They came, they sang, and they all went home world record breakers.Almost five and a half thousand people crammed into Ebrington Square this afternoon when the people of Derry “smashed” the world record for the biggest song and dance routine from the hit musical ‘Annie.’While numbers still have to be officially verified by Guinness, the crowd went wild as adjudicator Martin Mullan announced that they hadn’t just broken the record for Annie, they had “smashed it.” The first count revealed that 5,480 people turned up for the event, blowing the previous record of 4,500 out of the water. Queues of people lined the square from 12 p.m. as volunteers counted the many people who came with family and friends to take part in the first mass participation event of Derry’s culture year. And many who turned up planning only to be spectators on the day decided to throw caution to the wind and get in on the action, registering at the very last minute. Even Derry’s Mayor Kevin Campbell rolled up his sleeves to become an official counter for the event with all proceeds going to the city’s Foyle Hospice.
In fact the start of the event was delayed for almost an hour as organisers tried to cope with the sheer volume of extra people who turned up to take part. But there was a real buzz in the air as DJ Mike Henry kept the crowd entertained as the queues of people lined up to get their names down on the official record sheets. At one stage the crowds of people stretched as far back as the Peace Bridge.
Sandra Biddle of the Foyle School of Speech and Drama was centre stage as she took the people to her heart and taught them each dance step meticulously. And she jokingly warned that everyone had to sing and dance, as the official Guinness camera would be watching. Talented young Meabdh Parr whose father died in the Foyle Hospice last year, was the only person with a solo role, playing the part of Sweet Little Molly and the ruthless Miss Hannigan.
As the siren signalled the official start of the record attempt old and young came together in a unique dance fusion as the people of the North West performed ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’ in a style the like of which has never been seen before in Derry and is unlikely to ever be repeated. There were smiles and laughs galore as people let themselves go laughing and dancing. Speaking to the ‘Derry Journal’ after the event Sandra Biddle said: “I am so proud of the Derry public who came out.
“They knew we were worried about numbers earlier in the week, but here we are with over 5,000. I am just so delighted and proud.” She thanked the many people who helped her, especially actor Andrew Simpson who came along, and old school pal Roma Downey who sponsored the ‘Annie’ T-shirts meaning that all the money raised will go directly to the Foyle Hospice. Speaking last night to the Sunday Journal from her home in Malibu Roma Downey sent her warmest congratulations to the people of Derry.