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Les Prendergast vividly recorded his impressions of the gruelling competition and fabulous prize trip
Dear Alan & Leila,
Thank you for looking after Tanneh and me the way you both did. We've never had such a good time and we doubt whether we'll enjoy ourselves as much again. You never know though, there may be a few more competitions that we can enter. What makes us laugh is that we only found out about the one at the Grafton Ballrooms in Liverpool a few days before it was held. We didn't know about the Buddy Holly convention until we received our application forms. When we realised that we could win a holiday in Dallas the furniture was very quickly moved out of Tanneh's living room and we started jiving to Buddy Holly's records immediately. We danced until we were exhausted every day, trying all the lime to invent new steps and throws to add to our existing jive. I woke up one morning with my head full of new ideas and had to get up and try them out before I forgot them. Some of Tanneh's neighbours complained to the police one night about the noise we were making and we were a bit disheartened. They didn't appreciate that we had nowhere else to practise so we had to tone it down a bit. It's not the same somehow when you can't feel the beat of the music hitting you, but we did the best we could under the circumstances.
The big night soon came around and by then we were quite happy with the new throws and footwork that we had introduced to our jive. We had different routines for each record and we had everything timed to the second (well nearly). We set out on our way to Liverpool with our hearts in our mouths, both too petrified to speak. We knew that if we won we would automatically be entered for the final at the Lyceum in London. The closer we got to the Grafton the less sure we became of ourselves. When we actually arrived we were at such a pitch that we didn't fully understand what was going on!
When the dancing started and we began to try out some of our new steps, Tanneh froze. I didn't feel so good myself, but somehow I managed to snap her out of it and get her moving again. To our great relief one of the judges tapped me on the shoulder which meant we were in the first six. As the time went by we both became much more relaxed, forgot about the crowd and just enjoyed ourselves. Before we knew it we were in the final three and everyone was clapping and cheering for us. We'll never forget the shouts for number five! The crowd really gave us a lift, so much so that we won the competition. It was like a dream come true for us, the manager really gave us the V.I.P. treatment. He asked us to dance on our own and the atmosphere was really electric by then. We couldn't get used to the idea that everyone was applauding us. After our ears slopped ringing we were asked outside with the runners up to have our photographs taken. Tanneh and I were then invited upstairs where there was a bullet laid on for us. We were presented with a box set of Buddy Holly L.P.s each and fifty pounds spending money for our stay in London. We realised that there were ten other couples dotted around the country who were in the same position as us, and that they were all after a holiday in Dallas for themselves. We both fell as though we had cleared one hurdle but the next one-was going to be a lot bigger.
With just four weeks to go we had a lot of work to do. We tried to find out how good the opposition was going to be by asking around at some of the Rock 'n' Roll clubs that we go to, and the more we learned the less we liked it. It was rumoured that the Londoners were 'red hot' when it came to jiving and if we were to stand any chance we knew there would be no easy way out. We tried to get hold of some videos that had some of the '50s style jiving on them in the hope of some good throws being shown, but there was nothing available. It was us to ourselves to come up with something special of our own. I started going for runs every morning and Tanneh exercised very hard every day too. We practised so hard that Tanneh unfortunately became very ill. She complained that she had an earache and I didn't take much notice at first, but the next day she was laid up in bed with terrible stomach pains. I called the doctor out for her and he had Tanneh admitted to Warrington General Hospital for a few days. It took a week for her to get back on her feet but she still wasn't really well enough for the kind of punishment that it was going to take to win the final. We took things easy and I continued with my runs until I hurt my foot. Now it was my turn! I could hardly walk for the following week, never mind dance, so we were thrown back even further. We were both so depressed by the bad luck we were having that we were at each other's throats every minute. I'll never know how we managed it but somehow with the grace of God we developed what we thought was a very good routine.
When the day finally came and we had our suitcases packed, all the nervousness and insecurity all came flooding back. We boarded the London train at Runcorn station and hardly spoke all the way there. When we did arrive we were escorted to a special open topped bus on which we and the other finalists were taken on a tour around London. We were then taken to the Lyceum Ballroom in the Strand and introduced to the Manager.
He asked us to put on a bit of a show in the street where they had a fifties style juke box. While we danced, photographers from the national press had us all posing this way and that. We were both too nervous to do as they asked and just wished we could gel it all over with. Eventually we went inside and were given sandwiches and wine. Afterwards 'launch and I booked into the Washington Hotel nearby, where we refreshed ourselves and changed our clothes. In the afternoon we returned to the Lyceum to practice.
