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Villagers get a rare chance to meet rock star neighbour

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: August 25, 2011

Shirley and Charlie Watts at the opening of Dolton Village Hall. Also pictured is Sue Jury, chairman of the village hall committee. Credit: Picture: Roger Dunn

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Paul Donovan

ROLLING Stones drummer Charlie Watts and his wife Shirley finally made the acquaintance of their village hall last weekend, two decades after moving to North Devon.

With her husband by her side, Shirley cut the blue ribbon in front of Dolton Village Hall – whose £60,000 refurbishment was featured in the Journal last week – and declared it open.

It was the first time the couple had been seen together in the village for many years.

Indeed, many Doltonians had never seen either of them until last Saturday, when 120 of them gathered to do so.

The most enduring drummer in the history of rock music, a famously neat and conservative dresser, was in a single-breasted brown suit, brown leather shoes and open-necked beige shirt.

Shirley wore a smart blue jacket, skinny grey jeans and Converse basketball shoes.

Charlie, who turned 70 in June, and Shirley have been married for 47 years. They live at 17th-century Halsdon House just outside Dolton.

She has become one of Britain's leading breeders of Arabian horses, and from a dozen or so originally now has 260.

The couple have also purchased much additional land over the years and now own more than 700 acres.

At a tea party in the village hall, where the couple stayed for three hours, Shirley said: "We haven't actually been in the hall since our granddaughter was in a Nativity play here. She went to school in the village, in The Square.

"We haven't been to other events here because we're quite busy and have a big farm to run."

Charlie's recollection, however, was hazier.

Looking round the hall, he said: "I didn't even realise there was a stage here. I might play here. I play in Dorset from time to time so I might play here."

Jazz is his first love and over the years he has formed both the Charlie Watts Quintet and Charlie Watts Tentet, both highly regarded in the jazz world.

He and Shirley have one daughter, Seraphina, now 43, who herself has one daughter, Charlotte, 15.

Shirley told the Journal: "I love it here in Dolton. Everyone knows everyone else and has the time to talk to one another. It's like Midsomer Murders – without the murders, of course."

Dolton Village Hall was built in the late 1960s after a local fundraising campaign and is used for a wide variety of purposes – dancing classes, yoga, the pre-school and toddler group, mini-markets, concerts, private parties and so on. Its recent necessary restoration, embracing a new ceiling, roof, electrics and repainting, cost around £60,000.

Charlie and Shirley Watts got things rolling with a substantial donation two years ago, which went undisclosed at the time, and subsequent fund-raising events brought in more. Devon Waste Management contributed £11,000 and the Big Lottery Fund £10,000. Several other bodies also made grants.

Sue Jury, the chairman of the village hall committee and a parish councillor, thanked Mr and Mrs Watts for their support and also paid tribute to Graham Hutchings, a former bank manager, who dealt with the finances, and Roger Dunn, the electrical engineer, who planned and project-managed it.

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