Millionaire saves working-class festival from history books: Durham miners' gala faced oblivion as pits were closed. Barrie Clement reports on the saviour behind today's march

TODAY the virtues and values of 'the working class' will be celebrated at the Durham miners' gala - although most members of social groups C and D these days may be blissfully unaware of its existence.

The annual festival of proletarian fraternity will take place this year in an atmosphere of some irony. First, there are no longer any deep mines in Durham - let alone the north-east of England - and second, the occasion has been rescued from penniless oblivion by a self-made multi-millionaire.

The benefactor is Michael Watt, a New Zealander who lives in Ireland and who runs CSI, a company selling television rights on behalf of sporting organisations. He was apparently hoping to remain anonymous , but his cover has been blown.

The gala - pronounced galer and not garler - has considerably more historical significance than might be gleaned from the seemingly parochial nature of the event. In the 1950s, it was the largest regular demonstration by the labour movement outside the Communist Bloc - attracting crowds of 200,000 who often waited five hours for the parade to pass. There were then more than 100 mines in Durham employing more than 100,000 colliers.

Then the industrial working-class male was seen as the voter that politicians needed to court and for prime ministers of the 'people's party' and union 'barons' the occasion was a must.

At today's more modest demonstration, marching bands, majorettes and union delegations are present by courtesy of pounds 20,000 donated by Mr Watt. The tycoon has pledged a further pounds 40,000 to secure the gala's immediate future.

Dave Hopper, of the National Union of Mineworkers, had been convinced that Durham city had seen its last gala with the closure of the last British Coal colliery in the area.

Mr Hopper initially expressed scepticism about Mr Watt's seriousness. 'I thought he was a crank, but once we spoke I realised I was wrong.'

After coming to Britain from New Zealand, Mr Watt once slept rough for six weeks and worked as a road-builder alongside former Geordie pitmen.

Mr Hopper said: 'Even though he is now extremely rich he still thinks of us. He knows what it's like to struggle.' The union has promised it will not take the extra pounds 40,000 if today's event is a 'damp squib'.

John Prescott, a Labour leadership candidate, will speak at the gala and the benign millionaire was also hoping to be present. However, his office said the glare of publicity had deterred him and he would probably stay away.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine