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A decade of Dawn at the Stansted Garden Show, Hampshire

At the end of 2011 I had only just started my full time career as a vintage singer and I was still in the crossover period of being in the ‘business’ world so I was attending an awards function and happened to be sat next to a couple of ladies who won an award. I was so happy for them and we chatted the night away. Turns out they ran a highly respected bistro café and they were such good company that evening. We got chatting about what I do and it turns out they were going to be running a vintage tea room at the Stansted Garden Show the following June – the same one I’d sat in that summer, not knowing my life was about to change in only a few months! Anyway, they asked if I’d fancy coming to sing some songs and of course, I jumped at the opportunity as I was new to the vintage scene and the practice would be good in my new style of performance. I think I might’ve also performed at their bistro early in 2012 too but I can’t actually recall. It was over ten years ago now!

June 2012 came along and my excitement about debuting at the Stansted Garden Show was overshadowed by my beloved dog Basil being poorly but I made it through the performance ( I think I only did the one day for a few hours) albeit feeling quite tearful. I was positioned inside the vintage tea room marquee which stood in the area in front of the food marquee, and had a single speaker that I borrowed from the pub band I'd been with since 2006 and I wore the dress I'd won 'Best Dressed at Goodwood Revival' in the year before which was the catalyst for this new era of my life/performing career. I recall my Mum was there and she sat and chatted to my friend Alex of The Vintage Parade (and since the creator of The Nostalgia Show) over a cream tea.

Vintage singer Dawn Gracie performing for the first time at Stansted Garden Show, Hampshire
The beginning of a wonderful future

The following year (2013), the Vintage Tea Room was repositioned and placed over on the (what’s called) Dog Island in front of the majestic Stansted House. I was placed outside in the sunshine which was lovely, and performed all three days for a few hours each day. I absolutely loved that year because my act was far more honed and I even got snapped by the Chichester Observer! I'd bought a beautiful original vntage dress and I'd even got a compact speaker of my own! It was a wonderful weekend and I remember meeting so many lovely people who were so complimentary and I just KNEW I’d made the right decision to make this my full time career.

Vintage performer Dawn Gracie at The Garden Show 2013 Stansted House, Hampshire
Look at that grin

In 2014 the tea room was no longer an externally hired in thing but I had been approached by the lovely organiser of the Show to return on my own without the backdrop of the tea room; instead they had the lovely Caravanilla ice cream caravan for me to nestle next to. The area on Dog Island where the tea room had been previously was now an open sided marquee for people to shelter from the sun whilst enjoying the various food and drink concessions; as well as my entertainment. I recall it being so hot that weekend that my new ipad overheated on a few occasions! I learnt from that mistake and now ALWAYS have a back up device to hand. Again I got to showcase a new (to me) vintage original bought from American Instagram trader Butch Wax Vintage, and still to this day one of my favourites in my collection even though it's now 3 sizes too small!

Vinatge singer Danw Gracie performing at Stansted Garden Show in Butch Wax Vintage outfit
Basking in the sun

2015 was the year of epic sunburn and the debut of my vintage curtain dresses! I recall my friend and photographer Trevor Burdett came along on one of the days and took some shots of me in action, and boy oh boy do I still wince at those photos of my beetroot shoulders! Luckily the dresses had spagetti straps and so were very kind to my burns. Again, these dresses are too small for me now but I still love to tell the story of how I had the idea of getting a seamstress to knock me up some dresses using a vintage pattern using genuine vintage fabric I'd hoarded for years!

Vintage singer Dawn Gracie with sunburn performing at The Garden Show Stansted House Hampshire
Ouchie sunburn

2016 was another year of sunburn (didn’t learn my lesson!) despite all of my efforts to stay in the shade. This year I was positioned facing away from the covered marquee seating area and was kind of facing towards the main arena. It’s a very different thing when you’re performing to passers-by rather than captive audiences choosing to sit and listen so this was an interesting year. I did however meet lots of amazing humans and pooches! This was also the year that I was promoting my first ever ‘Dawn’s Vintage Weekender’. Even though my job is to be there to entertain the lovely Garden Show customers, I’ve always been grateful that Jane has allowed me to also have my banner up promoting whatever my current project is

Kate Henwood Photography Dawn Gracie at Stansted Garden Show vintage singer and entertainer
Image Kate Henwood Photogrpahy

2017 Ethels first public outing! I decided that I needed a cute little vehicle that year and the idea was always to convert her into a working ‘sweet van’ to hire out for weddings (this never happened) but she did however create a real buzz in 2017. Lots of VW enthusiasts curious to know what on earth she was (A Suzuki Evey with a VW make over)! Ethel was the perfect backdrop and even helped prop up my banner for that years Vintage All Dayer which was to be later in the year. This year I was positioned in such a way that it created a little ‘area’ so I found people would gather and sit on the grass to enjoy the sun and whatever they were eating and drinking. Lots of children also loved Ethel as she has a very kind and happy face. The flamingoes also helped!

