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I'm in North Wales, on the rugged island of Anglesey.
This place is breathtaking.
Stunning beaches and miles of gorgeous coastline -
it's got it all.
But I'm not here to enjoy the stunning scenery.
One of the largest travelling cultural events in Europe
is happening in a field over there.
He looks like he's been here before!
My name is Stewart.
And my name...
Fy enw i yw Josie.
-Josie, lovely to meet you this morning.
-Lovely to meet you.
This is my first ever National Eisteddfod.
I am Welsh, I have participated in eisteddfods as a child,
but never been to the national one.
-Where did you grow up, Josie?
Newport, in South Wales.
OK, Newport's OK with me!
Well, what's the first thing you do when you get here?
They've got the Gorsedd Stones.
OK, what do those stones mean?
That's the druidic circle.
-Pob lwc, Josie.
-Pob lwc, Stewart.
-Awesome to meet you.
Tell me, when you come to the National Eisteddfod,
what is the one thing I should not miss?
Oh, the art.
The visual art stuff is fantastic,
cos people go from here to the Venice Biennale and things.
and it is wonderful.
I like the music.
I like Maes B over there -
loud and great!
Well, that all sounds brilliant
and I have always wanted to come to the National Eisteddfod,
but I don't speak Welsh.
I am Welsh, but I don't speak the language,
and everything here happens in Welsh.
And no more so than in this building, the Pavilion -
the heartbeat of the National Eisteddfod.
BRASS BAND PLAYS
Oh, listen to that, with the scene of this beautiful Welsh landscape.
It just encapsulates, kind of,
my feeling about what I hope this will mean to me, being here.
SHE SPEAKS WELSH
How many Eisteddfods is this for you, then?
-Oh, I've been here every year since I was one, so...
Yeah, it's a very cultural thing here in Wales.
Everybody looks forward throughout the year to go to the Eisteddfod.
Especially people who speak Welsh,
and, yeah, it's a great experience
and I've been here since I was a very small boy.
Why do you think this event captures the spirit of Wales
and the spirit of being Welsh?
It's the only cultural thing we have
-in terms of the Welsh language itself.
And I think we're very proud of it because it's ours.
But we still welcome other people to come and enjoy it as well.
You're obviously an English speaker,
but we always welcome people here to enjoy what we enjoy every year.
Brass bands before breakfast.
I really enjoyed that,
and yet it's only day one. There's so much more to come.
Over nine days,
there will be 72 hours of competition on this stage.
Everything from choirs and poetry recital
to street dancing and drama.
Time to venture further.
The festival site known as the Maes is a playground of performance.
You good? I'm good!
There's so much variety here,
from ukuleles in a yurt
to clog dancing in the folk tent.
SHE SINGS IN WELSH
Everywhere you turn on the Maes, there's music or performance.
This is Welsh folk music but with a contemporary twist.
It's great, isn't it?
SHE CONTINUES SINGING IN WELSH
I've loved exploring the Maes, but I want to go deeper.
I'm in search of the most loyal band of followers of this festival.
I hear they're called the Eisteddfodwyr.
They come here every year in their thousands, caravans in tow,
and they stay the whole week.
I bring the sandwiches.
-Sandwiches as well?
-Oh, yes. Sandwiches as well.
What are you going to have now?
This looks great.
-I think you better have a sandwich first.
-Do you think so?
-I think so.
-I'm not going to disagree with you!
-I think you're right.
-These are ones I made earlier.
Do you remember your first Eisteddfod?
-My mouth is full now!
-It's all right!
I thought you were going to talk to Penri!
The first National Eisteddfod, I competed in 1977.
And I had the stage and I had the second prize,
-and I was really...
-I was really thrilled!
So, your first one was 40 years ago.
Have you been here every year since?
I missed one.
Llanelli, not the last one in Llanelli.
Penri went. Well, I persuaded Penri to go, actually.
I think that's the only one we missed,
I can't remember what year that was.
We're always here. Always here.
Why is it so important to you to come year after year?
Well, it's because we enjoy it, isn't it?
This caravan, we've had it...
Well, since our eldest son was two years of age
and he's now 46!
-You know, it's a little community of its own...
..here, on this field, this Eisteddfod field.
Boy, was it raining last night!
You should have seen it. Look at this.
It was like a monsoon.
Nevertheless, I'm keeping my appointment with Mair and Penri,
who have promised today to show me something
that is incredibly special to them.
What on earth?!
You look incredible!
It's only the language I don't understand,
now I don't understand this!
Well, it's the Gorsedd Of The Bards.
The Gorsedd Of The Bards,
which really is to do with people
who have contributed to the Welsh culture.
-So this is a real honour
-that you've got these robes?
-Oh, yes. It is an honour, yes.
It is an honour.
So, this is something you do just here?
-You don't take this...?
-Oh, yes, just here.
-It only happens in the Eisteddfod.
-In the Eisteddfod, yes.
I see now why she's so competitive,
because everybody dedicates a week of their life to this,
all of their lives.
But if you really excel and really dedicate yourself,
the Eisteddfod will honour you back.
As members of the Gorsedd Of The Bards,
Mair and Penri take part
in all the main ceremonies of Eisteddfod week.
The pinnacle, the Chairing Of The Bard,
sees the best poet awarded a chair, which he keeps.
You can just hear and sense the anticipation in this room.
Today is the day when they're going to announce
who has won the Bard's Chair,
and everybody is here for that one announcement.
