True stories in the dark on Hampstead Heath

“Five women, five true stories from their own lives, all told at night in the magical surroundings of Hampstead Heath Ladies’ Pond.”

Well, it was a good idea – and though we were disappointed not to get permission to go inside the actual pond enclosure, we’d decided to pitch up just by the gate and hold our event in the gorgeous meadow outside.

We had around 60 people sign up to come along, but on the day the rain was torrential. Hampstead Heath looked like a scene from Moby Dick. The forecast had been good for this Saturday, but it was obviously wrong.

I’d been planning the open-air storytelling event with Verity Flecknall, from arts collective Storm in a Teacup, for about 3 months. We always knew that this might happen, but now it was happening I was so disappointed.

Not only that, but Verity, her partner Hannah and Jackie Downs, one of my star-storytellers, were all too ill to come.

This left me with a serious problem. My sister Katherine had located a gazebo in case of rain, but we were only two people. We needed four people: two to carry the thing over and erect it and two more waiting by the station to meet our audience and begin leading them to the spot.

Katherine and I were at the point of giving up when I remembered a tiny shelter in the woods. It wasn’t by the pond, but we could at least be there without erecting a gazebo.

We sent out a hasty message on Facebook warning people that we wouldn’t be at the pond after all. It was confusing, disappointing and the weather was terrible. We’d pretty much decided that no one would come – however, we were wrong!

Firstly, Verity and Hannah dragged themselves from their sick-beds right across town to drop off some banners and meet a few people – before collapsing and going straight home again! It was really encouraging to see them. Then, at the last minute, the setting sun came out, shining brilliantly through the trees, creating a vivid rainbow over the Heath.

People started to gather at the meeting point. A few were late, more were lost or at the wrong place, but at the allotted time we made our way through the glittering trees to our rickety shelter. In the end, there were around 30 of us.

Our wonderful storytellers were Jane Bradley, Mikella Broomberg, Jennifer Farmer and Katie McCullough. Each person told a true story from their own life. It was moving, delighting, shocking, hilarious, honest. Best of all, when they had finished, 3 audience members were brave enough to get up and share on the spot! – hats off to Paula, Rebecca and Yolanda, and huge thanks to our lovely warm audience who made them feel so welcome.

By this time the Heath was utterly dark and we could hear owls and foxes screaming from the wood. Then from the blackness, two figures appeared. The police! In the most friendly way they informed us that they had been approached all night by people searching for our event, wandering around and lost. By some miracle, most of the lost souls found us eventually. I was glad to have it confirmed that we were not contravening any by-laws, as I’d already decided to hold another Her Story on the Heath next year.

So the event was over and everyone drifted towards home or the pub. Katherine and I checked the place for litter (there wasn’t a scrap) and walked back through the trees past the creepy darkened funfair on the west of the Heath.

It was an amazing exhilarating evening, but we really missed Verity, Hannah and Jackie. Hope they make it next year!