It's been over a month since I last wrote here. There's been too much going on and, as many of you know, I've had a very difficult time indeed...
Firstly, and very sadly, I never got to China. Two days before I was meant to fly out my husband Paul suffered a mini-stroke and lost partial sight in one eye. So, instead of living it up in Shanghai, I spent two weeks in and out of various hospitals as he underwent a barrage of tests. The obvious fear was that he might have a full stroke so he had brain scans, artery scans, blood tests, and lots and lots of scans of his eyes.
Thankfully the news is good - his arteries are clear, the brain scan was fine and his blood tests were pretty good. But he will be checked up every few weeks for a while and he'll never completely regain that section of his eyesight. As a graphic designer and photographer, Paul's eyesight is possibly his most important asset, so it's been a very scary time for us.
Whilst this was going on I was also getting concerned by the number of telephone calls I was receiving from Embassies around the world in relation to people coming to Shimmy in the City (the international festival I run with Khaled Mahmoud). I'm a registered sponsor with the UK Border Agency's Points Based immigration system which enables me to bring dancers here on temporary contracts for events such as this. It was a long and complex road gaining this status, but it should mean that it's a smooth and easy process bringing people to the UK for festivals and workshops.
Not this year! It started with telephone calls from British Embassy officials in Moscow about dancers who were just coming on visiting visas to attend workshops at Shimmy in the City. I became even more concerned when I had a long and very challenging phone call from the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi about the costumier Hanan. The official wanted to know where I'd met her, who I'd been with when I first met her, how long I'd known her, how many children she had, what her husband did and a lot more besides. It was very unnerving. But why Abu Dhabi? Hanan had applied for her visa in Cairo.
A few weeks previously Tito, Aziza and Raqia Hassan had gone to pick up their visas from the British Embassy in Cairo. They had applied several months in advance because they are experienced enough to know how important it is to leave nothing to chance. They were given a date to pick up their visas but when they got there the Embassy was closed due to the fighting in Cairo. They were told to come back a month later and that all visas would now be processed in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Nour and Yasser were being sent back time and time again to get more and more detailed personal information in support of their visa application. As it got closer to the date everyone became increasingly concerned. Finally, last Tuesday we were given the news. No Yasser or Nour for our festival.
It was a blow, but one we could deal with. Khaled and I quickly rearranged the programme - speaking to the other stars, agreeing who could cover which workshop, re-jigging the show. By the time we had finished we were pretty sure everything would be OK.
And then two days later, devastating news came like a body blow. Raqia and Aziza had also been refused. Only Tito was allowed into the country.
It was an unbelievable shock and one we knew the festival couldn't sustain. We had invited five stars, only one was going to be there. We toyed briefly with the idea of trying to bring in other stars who wouldn't need visas, but we only had one week to try and rescue everything. And we knew that people who had paid good money for workshops with Raqia, Aziza or Nour would not take kindly to being given substitutes, no matter how good.
We knew we had to cancel the whole festival.
I'll leave you to imagine our feelings. A whole year of hard work and dreams had exploded in our faces. Not only that, but we were going to let down hundreds of people - most of them friends. And of course we would lose a lot of money. But it wasn't just us. Other local businesses - the Fairfield Halls, the Croydon Park Hotel, Aqua Brasserie would all lose thousands of pounds. Not to mention our dear friend Kay Taylor, who had just received an advance consignment of 13 boxes of Hanan's fabulous designer costumes in time for the, now cancelled, festival!
Most of all, we were distressed to know that there would be dancers coming from all over the world - from as far away as Korea and Peru - who wouldn't be able to cancel their flights.
It was Khaled who came up with the beautiful Plan B. He immediately said he and his dear friend Kazafy (who had planned on coming over just to be with us and help out) would put on free workshops on the Saturday for anyone who couldn't cancel their flight. And, movingly, when he phoned Tito to tell him the festival had been cancelled, Tito insisted he would come anyway, and would also teach a free workshop for us.
The generosity of these boys is unbelievable. The friendship they share and their readiness to help each other out is remarkable.
Plan B grew and became two days of free workshops for anyone who had already booked for a workshop at Shimmy in the City. An informal Saturday night hafla was added, and then Kay said she would travel all the way from Newcastle to bring us a souk of Hanan's beautiful costumes. So now we will have a mini festival with an atmosphere, I'm sure, like nothing ever experienced before. The goodwill and kindness shown to Khaled and I in the past week has been so moving, so inspiring. I can't tell you how grateful we are.
However, I won't be there.
It's been a really hard decision to make and I feel very emotional about it. But Paul and I had already planned to take a week's holiday after Shimmy in the City. Pressure of work has meant that we haven't had a holiday for two years and this was going to be a very well-earned rest. When we first realised Shimmy in the City had to be cancelled, Paul said: "Let's go away early, put this all behind us - the stroke, the endless visits to hospital, the cancellation of the China trip, and now the shock of Shimmy in the City. We'll put a line under this past month and come back in October happy and positive about the future."
So that's what we'll do. Khaled understands - he's been worried about Paul too. And there's little I can do to help at the festival itself - it will all be done before the weekend and it's very much the boys' show, as I can't perform at the moment (I had a knee operation recently).
There's another reason too. Several months ago I had to tell Khaled the difficult news that I couldn't continue with Shimmy in the City next year, because my other commitments have just become too much for me. Next year will be even busier and I don't want to end up letting him down.
Khaled will still go ahead with Shimmy in the City next year, but I won't be his partner in putting it together. So it feels right somehow that he takes centre stage on Saturday. He's an amazing man and together with Tito and Kazafy (ably supported by Sheila and Kay) he'll give everyone a fantastic time.
I've had a wonderful few years working with Khaled on Shimmy in the City. He's the most remarkable person and a fantastic business partner. We think alike on so many things and, no matter what's happened, we've always been able to laugh together. I love him very much and I know our friendship will never end.
I wish everyone a fabulous time this weekend and if you want to see the details of the revised programme take a look at the website here.
The wonderful Galit Mersand will be covering my classes while I'm away and she'll give everyone a great time too. And I look forward to coming back refreshed and raring to go!