Frank Carson: It's the Way He Told 'Em Memorial Concert
Northern Ireland's glitterati come out in force to celebrate the life and work of the famed Belfast comedian at the Grand Opera House
He may no longer be around to deliver his 'crackers' in person, but much-missed Northern Ireland comedian Frank Carson's unique career will be celebrated in a star-studded tribute show at the Grand Opera House in Belfast later this month.
Entitled, appropriately enough, Frank Carson: It's the Way He Told 'Em, the event takes place on Thursday, February 28, close to the first anniversary of the Belfast-born funnyman's passing at the age of 85 on February 22, 2012.
'We tried to get the show between the day that he died and the day he was buried here in Belfast,' explains the comic's daughter, Majella. 'It'll be very emotional for the family, but it'll be great to see so many people who loved him together in one night.'
Indeed, the show – described by Carson's eldest son, Tony, as 'a gala spectacular in memory of Pops' – features a who's who of national showbiz names, as well as major figures from the worlds of sport and politics.
Headlined by singing group the Priests, there will also be performances from crooner Brian Kennedy, The X Factor's Joe McElderry, BAFTA-nominated actor Adrian Dunbar, mind-reader David Meade and Eurovision legend Dana, as well as comic turns from Tom O'Connor, Gene Fitzpatrick and May McFettridge.
Gloria Hunniford, Baroness May Blood, Dame Mary Peters, Olivia Nash, Willie John McBride, Dennis Taylor, Pat Jennings and James Ellis will also be on hand to offer words of tribute. James Nesbitt, Patrick Kielty and Lenny Henry have been mooted to appear, too, but are still to be confirmed.
All the acts are appearing free of charge, and proceeds from the show will benefit two of Carson's favourite charitable organisations, the first of which is Integrated Education Fund, a body devoted to making integrated education the norm in Northern Ireland's schools.
The second is the UK cancer charity CLIC Sargent's Homes from Home Appeal, which aims to raise £3.7 million to fund two homes for patients and their families within walking distance of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and the Belfast City and Northern Ireland Cancer Centre, where young people with cancer are treated.
'It's going to be a great tribute to my dad, and to Northern Ireland, and to his charities,' adds Tony. 'It's the perfect mixture of tributes, performances in his memory, musical numbers and a lot of reminiscing.
'So far, we have 36 acts. I don't think anyone said, "No". And there are some bigger names to be released. The performers are all people who either worked with my dad or had a personal link to my dad, and there's nowhere better to do it than the Grand Opera House. It's the perfect venue.'
Of the work involved in putting together such a stellar line-up, Tony – who is the spitting image of his late father – shrugs. 'It gelled quite quickly,' he admits with a grin. 'It's going to be more of a problem fitting everybody in!'
And unlike many memorial shows, which can often be sombre, solemn affairs, Tony promises that Frank Carson: It's the Way He Told 'Em will be 'great craic'. 'We're hoping it will be a celebration rather than a sadness,' he says. And what would Frank himself think? 'He’d love it,' Tony laughs. 'He’d be the first in the door. He'll be watching in.'
The late comedian is arguably just as popular almost a year after his death. A posthumously released live DVD was a big seller over Christmas, and Carson even gets a name-check in one of the ongoing EE advertisements featuring Hollywood star Kevin Bacon.
'I saw the script, but I couldn't envisage it,' marvels Majella, who reveals the family had to approve the ad as they own the intellectual copyright to Carson's image and catchphrases.
Majella clearly holds the memory of her father dear, and is happy to share memories of the perks of being Frank Carson's daughter. She remembers a time when Carson was in panto in Aladdin at the Grand Opera House, and the family stayed at the Europa Hotel next door. 'We had the whole run of the hotel to ourselves over Christmas,' she says. 'As a kid, it was just brilliant.'
Tony – who, along with Majella, Carson's widow, Ruth, and the couple's youngest son, Aidan, will be present on the 28th – enthuses: 'It's going to be a really special walk down memory lane.'
The Grand Opera House show is set to be a happily nostalgic affair for family and friends, then, but Tony promises, cryptically, that, 'The last laughter we hear on the night will be Frank Carson'. Well, the lovably motor-mouthed comic did always have to get the last word.
Frank Carson: It's the Way He Told 'Em takes place at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, on Thursday, February 28.