MY MATE and I were thrilled when a beautiful young lady, Sarah, sat down between us with a smile. As two Aussies, we immediately battled for her attention with our attempts at cool charm and quick wit. The event was a 25th wedding anniversary dinner for about 60 guests. Sarah was very relaxed and easily held her own in the conversational crossfire.
As the speeches began, Sarah got up to say a few kind words about the wife, Mandy. Then she did something bizarre: she suddenly burst into song, screeching out Barry Manilow’s hit, “Mandy”. I don’t think, “Oh Mandy, well you came and you gave without taking. Oh Mandy…” has ever sounded so bad. It was so painful that a waiter felt obliged to interrupt and gently usher her back to her seat. I thought to myself, “this girl is a bit strange”. But my mate and I quickly returned to telling jokes and stories with her as our umpire and audience.
Then the night took another twist: two of the waiters started singing opera! Everybody looked on in amazement and delight as the tenors soared through their notes. Sarah was so impressed she decided to sing along with them; I tried to stop her as she got to her feet, but to no avail. “This girl is actually an idiot”, I thought, “She’s going to ruin it”. But this time, instead of screeching, she sang unbelievably, with a beautiful, powerful soprano voice. She was actually Sarah Ryan who has performed all over the world – we’d been duped! The three then put on amazing show, and it was all the more enjoyable because of the surprise element.
I chatted later to one of the “waiters”, Geoff Sewell. He owns the business, Incognito Artists, which provides and directs the performers. Geoff has a great story. A cool Kiwi living in London, his passion was singing but his job was accounting. So he took the drastic step: he dumped the job and started his singing and impersonations company.
He soon regretted it. Despite endless cold calls, pamphlets and meetings, a whole year later he hadn’t had a single booking. There did seem to be an interest for corporate and social events, but Geoff lacked testimonials and a track record. He was running out of money and motivation. Dejected, he went to the gym for a hard workout and a hard decision. He felt like a fool; so many people had advised him not to give up the day job. Now he was going to have to tell them they were right.
Before he could though, his mobile rang. Talk about timing; he got his first gig. Twelve years later Incognito has flourished internationally, with 72 singers on the books. They’ve fooled and delighted many people – even those who thought that Aussie banter could impress an accomplished opera singer.
Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.