I don’t remember very much about it, it’s all understandably a bit hazy.
There are little things about that night that I can sort of remember. I can sort of recall what I was wearing, I can sort of make out what the room looked like, and I can sort of remember the way I felt; a mixture of crippling nerves and intense excitement.
With every minute that went by, with every other person that went before me, I became more and more impatient. I mean, try telling a kid of my age to wait his turn.
Then, before I knew it, it was time; the first time.
I was called and my name, probably pronounced incorrectly, was the last thing I remember hearing before my legs turned to jelly and I got up from my seat a little gingerly.
A number of heads turned towards me and I could hear some of the distorted murmurs from the crowd along with a few half-hearted hands banged together in a scruffy round of applause. I made my way forward, my little brain going a mile a minute, and stood on the stage.
For the first time.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first got up and performed on a stage. I remember being younger and I remember being on holiday with my family but that’s about it. It’s funny how there are certain moments from your childhood and/or your past that you can recall quite easily but other moments that completely pass you by.
I’d always had an interest in singing but, from memory, I’d always been a little bit shy about it. I think as a boy growing up it was expected you be into certain things; whilst I loved my football and other sports, I always enjoyed music and singing but the latter had only been in private. I specifically remember one year being given a karaoke machine (it was called that but it was really just a speaker with a microphone attached) for Christmas but nobody was allowed to see me so I made all our guests sit in the front room and listen whilst I could stand in the kitchen and sing my heart out. Along with the machine, I received a cassette tape of Now That’s What I Call Music! whatever-number-it was; all I can remember is that I sung Breakfast at Tiffany’s in numerous different keys and that was probably the only time I used it.
The very thought of it now is cringeworthy but at the time it was the best thing ever.
Anyway, back to the night in question; the first time night.
I must have been about…7, maybe a little younger. I was young enough to receive some form of “aww” from the crowd but I wasn’t cute enough to be completely adorable.
I don’t remember anything else from the moment I stepped on stage until the moment I opened my mouth to sing. I had this irrational fear of not knowing whether the words on the screen would be in the right language. I mean, I hadn’t done this before and we were in France of all places. What happens if the words on the screen were in FRENCH? What would I do?
Luckily, I saw that wasn’t the case, and my fears were allayed a little.
The next few minutes seem like a bit of a blur. I remember standing pretty still and reading each line and feeling less and less nervous as the song went on.
The song in question? R Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly.
Do you know what? For a moment I actually believed I could.
Not really, but I wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t too bad for a kid who for a brief moment wondered whether he’d have to recite the song in perfect French which of course he hadn’t started learning yet. It was a crummy little talent show, but for me in those 4 or so minutes it was basically Wembley Stadium.
Since then, I’ve always loved getting up on stage. I’m not an actor, I’m not a singer, I’m not really any of those things; I just like to get up and perform. From being in a band in school and playing various school-related shows to singing karaoke down my local pub on a weeknight, it’s just been something I’ve enjoyed. I even had the chance to sing the first dance song at my sister’s wedding which was lovely, as it had been kept a secret from everyone but the couple and nobody else knew it was planned.
I’m not one of those people who needs to be absolutely obliterated to be able to get up and sing a song; I’ll do it whenever. I mean, I’d have to pick the song but still, I’d be happy to. More people watching the merrier.
It surprises people, because in so many ways I’m very much within myself and I’ve become quite shy and retiring, but stick me on in front of a crowd with some music on and I become a bit of a different person.
One thing that is different about singing on a stage too is that, for some reason, I don’t stutter. I don’t know whether it’s to do with breathing or maybe because I know what I’m going to say and which order I’m going to say it in, but it never becomes a problem. Maybe that’s what gives me a bit of extra confidence, I don’t know.
I often think back to that first time and think about how many first times I actually have.
I’ve never been a daring kid. I’ve never taken risks, or gone too far out of my comfort zone, and even into my adult life I’ve often struggled to find new “first times”.
This one may not seem like it holds a lot of weight, but to me it was a real moment of “actually I really enjoy this” and I think every child needs to find something like that. How are children ever going to experience something they really enjoy if they don’t have a moment like I had, where you were battling with nerves and excitement and uncertainty and you ultimately came out the other side feeling happy and that you’d achieved something.
We all have the ability to experience and learn from the first time we do something in our lives. It could be a big thing like driving a car for the first time, or a first kiss, or the first time you hold your new-born baby; or maybe it’s a relatively small thing like stepping onto a stage in neon yellow Umbro trousers and singing a bit of R Kelly.
Whatever moments you can think of as your first times, they all have significance, and they all mean something, which is why I remember so many different bits of this moment over 20 years later.
I might not be able to fly like the song suggests, but that first moment on stage gave me the high and the confidence I needed to be able to enjoy doing it for the rest of my life.
Notes on the Author & Illustrator
Thomas is a wonderful lifestyle blogger, with often very useful posts on his blog. He’s just migrated to self host his blog. We must say it looks pretty cool. Browse through his fab blog here. You can also follow Thomas via twitter.
All illustrations provided throughout #MyFirstTime are original, bespoke works of Monty Vern. Monty has also
created “My First Time…Behind the Scenes” – a companion series to My First Time. In this exclusive series Monty allows us to take a walk through his mind when creating images for ‘My First Time’. A collaboration in every sense, when you get a glimpse into the inner workings of a creatives mind! Keep up with the whole series by following T.B.C and Monty Vern.