Going backstage at the Sky Arts South Bank Awards

Last week I was very pleased to be invited to attend the awards ceremony for the South Bank Sky Arts Awards (which I previously wrote about here) at the Dorchester. Along with fellow blogger Jaye Nolan, who writes the blog The Rhythm of Life, I was there as a guest of social media agency Jam, who had invited us backstage to get an inside look at the awards ceremony.

I can only apologise for uselessly taking no decent photographs of the event, though there's lots of good ones over at Jaye's blog. I have to admit that I was just too distracted by soaking up the chaotic atmosphere of the press room, as the award presenters and the winners, clutching their shiny Anish Kapoor awards, duly appeared. It was fascinating listening to the winner's speeches and then seeing how they responded to the (frankly rather intimidating) crowd of journalists with their barrage of microphones and cameras. Some of my highlights included Nigel Kennedy, in facepaint and football shirt, surrounded by a bevy of Bond beauties; the marvellous Victoria Wood discoursing on jigsaws; a cool-as-a-cucumber Ronnie Wood; the fabulous styling of the Noisettes; Rupert Grint chatting happily to journalists about his ice-cream van; and the diminutive Dame Judi Dench wiping away a tear or two.

It goes without saying that I was particularly keen to hear about the winner of the visual arts award, which went to Tacita Dean for Craneway Event (pictured above) her beautiful portait of the American choreographer Merce Cunningham. I know that I was rooting for the less well-established Josephine King to win, but Dean is also a hugely worthy winner. Although probably one of the leading British artists working today, she exhibits relatively rarely in the UK, and surprisingly has never won the Turner Prize, so it's great to see her receiving this kind of accolade for her work. In the press room she commented "It's a great pleasure to win something... I think visual art has grown enormously in Britain over the last twenty years, definitely in the last ten. I'm glad that there's an award show which values visual art on the same plateau as television, as film, as opera, as dance... it's great to have an award like that."

I was also intrigued to hear about the Literature category: this year's award went to the remarkable Candia McWilliam for her non-fiction memoir What to Look For in Winter which details her experience of losing her sight. In accepting the award, presented to her by Mariella Frostrup, she spoke movingly about the process of writing the book, explaining that for her "going blind was another way of seeing."

Other winners included: Plan B for The Defamation of Strickland Banks (Best Pop); Shane Meadows for This is England '86 (Best TV Drama); Gareth Edwards for Monsters (Best Film); Rev (Best Comedy); Clybourne Park at the Royal Court (Theatre); the BBC Phil and the Halle for Mahler's 8th Symphony (Classical); Everything Everything (Times Breakthrough); Akram Khan for Gnosis at Sadler's Wells (Dance) and the Welsh National Opera for Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (Opera). Dame Judi Dench was the well-deserving winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award, presented to her by Sir Peter Hall.

The day ended with the chance to enjoy the splendid surroundings of the Dorchester accompanied with delicious pink lychee flavoured cocktails, and the opportunity to ogle the celebrity guests' Penhaligons goody bags from a polite distance. Many thanks to Jam and Sky Arts for a great day!

[Images via Sky Arts and Frith Street Gallery]