Dawn Gracie vintage singer and entertainer with Ethel the pretend VW camper van. Performing at Stansted Garden Show Hampshire
The debut of Ethel the sweet truck that never was

2018 Once again Ethel made it along to the show and gave my little area a cute backdrop but this time I was more facing the open sided marquee so it created more of a open area and the undercover seated people could now see me again rather than just the back of me. This year the banner was promoting my Stroll Social event which featured Colin Tenn (Brighton Jive) as well as my Dawn’s Vintage Weekender return (now at Mill Rythe, Hayling Island) after the previous year being just an all dayer. This was a super busy year at the Garden Show and even though it was a bit breezy (many times running after my banner to stop it blowing away) it was, as always, filled with happy smiling faces as is synonymous with The Garden Show

Danw Gracie vintage singer entertains at the garden show Stansted House Hampshire.
A windy weekend with Ethel

2019 was a wet year. Very unusual for this to happen in June but the wind and rain did cause havoc that year. Some traders had a bit of trouble with gazeebos and I performed two of the three days in wellies! I believe I even sat in Ethel for a few hours whilst singing just to take shelter! Despite this little hiccup, it didn’t dampen the spirits of the show goers as there was still a steady stream of customers milling around, occasionally looking up to see the dark clouds looming.

Image Kate Henwood Photography

2020 Well, this was an interesting year wasn’t it? First time ever (to my knowledge) that the date of the show has been moved! Due to the pandemic bringing the world of events to its knees, I can say, first hand, how devastating that was. I can only imagine the turmoil that the team behind this epic show was going through. Amazingly, the show was moved to September that year and the show literally went on, but with all kinds of new rules/restrictions in place. I for one had to keep my distance from any passer-by or seated guest. Even though I was outside, I wore a plastic visor and only took it off when very far away from anyone. It was a very sunny weekend so I positioned myself just under the marquee in the corner so my equipment wouldn’t’ over heat. As per Government requirements for virus control, the team were wiping all the tables and chairs down the minute anyone got up, and it ran like a military operation. It was weird not being allowed to sit on laps or greet old friends with a hug but it was more than I’d expected we’d be doing so I was incredibly happy to be back out performing after six months of only doing online gigs. There was no banner this year because my SOLD OUT Dawn’s Vintage Weekender had been cancelled due to Covid and so it was just little 'ole me just being happy to be there again. There was also no Ethel because I had stored her away in the garage as it wasn’t worth fully taxing or fully insuring her for a year where we were told to stay at home and not venture far!

Dawn Gracie vintage singer smiles during performances at the garden show Stansted House Hampshire
Smiles all round after a strange start to the year

2021 Hurrah! the show returned to its June slot and the sun shone all weekend as did the smiles on people’s faces. The new way of life according to Covid was fully accepted now and masks were no longer an unusual sight. As I was outside, I didn’t have to mask up but I still kept my distance and no hugging or embracing old friends. Again, it was a banner free year as my Weekender could not be planned again because of Covid. Again another year without Ethel for the same reasons as last year and it was lovely how many people asked after her! I even heard that there was a rumour that I’d fallen on hard times because of the pandemic and had to sell her! I mean it was indeed a rubbish 18 months but luckily I have a husband who worked throughout and I was able to store Ethel away until it was worth making the most of her again.

Posing on the steps of Stansted House

2022 So here we are in a full circle, as I will be appearing again in June for the TENTH year running! I’m almost at a loss to express how shocking this is to me that a whole decade has passed and each Garden Show I do gives me exactly the same excitement! I look forward to seeing some of the same traders year after year and catching up with the countless friends and followers who come to see me every time! In some cases I’ve literally seen people’s children and grand children grow up and to get that energy and familiarity from my audiences is why I do this job. It’s why I adore the Garden Show and I want to thank the team, especially Jane, who books me year after year and gives me the responsibility of entertaining her wonderful customers.

See you in June and please do pop by and say hello and have a sing along while you’re there


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