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Global Columbus: Robert Hay-Smith


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Robert Hay-Smith

Born: London

Age: 70

Primary language: English

Work: Artistic director of Harlequin Theatre. He has been involved in acting since he was 3 years old, and he continues to write and perform. He’s also an accomplished musician, most famously known for the No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hit “Winchester Cathedral,” and he still has regular bass gigs.

Education: Attended primary and secondary school in England and went on to study at the Royal Military School of Music, the Corona Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and the City Literary Institute. He also studied cooking at Northampton College in 1990.

Family: Wife, Evelyn Stirling, of 26 years — although because they were married on a Leap Day, the couple has only celebrated a quarter of those anniversaries. Hay-Smith and Stirling also have a 19-year-old son, Miles, who is attending the University of Northwestern Ohio to study performance engineering.

Hobbies: I like to play golf, I suppose that’s a hobby. It’s hard because this, the theater, feels like a hobby. I like to read mostly plays, not a lot of fiction. I also try to understand computer technology. I hate computers, and I think they know I hate them. But my whole life feels like a hobby.

How and when did you come to live in Columbus?

My wife was transferred here from Belgium, where we lived for six years, for Cummins. We were supposed to stay for three to five years, but that was in November 1996. I left the New Vaudeville Band in 1990 because I had too many balls in the air, and around then she was offered this opportunity in Belgium. I said we’ll just go. We’d been married a couple of years and she said, ‘What about you?’ And I said, ‘We’ll see what happens.’ I believe sincerely that women, even now, with all the push towards equality, they don’t get the opportunity to fulfill their potential. So off we went.

We had a great time in Belgium, where little Miles was born, but I’ve always been nomadic by nature anyway. It was a choice to come to Columbus. They wanted her to come here, and it was just another stepping-stone in life’s little adventures. I’m here now. I seem to enjoy it wherever I am.

What do you like best about your job?

I really enjoy nurturing talent out of people when I’m directing a play. You let them run, you know? I like to make people feel special. We normally have a lot of fun. I very rarely, in fact, I think only once have I ever screamed at my actors. Once. There’s no point, what does it gain? Along the way, you never know what effect you have on people.

But the other reason I am here is because I enjoy entertaining people. I like creating an environment where people can have a good time, and the last two shows have been sold out.

What were some of your first impressions of the U.S.?

I had been to the states before to do shows with the band. We were doing Vegas and the Greek Theatre and Vancouver back in the ‘60s. It was just a wild, fun place at the time, back there in California in the late ‘60s.

When we came to Columbus, we thought, ‘What a fabulous community.’ I’ve never known such community spirit as here in Columbus. There’s this attitude where if something went wrong, everyone would rally, which actually happened in the flood.

How have people reacted to you in Columbus?

You sort of need to ask them. I seem to get on with most people, or at least I think so. They seem to like my English accent.

What were some of the most difficult things to adjust to?

Distance, I suppose. Even in Belgium we had to drive to the shops, but I think it was hard for my son. His friends that he would meet, they might live 10 miles away.

In a fun way, the other thing hard to adapt to is the fact Columbus seems to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. when we’re used to late-night parties. When we first came here I threw a housewarming party and invited all my neighbors and everyone we knew. We were ready for it, but by 9:30 they had all gone. Disappeared. Yet in Belgium we threw a party with 50 guests when I was 50 and my wife was 40, so we threw a 90th. It was meant to be on a Saturday, but they started arriving on the Friday night, I cooked a breakfast for 30 on Sunday morning and I cooked dinner for 11 on Sunday evening and then there was one couple left on Monday morning.

What do you miss most about London and Belgium?

I really don’t miss anything about London. I suppose the only thing I would miss was being able to walk to the shops.

I miss the food and the chocolates and the beer in Belgium, which probably puts me in perspective now. I probably miss not having to speak French anymore. Our French has slipped away a bit.

What advice do you have for newcomers to Columbus?

It’s all to do with friendship, really. Don’t just stay within your little group. Reach out and make friends with people, especially if you’ve come from another country. Learn to understand how different people see the world, because people have different ways of looking at things.

Also, come to every single show at the Harlequin.

What is your favorite place to visit and why?

Gosh, that’s a huge question. I might not even have found it yet. There’s lots of places I really like, but I might not have found my favorite place yet. Actually, it might be where I end up settling down.

I was stunned by the Grand Canyon, and Brussels is a lovely place.

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