NOT only is Mackenzie Thorpe a celebrated artist worldwide, he also happens to be a very kind man. And, not for the first time, he’s brought tears to my eyes.

In 2014, I took a punt by asking Middlesbrough-born Mackenzie if he might produce a painting for The Northern Echo’s forthcoming Remembrance Sunday paper, commemorating the centenary of the First World War.

I had no right to expect the response I received. Within 48 hours, two beautiful works of art were ready to be used on the front and back pages, and raised a considerable sum for Help For Heroes.

Six years on, a promise he made to another North-East charity, and one that’s close to my heart, has borne fruit in the most stunning way.

Last December, Mackenzie became patron of the North East Autism Society (NEAS), speaking movingly about his own challenges as a child with dyslexia – now recognised as a neurodiverse condition. He left with a promise to think of ways to help the charity.

And now, I’m delighted to reveal that Mackenzie is the apple of the charity’s eye after donating not one, but two, images for a pioneering project based at a County Durham farm he visited when he was unveiled as patron.

The artworks are destined to become the labels on bottles of cider and apple juice produced at New Warlands Farm, at Burnhope, County Durham, which is owned by NEAS and run as a unique training centre.

Service-users are enterprisingly engaged in a project to produce fruit and vegetables, eggs, artisan breads, scones, and drinks, to make the farm sustainable.

Around 150 apple trees, out of a target of 1,000, have also been planted, and pressing equipment has been acquired so the charity can make its own brand of cider and apple juice.

Mackenzie was so inspired by the project that he vowed to produce a work of art that could be used on the bottle labels.

The artist, whose work is in demand all over the world, has now proved to be as good as his word, in time for World Autism Acceptance Month.

Not only has he created a new pastel work called “Picked With Love” specifically for NEAS, but he has also made available a piece, called Love Picker, which he completed a few years ago.

The pair of paintings show children picking apples, in the shape of hearts, from trees bathed in light.

Mackenzie said: “I was very moved by my visit to New Warlands Farm, and to see the wonderful work being carried out by the North East Autism Society.

“As a proud patron, I wanted to do something that would be of both value and practical use to the charity. The idea of producing designs for the cider and apple juice labels came into my head straight away, and it will be an honour to see them on the bottles.”

Due to the continuing coronavirus crisis, the official unveiling of the artworks will take place later this year, along with further details of how they will be used to benefit the charity.

NEAS chief executive, John Phillipson, said: “We were thrilled when someone of Mackenzie’s stature agreed to become our patron, and the works of art he has donated are absolutely stunning.

“It was a very different world back in December when Mackenzie visited the farm, but we look forward to the day – hopefully in the not too distant future – when we can welcome him back, with his wife, Susan, and toast him properly for his wonderful gesture.

“It is no exaggeration to say that every bottle of cider and apple juice produced by our service-users at New Warlands Farm will now be a work of art.”

TONIGHT should have been the opening night of the latest production by the brilliant Darlington Operatic Society.

The cast for Strictly Musicals 3 had been rehearsing since November, see left, only for Darlington Hippodrome Theatre to be forced to close due to coronavirus.

However, the members of Darlington Operatic Society (DOS) are made of stern stuff and they’ve done their best to live up to the old theatre adage: “The show must go on.”

Over the past few weeks, around 30 of the members, singing from the safety of their own homes, have been brought together as a “virtual choir” under the musical direction of Jo Hand and Steven Hood, and will perform One Day More, from Les Miserables, tonight.

A video of the performance – produced by Scott Akoz – will be broadcast on the Darlington Operatic Society Facebook page at 7.30pm – the time the curtain would have been going up on Strictly Musicals 3.

“It’s a way of marking the day and time we should have been on stage, and still engaging with the audience,” says DOS spokesman Julian Cound.

At 7.30pm on May 2, to mark what would have been the final show of Strictly Musicals 3, DOS members will perform a dance routine to From Now On – from The Greatest Showman.

  • Tonight’s performance will be introduced by me, as proud president of Darlington Operatic Society. I promise not to sing.

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IT'S a pleasure to be writing about how folk are raising funds for charity in the midst of the crisis.

In Monday's paper, I told how  Darlington Rotarian, Tony Marshall, had raised £1,100 by shaving off the beard he’s had for 52 years.

An interesting postscript has now emerged about  how Tony twice turned down cinematic stardom to avoid losing his facial hair.

Along with friend, Trevor Griffiths, Tony’s hobby is collecting World War Two military vehicles, which have occasionally been used on TV and film locations.

He recalls the time a Jeep had been supplied for All Creatures Great and Small in the late 1980s, and was driven by “Callum” actor John McGlynn.

During filming, Tony was asked if he’d shave his beard off for £50 and appear as a shop customer on the set at Reeth. He politely declined.

Years later, Tony and Trevor were with their vehicles on Redcar beach for the filming of Atonement, and were again invited to take part.

The proviso was that they had to shave if they wanted to be soldiers, so they refused. They were then asked to play French farmers, a role that would allow  them to retain their facial hair.

“It involved having something to do with horses, so we kicked that into touch as well,” recalled Tony.

Having watched the film three times, Tony’s yet to see a French farmer make an appearance.

  • Anyone who would like to make a donation in recognition of Tony’s efforts, should go to

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