A right royal drenching for Tamar sendoff

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 1997, 12:00am

It was the worst nightmare of the organisers - torrential rain lashing down on East Tamar just as the highlight of the sunset ceremony approached.

The second the massed bands struck up the British national anthem, the heavens opened.

Drizzle became a downpour and the music was all but drowned out.

Prince Charles stood valiantly at the podium, reading his speech, but all anyone could hear was rain drumming on umbrellas.

Finding it impossible to applaud while holding umbrellas, the crowd of about 9,000 instead stamped their feet on the metal stands to show their appreciation.

The show - timed not only for the last day of British sovereignty but the sunset of the last day - had to go on.

It began in steady rain at 6.15 pm, as the clear voices of the children's choir rang out across the gloom.

But the 21-gun salute fired from HMS Chatham sounded more like thunder than the welcome for the prince and Chris Patten as they drove into the auditorium, built specially on land reclaimed from the old naval basin of East Tamar.

The performers could do little but get wet, and though the audience tried valiantly to stay dry, there was little hope of that.

Umbrellas were even handed out in the VIP enclosure, which was supposedly sheltered from the elements by a roof.

Though the crowd were bowed, they were not prepared to give up their last chance to see British pomp and ceremony in action in Hong Kong.

They stomped so enthusiastically for the Governor that his speech was delayed.

They cheered and stomped so much afterwards that he had to stand to acknowledge the adulation of the crowd and urge them to quieten down.

The military bands belted out traditional marching tunes, but the civilian side of the ceremony was more daring, with children running around dressed as stockbrokers and lining up to form a mobile phone.

No one could doubt the power of Dame Gwyneth Jones' voice, although the choice of Lord Lloyd Webber's song Memory caused a few to cringe.

The show overran and the flags were lowered almost half an hour after sunset.

But the clouds did have one benefit - the sky was so dark that no one could tell exactly when the sun did set on the British Empire.