Elvis and Vera Lynn tribute acts bring a smile to Sheffield's elderly people stuck in isolation

A country-wide lockdown wasn’t going to stop Gary and Lorraine Birtles from bringing a smile to the faces of Sheffield’s elderly residents.

By Nik Farah
Sunday, 5th April 2020, 8:10 am
Updated Monday, 6th April 2020, 5:11 pm

The married couple are both tribute artists, and regularly perform as ‘the king of rock and roll,’ Elvis, and ‘the forces sweetheart,’ Dame Vera Lynn.

So when social isolation began earlier this month, the pair decided they would continue with their plans to perform, putting on a gig with a difference outside Swallownest Care Home in Sheffield.

“Lorraine particularly has been performing in care homes for over 25 years,” explained Gary, who launched his Elvis tribute act four years ago.

Lorraine, as Dame Vera Lynn

“We have some regular slots in homes such as Swallownest, where we have got to know a few of the residents well.

“We were due to be performing there anyway, and so when the home was locked down, we thought that the residents may need a little distraction from the day-to-day routine, so we offered to perform for them outside of the windows.

“Luckily the weather was on our side, the residents were great and joined in, and we could hear them singing along through the windows.

“We changed into our costumes at home, so that we could just drive straight to the home, perform, and drive straight back again.

Gary as Elvis

“It must have been a strange sight to see Elvis and Vera Lynn driving together through Sheffield!”

It was originally set to be a busy year for the couple, particularly Lorraine - whose act has been personally endorsed by Dame Vera Lynn herself - as 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of WWII.

Gary, who lives with Lorraine in Crystal Peaks, added: “The current situation has obviously had a very dramatic effect on our work, because all the venues have had to close their doors.

“We did have a lot of bookings in, especially as it is VE75 this year, marking 75yrs since the end of WWII, but obviously all of the shows have been pulled.

Lorraine and Gary

“But these are very scary times so the sooner we can beat this virus, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

Between Gary and Lorraine, they have nearly 40 years experience onstage.

Lorraine, who took home the Marti Caine Award for Entertainment at The Star’s own 'Inspirational Women of Sheffield' awards last month, has worked with everyone from Danny La Rue, and Jimmy Cricket, to The Bachelors, and has performed in the Blackpool Opera House and many other theatres across the UK.

In 2017 she and Gary produced a show in honour of Dame Vera’s 100th birthday, which culminated at Sheffield City Hall, and raised £10,000 for The Dame Very Lynn Children’s Charity, for which they are ambassadors. Dame Vera Lynn herself even invited Lorraine to her home to chat with her about the war, her own experiences, and to thank her for her part in helping to keep the songs alive.

Lorraine and Gary

Gary started out as Bjorn in ABBA tribute band Voulez Vouz before creating his own Elvis show.

Of their new enforced period of downtime, Gary says they’re looking on the bright side, adding: “At home it is giving us the opportunity to rehearse new songs and practice, so we’re ready to go when everything is back to normal.”

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Lorraine as Dame Vera Lynn

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