COMEDIAN FELIX Dexter left behind an indelible legacy of consistently funny and engaging performances after he died on October 18, 2013.
Since then, an educational and welfare charity has been launched in his memory: The Felix Dexter Foundation, which puts special emphasis on the citizens of Dexter’s birthplace, St. Kitts.
At the helm of this organisation is its chairman, Geoff Schumann. The award-winning comedian, radio presenter, actor, former youth worker and ex-teacher was elected to this position last year and he works with a team of eight trustees, which include comedian Paul Whitehouse and members of Dexter’s family.
Schumann reflects upon the wishes of his late friend, who died of multiple myeloma, a type of bone marrow cancer.
“Whilst he was on his deathbed, he was crying and said ‘please don’t let them forget me,’ Schumann recalls. “I had tears in my eyes too.”
After two successful tribute concerts in the years after the comedian’s death, an event scheduled for this year promises to be bigger and better. In celebration of Dexter, who is best remembered for his hilarious character portrayals in the hit sitcom, The Real McCoy, a host of music stars including Janet Kay, Dennis Bovell, Peter Hunnigale and Loose Ends, as well as comedy talents Quincy and Donna Spence, will come together to deliver an evening of sublime entertainment.
In addition, the event comes complete with a monumental plan – to build a theatre in Dexter’s honour in his native St. Kitts.
“You can put on events or whatever, but buildings stay and you feel their presence,” Schumann says. “The White House, Buckingham Palace – we know these buildings.”
“Felix came to England from St. Kitts, did very well and became very famous internationally, but funnily enough, he wasn’t well known back in St. Kitts.
“The Real McCoy didn’t go out there. So when we – members of the Foundation – were in St. Kitts a year ago, we took some brochures and flyers from past events to make the people more aware of his work.”
After a series of lengthy discussions between the Foundation’s board members and the St. Kitts government, the consensus is to get more people on the island involved in the arts – hence the idea to either build or dedicate an arts and performance centre in Felix’s memory.
“In his will, Felix left £40,000 for underprivileged children in St. Kitts and that money is yet to be spent,” Schumann explains. “The foundation is helping to fund a school that reflects Felix’s wishes.
“Once you have a building that is well maintained, financed and resourced, then it keeps on giving and will be there – whether we are or not. I went to St. Kitts last September and I met a lot of people, some really funny people too. I showed them on my laptop what Felix did. They were laughing and said it would be great to have something like The Real McCoy out there.
FIRM FRIENDS: Geoff Schumann (right) pictured with Dexter in 2011. Schumann will host a tribute concert, being held in honour of Dexter, who died in 2013
“There’s a theatre in Nevis,” Schumann continues of St. Kitts’ joint island. “But there is no official space in St. Kitts where people can sit and watch a show or a play. This theatre will be for everyone because comedy is for everyone – and that’s what Felix was about.”
However, in light of the fact that a building cannot be subsidised by the government, the idea came about to raise funds for this cause through live events – the same entertainment platform that Dexter flourished on for many years.
“We’ve agreed to go into partnership with the government on this. If we can raise some money for the building/training centre through staging events, they will provide the land.”
Exactly how much of the money raised on the night will go to this cause?
“Every penny,” Schumann exclaims. “This is not going to be like some events where, they say they’re doing it in association with this charity or that; raise £7,500 and only donate £500. None of that! Plus, all of the artists are giving their time; only receiving travelling expenses, which is great.”
Schumann was a teacher looking to get his big break in comedy when he first met Dexter and the pair went on to enjoy a firm friendship. But Schumann admits he wasn’t initially blown away by Dexter’s comedy style.
“I liked comedy and people would tell me I was funny, whether or not they were trying to humour me! I went to a place called The Comedy Store [in London’s West End] and the second time I went, Felix was on. In truth, I thought he was okay. I didn’t think he was brilliant but I thought, ‘well, all these white people are laughing, so he must be good!’
“Another year went by and we didn’t meet. Then I went to a black comedy event at [west London venue] the Tabernacle. The event was run by a man called Ian Thompson, who introduced me to Felix. I told him I wanted to get into comedy and the rest is history.”
In addition to his work for the Felix Dexter Foundation, Schumann is also a presenter on Unique Radio; he’s starring in and assisting with the development of a new sitcom called Papadums; and he still makes time to do stand-up comedy, which he loves.
But for now, Schumann’s focus is on the upcoming tribute event, which he will co-host alongside fellow comic, Wayne ‘Dibbi’ Rollins. Naturally, he urges audiences to come out for this charitable night of entertainment.
“If, in my lifetime, I can see this venue built in St. Kitts, I’d be so proud. We have to help ourselves as a community first before we can ask others. Let’s come together and make this happen.
“Some of the UK’s finest reggae and soul acts will be together on one stage, along with fantastic comics, all for this brilliant cause. It’s gonna be a great night!”
The Felix Dexter tribute event will take place at Hammersmith Town Hall, King Street, London, W6 on October 15. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/