Taking the Plunge Into an Orchestra Pit [UPDATED]


I’ve spoken at quite a few literary festivals over the last couple of years, but Buxton International Festival is my favourite. Buxton is a sublimely beautiful town and the organizer of the books side of the festival, Victoria Dawson, is a delight to deal with.


I drove up to Derbyshire after doing GMB on Friday in good time to interview Andrew Mitchell about his book BEYOND A FRINGE. There was a good crowd of more than 200 and it all went very well. I then spent the evening writing a piece on what it’s like to chair Conservative leadership hustings.








On Saturday lunchtime I chaired a ninety minute panel with Adam Boulton, Colleen Graffy and Justin Webb on my book THE PRESIDENTS. This happened in the Buxton Opera House, a truly beautiful venue. There were around 350 people in the audience and they seemed to be enjoying it very much.








And then it happened. I concluded the panel and started to walk off stage in front of the table. The lights had been dimmed to it was quite difficult to see. I then felt my right foot go from under me.  I put my foot down and there was nothing there. I plunged into the orchestra pit. I remember hearing gasps and screams from the audience as I descended into the darkness. And then I landed. I don’t remember exactly how I landed, but the grazing and bruising to the area below my right hand hip suggests that it got a lot of the impact. I didn’t black out, and I remember being flat on my front with a cello case underneath me. [UPDATE: I should say I have asked for the details of the Cello owner so I can write to them]. I gathered myself and after about 20 second sat up; I was sitting on a concrete floor, on a step. I felt OK; Nothing appeared to be broken.








The stage manager then appeared along with  a couple of others. “We’ll call an ambulance,” someone said. “No, no,” I replied. “I’m fine. No need for that.” I was conscious that I was due back in Tunbridge Wells by 6pm for a dinner to celebrate John’s birthday. If I didn’t leave by 2pm I wouldn’t make it. A lady then checked me over and reiterated that she thought they ought to call an ambulance. I continued to resist until I tried to get up. I couldn’t. There was acute pain in both knees. I realised then that the game was up. “Where’s the nearest hospital?” I asked. It turned out there was a minor injuries hospital in Buxton. Somehow I managed to tiptoe up the many stairs, supported by various people and with a white stick to lean on. Thinking back, I don’t know how I managed it. Vicky Dawson drove me to the hospital and pushed me into the hospital in a wheelchair. There were five or six people in the waiting room, but I was seen first, I assume because I had had a fall from quite a height. The doctor, who it turned out was a listener to my radio show explained that at weekends they didn’t do X Rays so I would need to go to Macclesfield Stockport. He gave me some painkillers.








We then drove along the so-called Cat & Fiddle road (the highest road in England) to Macclesfield hospital, which turned out to be quite easy to find. We booked in at the very busy reception and the gentleman who booked us in said he used to watch me on Sky News paper reviews. Vicky whispered at that point that hopefully I would get seen more quickly because of that! In actual fact I did get seen quickly, but not for that reason. It was because I had fallen 12 feet, and although I didn’t display any sign of head or chest injuries, they wanted to do X-Rays and possibly a CT scan as soon as possible.


I remember thinking this would make a good plot line for Casualty. In fact, the atmosphere in A&E was about as far from the frantic scenes in Casualty as you can get. Everything was calmness personified, both in the waiting area and in the treatment bays themselves.


I had my bloods taken by a lovely eastern European nurse. I did warn her that she wouldn’t be able to find veins in my arms and she’d have to take it from my hand. She tried the right hand to no avail and started tutting, as if her professional abilities were under question. She then tried the other hand, and it worked. She seemed vey relieved. I then understood why. He had to insert a canula into my hand.


I then got taken through to have ten X Rays done on my left hand (which had some bruising), my chest, hip and two knees.


About 45 minutes later I could hear two doctors discussing the X-rays. They then came to see me and explained that there was no sign of breakages or fractures, but both knees were very swollen and would take some time to heal. And with that I was free to go.


My friend Dan, whose company has a depot just north of Derby, drove up to collect me and  my car. He left his car at his depot and got a colleague to drive him over to Buxton. He arrived about 20 minutes ahead of Vicky and me, and we then started on the three and a half hour drive back to Tunbridge Wells.


By this time. I hadn’t had a pee for about 12 hours, and there was no way that I could walk into a motorway services, so I got Dan to stop in a layby, which was hidden from the road. I swivelled around in my seat and peed out of the open door, if you see what I mean!


The biggest issue occurred when we got home. We live in an upside down house, which is built into a hillside, so most of the living accommodation is on the first floor. I could see no way of managing the various stairs, let alone the step up into the house at the front door. Dan is a big bloke and thought he could carry me, but I kept slipping off and was worried about doing more damage to my right leg. John produced a pair of crutches he had borrowed from a friend, and I used them to make pigeon steps to the front door. I managed to get up the steps by sitting on a step and lifting myself up to the next step. It provoked a few screams of pain along the way, but soon enough I was at the top of the stairs. But there was still the problem of how to get to my bedroom, as there was no way I could stand up. So I lay on the floor on my back, with my arms outstretched by my head and Dan dragged me into my bedroom and then lifted me under my arms onto the bed. Rarely have I ever been so relieved to have got to bed.


I managed to sleep much better than I thought I would, given I had to spend all night on my back. Normally I sleep on my front. As I write this now, at 5pm on Sunday afternoon, the painkillers have kicked in and the pain in my right leg has been alleviated to quite a degree.


I’ve been advised that it could get worse before it gets better, and it’s clear I will have to walk with crutches and then a walking stick for some time. Is this normal life after 60?!


My big worry now is that I will have to take more time off work. Hopefully it will only be a few days, but this week I was supposed to be presenting Andrew Marr’s show as well as my own, so the timing is bad. And then in less than two weeks my Edinburgh Fringe show starts. Nightmare. I’ve already been told there is no orchestra pit in the Edinburgh venue!


Now I have had time to reflect on what happened, I think I’ve been quite lucky. I could easily have landed on my head and been paralysed or even killed. To escape with two bruised knees I almost regard as a result. It turns out I’m not the only one to have plunged off stage like this. I’ve been told that it’s happened to Patti Smith, Dave Grohl, Axel Rose and, er, Gemma Collins.


Three final points. The care I got at Buxton and Macclesfield hospitals was outstanding. I cannot talk highly enough of the professionalism and humanity displayed by everyone I encountered at both hospitals. Secondly, Vicky Dawson stayed with me the whole time and was an absolute star. Im not sure she’s recovered from the sight of me in my pants, though. I mean, who would? And thirdly to my friend Dan Bryce who drove for three hours to collect me, and kept me cheerful on the drive back. True friendship.


People always look for blame in situations like this. Countless people have asked if I will sue the Opera House. The answer is no. I’m not that kind of person. But clearly I hope they will put in measures to make sure thi doesn’t happen to anyone else. There was no hazard tape at the front of the stage, for example. I don’t think the lights should be dipped as much as they were, making it difficult to see where the stage ended. In many ways I blamed myself and I felt like a complete plonker, but in the end it is down the Opera House to ensure that all relevant safety measures are taken.


And a final word of thanks to the hundreds of people on social media who have wished me well. Apart from the woman who said I deserved it for “bullying” Megan Markle. Seriously. That’s Twitter for you.




Source link