Petworth Festival: Patti Boulaye promises fun, laughter and Aretha

It’s going to be fun, promises Patti Boulaye.

Patti Boulaye
Patti Boulaye

“It’s about bringing joy. It’s about making people laugh.”

And it is also about celebrating one of the world’s greatest performers.

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Patti offers Aretha and Me at this year’s Petworth Festival on Friday, October 23.

She’s thrilled that it is happening at all: “Those guys have got the tenacity to do this. I am thinking of moving down there!”

Events at this year’s Petworth Festival will happen live to small invited audiences of sponsors and friends – but will be streamed, giving the public the chance to buy tickets and attend the events online.

For Patti, it will be her first gig back after lockdown. In fact, she went into lockdown rather earlier than the rest of us: “My MD had a heart problem and he was in hospital. It was at the end of February – and there were a couple of people in quarantine in the UK. It was the first case, and I thought ‘This is not going to go well.’ I thought I didn’t want to risk my husband or my MD so I just made the decision that we should cancel the shows in March. Everyone was worried that we were going to be sued. I just said ‘Let them sue us!’ and then we went into lockdown!”

A tough decision? No, Patti loved lockdown: “I grew up in a genocide, in a civil war, the Biafran War. I have a policy that whatever comes I will take it. Where there is life, there is always hope. To be quite honest, I am just a very prayerful person. I had thought ‘Why, God, are you being so patient with us when we are running round wrecking everything?’ and he listened.

“We hardly noticed that Sunday was a day of rest, not just for us, but for the earth. When I was growing up, on a Sunday even the farmers gave the land a break. But people didn’t, and the consequences are not good for humans, for the earth, for anyone. My motto is pride comes before a fall. The big companies were getting way past themselves… and then everything stopped. That was just incredible. It just shows that we are just guests on this earth. We are not its masters. I was in awe of the earth when it happened.”

As for the show: “I have spent 20 years building basic health-care hospitals in Africa, five hospitals and a school, and then I thought I needed my career back. I did a show called Billie and Me about Billie Holiday, and I thought what do I follow that with, and I thought about Aretha Franklin. She was still alive then. I was just writing the script when she passed away. What I do is compare her journey.

“I have been giving lectures to young people for nine years. I have been teaching young people literally how to do life, getting young people ready for the world outside. I did my show Billie and Me, and Aretha and Me continues that. I thought I could draw from Aretha Franklin’s life and my life and draw comparisons, the upsides and the downsides. And obviously, the idea of comparing my life with Aretha Franklin’s life is quite ridiculous really, so it has to be done with humour. The idea is to give people a laugh.”

Patti suspects that Aretha’s greatness truly came out with her death. She was one of the greatest singers ever – and yet she died of natural causes.

“And I put that down to her faith. She had great faith because her father was a very well-known pastor. She had that background, and faith has always been paramount for me. That has always been the case.”

• Talk is increasing of further lockdowns in the UK. What do you think of the situation? Join the Big Conversation and have your say on everything from healthcare to how the pandemic has affected you personally and how we make our communities stronger: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/bc-worthing