love to join in the chorus singing, ‘Deep and Wide’, ‘Away Far beyond Jordan’. There was no one more enthusiastic with the actions than Carolyn’s little boy Martin. He was a bundle of fun and excitement. He would literally bounce on his seat trying to get noticed so that his choice of chorus would be sung next.
When I heard that Martin had been in a car accident and that he had not survived it just felt that a real light had been extinguished. What I didn’t realise was that Carolyn didn’t have enough money to give her son the funeral he deserved and that she had had to borrow the money. Even a whip round from family and friends in that close community wasn’t enough and she ended up with a bank loan that she paid off over time.
Carolyn was obviously a bright kid, but circumstances meant she didn’t go into further education until later in life. First she got a degree in Social History and Social Policy, then she started working for various local charities before becoming Parliamentary assistant to Swansea East MP Sian James. During that time Carolyn learnt the ropes of Parliament and also got to know everyone, from the speaker to the ladies in the tearoom.
Carolyn hosting Jack to a King in Westminster
Years later she took over from Sian James the role of MP and she was instrumental in organising a screening of the film we had made about Swansea City, ‘Jack to a King’. That day was a real eye opener because of the way everybody reacted to her and the way she treated them all exactly the same. She introduced us to John McDonnell the Shadow Chancellor, the Sergeant at Arms, and I’m sure the tea lady gave us extra cakes because of Carolyn.
Carolyn has never forgotten her roots and the pain she went through with the financial worries of paying for her son’s funeral. For years she has been campaigning for a children’s funeral fund and this week, finally, she won her battle. I have never seen scenes like those played out from the Chamber. With many in the House of Commons sharing her tears, with applause from the Prime Minister and the Speaker, Carolyn Harris spoke for thousands of other parents who had been through the same thing as she had but who had no voice. With that battle won I’m sure its just a matter of time until she starts a new campaign for people who need a champion.
I’ve not known my second friend quite as long as Carolyn but its not far off. We went to Dynevor together and again he’ll tell you that I was a lot older than he was even then. Kevin Johns was a character. He used to come around every week to very classroom and advertise the School Christian Union meeting. He would always give me a nod to make sure I knew the time and place.
He always liked to perform and in my final year we shared the stage for the first time with a School production of Joseph and his Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was Pharaoh and Kev was one of the brothers. When I moved back to Swansea we booked Kev for my daughter’s birthday party. ‘Clown Kev’ was brilliant with a young audience even then. He never patronised but he was quick witted and could make them and his audience laugh. In fact, when I had an Easter TV Special for HTV Wales we filmed at one of those birthday parties with Kev as the star attraction.
This week I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him work in a couple of different situations. All week Kev has starred in my musical Calon Lân. He turns up every day having already done a full breakfast show on Swansea Sound and then proceeds to give the performance of a lifetime very time! He is used to the rigours and demands of Panto, but this has been different with demands being made on his acting and singing talents and he’s shone. He literally stops the show.
But in many ways that wasn’t what made me particularly proud of Kev Johns this week. On Wednesday he and I had been invited to represent the areas of broadcasting and entertainment in the line up chosen to meet the Prince of Wales. As we waited we both commented on how strange this was for two boys from Dynevor. Regardless of where your Royal or republican views lie I’m sure the thought of Mal and Kev meeting Prince Charles would make you raise an eyebrow and hopefully a smile.
Kev was the first up from our little group. Mr Kev Johns entertainer was how he was introduced to the Prince. The Prince asked one question and Kev started chatting and made the Prince laugh. He told him about Calon Lân and Pantomime and he was so natural. He could have been talking to the kids on the pitch at half time at the Liberty. By the time the Prince got to me I think I just said, ‘I’m with Kev!’.
I’m with Kev
So, 2 friends who have made their mark and they’ve made me proud. They have also made our city proud. Sometimes I’m sure they question themselves. Everyone needs a bit of encouragement to keep going. So, can I suggest If you see them about and you think they are going a good job, can you let them know?