When the competition started I expected Tanneh to freeze again, the way she did in the Grafton but she was as cool as a cucumber. I was the nervous one this time and the sweat was dripping off me. We danced to two records and were picked as one of the six couples. We danced again and then we were asked to leave the dance floor while the judges made their decision. Tanneh and I went up to the changing rooms to refresh ourselves whilst waiting for the outcome. When they started announcing the runners up first I thought I was going to crack up completely. It seemed to take years for the words to reach my ears, but when I heard them awarding us first place I nearly started crying. Tanneh screamed the place down and jumped about like some sort of demented creature. We were asked to dance on our own, and as far as we were concerned those four minutes, we were on our own. We were so excited that we couldn't contain our feelings. Paul McCartney and his wife Linda invited us onto the stage where they presented us with a huge trophy and gold medals. Paul shook our hands and Linda kissed us both.
When we got back our friends and neighbours were over the moon with our good fortune. We had our photographs taken and everyone in the street seemed to be celebrating. We slept very soundly that night, with the knowledge that all we had to do from then on was enjoy our holiday. The endless stream of publicity and congratulations we received the next day amazed us. We received a telegram from Radio Merseyside, we were introduced to Radio City and then taken to Granada Studios where we were interviewed and asked to jive in front of the TV cameras. They were very kind to us and even had a meal laid on. We saw ourselves the following Monday on 'Granada Reports'.
We had both agreed all along that if we won the competition and went to Dallas we would get married beforehand and call it our honeymoon. So - we obtained a special licence and we married on Tuesday 21st September 1982. Our wedding went so well and I will never forget how Tanneh looked in her bridal gown. She still can't get used to being called Mrs. Prendergast. The Liverpool Echo, Daily Post, Runcorn Guardian and the Runcorn Weekly News were all there to photograph us and hear our story. What made our day was that we received a bottle of Champagne and a bouquet of flowers from Paul McCartney and his wife!
Over the next few weeks we sorted out our passports and visas for our trip to Dallas. We couldn't believe it when Martin, the Manager of Grafton Ballrooms in Liverpool, told us that he had organised a Rolls-Royce to come to our front door and take us to the station. In fact he spoke to me and when I tried to tell Tanneh about it she called me all the liars under the sun! What a day that was when all the neighbours that had once complained about the noise we made then saw us leave in style! The local press were there again and I'm glad to say that we now have quite a sizeable scrapbook. We waved goodbye to Southgate and all our friends, and we were driven down to Lime St. Station in Liverpool to meet our train. We arrived at Euston Station in London at 8.30 pm and were taken in a black Mercedes to the Gatwick Hilton Hotel. We met the couple that had come second there and sat talking to them until after 1.00 in the morning. They were both ballroom dancers so to come second in a competition was quite an achievement. We congratulated them on being almost as good as us! We arranged to meet them the following morning for breakfast and we all got along as though we had known each other for years.
Later on we washed, packed and changed ready for our flight and we were introduced to Paul McCartney's Recording Manager Alan and his wife. They were very friendly genuine people, and between them they made our holiday very special. We made a lot of good friends in a very short space of time. Tanneh and I were then handed our flight tickets and passports and taken to Gatwick Airport where we were met by a journalist from the Observer. He took a number of photographs of us at the airport and told us that he was going to have us on the front page of the Observer before Christmas!
We boarded a jumbo 747 at eleven o'clock and we were very impressed at the size of it. We had never seen anything like it before and Tanneh had never flown before at all. Everything was new and exciting to us, the scats were ten across with two passengers in between! It was a very smooth take-off and flight and it took just over eight hours to arrive in Fort Worth in Dallas. Before leaving the plane, we changed into our good clothes in order to give them the right impression. We both wanted to look the part especially as we were visiting a new country. When we stepped out of the plane the heat hit us. It was a lovely sight to see the sun beating down for a change because we had not seen a decent summer for ages. We were allowed straight through customs without having to queue or have our things searched and we were met by Maria, Buddy Holly's widow. We will both never forget Maria, she was nothing short of being an angel. She bought a beautiful hat for Alan's wife Leila and presented us all with flowers. Alan introduced us properly to Maria and then we were all led to three white Cadillac convertibles. They had white bull horns on the bonnets! We have got a photograph of them in our album so we will always be reminded. The cars were all air-conditioned and there was plenty of ice cold beer available too. We have dreamed of such luxury but neither of us thought we would actually experience it. We were met by the press and they kept us busy for an hour taking our photographs. I must admit I was enjoying being a celebrity for a change and Tanneh took to it with no qualms whatsoever.
Dallas is just amazing, there is always something to do and the sights are really something to behold. We were shown the spot where John F. Kennedy was assassinated and were really impressed with the buildings. Each one was a masterpiece in its own right. The one that I was most taken in by was a globe shaped restaurant at the top of a tower.