SOUTH Shields singing star Joe McElderry is backing a bunch of talented students as they prepare to take the stage.
The 21-year-old was at the launch of Sunfest last night.
The month-long programme of events sees students from the University of Sunderland take over the Customs House in Mill Dam, South Shields.
The X Factor and Popstar to Operastar champ went along to the venue to help officially launch the string of events.
He said: “I think Sunfest is a brilliant idea. I always love seeing young people perform and being nurtured and helped along the way.
“I am really excited to see their work on stage.”
For the last two years, students from the University of Sunderland’s Faculty of Arts, Design and Media have entered into a unique partnership with the Customs House, during the month of May to stage their own programme of theatre, dance and visual arts.
Now in its third year, the success of Sunfest has been extended to include performances at Arts Centre Washington.
Joe joins a prominent list of actors and entertainers including Waterloo Road’s Melanie Hill, The Royal’s Wendy Craig, Shields-born Little Mix star Jade Thirlwall and Sunderland band Frankie and the Heartstrings, to throw their support behind the student-led event.
Graeme Thompson, dean of arts, design and media at the University of Sunderland, said:
“We are delighted that Joe is supporting this year’s Sunfest. He is a natural talent and has done so much to raise aspirations among young performers.”
Customs House executive director, Ray Spencer, said: “Joe is a great supporter of The Customs House and we are delighted he is backing Sunfest and giving the students the boost they deserve.
“The students bring a dash of verve and panache to all their performances and it’s a great platform for those who wish to develop a professional career on the stage.”
Some of the highlights during Sunfest include performances of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and All My Sons, and the abridged version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Titus Andronicus at Arts Centre Washington in Fatfield, as well as a Beatles tribute evening and Motown classics.
Joe took to the stage to perform his songs Wide Awake and What Have I Done, before taking a seat in the audience to watch the students do their thing.
For a full programme of events and to book your tickets go to: www.customshouse.co.uk
SOUTH Shields superstar Joe McElderry is getting on his bike for a cancer charity.
The 21-year-old is set to tackle a coast-to-coast cycle for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Joe and 15 of his close friends and family will ride more than 150 miles from Whitehaven, in Cumbria, to Joe’s hometown of South Shields.
The X Factor and Popstar to Operastar champ is a regional patron for the charity, which raises funds to support teenagers fighting cancer.
He said: “I’ve done the Great North Run three times now, and people have been so generous that they’ve helped me raise £10,000 for Teenage Cancer Trust the last two times.
“Because of work commitments, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do the run this year, so I wanted to try doing something a little different.
“Some of my friends and family have done a coast-to-coast cycle before and it sounded like a fun challenge to take on. It’s been a while since I’ve been on a bike though so I’ll have to get practicing.”
He added: “I go out running and exercise to keep fit quite a lot anyway so I’ll still be doing that and hopefully go out on the bike a couple of times a week to get my legs used to it.
“I’m not really feeling nervous. The main thing to remember is that it’s for charity and no matter how hard the challenge is, it’ll be worth it in the end.
“I’m sure the cycle will be a lot of fun and hopefully we’ll raise enough money to help the charity out. I’m looking forward to it – it’s going to be an experience.
“The work Teenage Cancer Trust does is really important.
“I’ve been to the centres and seen it first hand. Cycling 150 miles is nothing compared to what those kids, teens and their families are going through, and anything I can do to help, I will.”
Family-run AS Cycles, in St Aidan’s Road, South Shields, has donated a bike to Joe, and offered to service all the riders’ bikes before they set off on the challenge, dubbed the TCTC2C, on August 15.
The participants will also be offered a 20 per cent discount on any equipment they need for the four-day challenge.
Shepherd Engineering Services (SES) is also getting on board by donating food and drinks for the group.
After the challenge, Joe plans to auction the Merida Crossway 100 bike, worth £499, in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust, in the hope that the winning bidder will carry on the legacy by completing their own coast-to-coast cycle.
Joe, of Westoe, South Shields, said: “I’d love for whoever buys the bike to go on a coast-to-coast with their friends to raise money for the charity.
“It’s such an amazing cause but the charity needs help to continue its work.”
He added: “Riding into South Shields at the end of the cycle is going to be an amazing feeling.
“I’ve experienced it every time I’ve done the Great North Run – it just feels great to get back into Shields.
“It also helps that you’re coming into a familiar place so you know how far away the finish line is.”
Steve Wiberg, director of AS Cycles, said: “We’re just a small family business but what Joe and his family are doing is brilliant and we’re happy to help out.”
Joe added: “We haven’t got a total in mind, but we just want to raise as much as we can for what is such an amazing cause.”
To sponsor Joe and his fellow riders, go to www.justgiving.com/joe-mcelderry1 and to follow a live stream of the challenge, go to www.joemcelderryofficial.com.
n Fans can keep up to speed on Joe’s training as he writes a fortnightly column about his training for his favourite paper.
See Tuesday’s Gazette for the first instalment.
Listen to the interview here.