Poets enter their work under a pen name
so their identity is kept top secret until this moment.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
That is the highest honour for poetry in the whole of Wales,
and there's your winner.
HE SPEAKS WELSH
The chairing ceremony is especially poignant this year.
It's exactly 100 years since it was won by a poet
who became its most iconic recipient -
It's the most famous story in the history of the Eisteddfod
and it inspired an Oscar-nominated film,
and I'm about to see that now...
with no less than the actor who played him.
Nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you, this bit's very good.
-Yes, this is where I come on.
-You're good in it, are you?
-Well, I wouldn't say that!
SHE SPEAKS WELSH
-He was a poet, he was an ordinary farmer.
Self-educated in many, many ways.
He read Shelley and Keats and Yeats
and all these wonderful poets who were around
and he gradually rose up the ranks of poets in Wales.
But, sadly, he had been drafted into the army
and 100 years ago to this very week,
sadly, he was killed in the Battle of Pilckem Ridge.
The ultimate accolade for a Welsh poet
is to win the Chair of the National Eisteddfod.
He was awarded this chair posthumously,
so his dream was to win the chair
and he didn't realise that he had won it.
And so they draped the chair in black
and it became known as the Black Chair of Birkenhead,
and it has become a symbol of the emptiness, the loss,
if you like, the sadness...
It's an empty chair, it's waiting for the poet to come home.
Hedd Wyn's story inspired the design of this year's chair,
and I'm about to experience the accolade he never lived to receive.
What an honour.
And how appropriate that the poem that finally won him
this beautiful piece of craftsmanship
was called The Hero.
Hedd Wyn's story has inspired a requiem composed by Paul Mealor,
which premiers at this year's Eisteddfod.
HAUNTING MUSIC PLAYS
Hedd Wyn is perhaps Wales' greatest poet,
and to be asked to write something to commemorate his achievement
is very special indeed for me.
I wanted to write a piece that was not a glorification of war,
his poetry isn't,
but more about the light in the darkness -
that there is always hope, even in the most horrendous things.
How are you representing hope in this piece?
The first is a number of tuned wine glasses
which create the most unbelievable haunting chord
that runs the whole requiem.
And then also at the very end, children.
Children come on and they sing,
"Sanctaidd, Sanctaidd, Sanctaidd... Holy, holy, holy."
But of course, 100 years later,
we're still talking about his poetry, so there is hope in art.
So, as well as performance art,
there is also a platform for visual arts here.
The Y Lle Celf is the only national modern art exhibition in Wales,
and it happens for one week only, once a year on the Eisteddfod field.
Silversmith Rauni Higson settled in Snowdonia 20 years ago.
Being in Wales influences basically everything about my work,
because I'm kind of captivated by the landscape, mainly...
-..which is what I'm kind of representing in my work.
The line on that, for example, it's an escarpment, or a riverbed,
or you could be looking down from the top of a mountain
-and it's the meander of a river.
-I see that, yeah.
They're the lines that I see all the time
and I want to basically make a 3D representation
of what I feel about the landscape.
-But it's not an inward-looking event, though, is it?
People don't show off much in Wales
so this is like the one time when everyone goes, "Ta-da!"
What's lovely is the sense of belonging -
Children coming here every summer to enjoy the Eisteddfod
and take part in competitions.
I'm here to meet a young baritone
who has been doing brilliantly in Eisteddfods
ever since he was a small boy,
in no small part thanks to the support he gets from his family.
Sadly, 11 months ago he lost his mum, Sue, in a car accident.
His dad and his brother are here to support him this year
but, without doubt, getting on stage today
is going to be particularly difficult.
-Thank you very much.
-After you, you're welcome.
Tonight, Steffan will be performing solo in the Festival of Hymns.
SHE SPEAKS WELSH
HE SINGS IN WELSH
-The Eisteddfod stage is very, very important to me
because I think that's where I gained my confidence.
What a voice.
He's doing great.
Just 11 months ago I lost my mum.
She was a very, very big factor in why I compete in Eisteddfods.
When I was about 14,
I wasn't having much luck competing
and I remember I said, "I don't want to do it any more,
"I just want to compete in choirs, not on my own,
"because I'm not getting any luck."
And I remember her telling me,
"Carry on, I promise you, the wheel is turning.
"It's slower but you'll get there in the end."
And the year after, I competed and I won at the National.
HE CONTINUES SINGING
The Eisteddfod is always special for us.
We've got so much memories here, you know,
of the boys succeeding and winning competitions.
And how do you hope Steffan will feel when he sings onstage?
He's always nervous when he goes on stage
but when he gets on to the stage,
he rules the stage.
Tonight is all about doing it for Mum, isn't it?
Yeah, I think, in the back of his mind, his mum will be there.
And I think he'll sing his heart out for her,
with the hope that she's listening somewhere.
Where will she be for you?
She'll be in my heart.
So, this is my first National Eisteddfod
but as a kid I took part in my school's eisteddfod.
They were always in English.
It's where I fell in love with performing on stage.
The bigger National Eisteddfod is definitely a launch pad
for rising stars.
A young Bryn Terfel rose through the ranks competing here.
HE SINGS IN WELSH
So, the ultimate aim of any performer entering the Eisteddfod
is that Pavilion stage, so how do you get there?
What kind of hoops do you have to jump through?
Well, to find out I've come off site to this local village hall,
to experience some high opera.
These are the prelims for a prestigious opera competition
where young singers battle it out for a £5,000 scholarship
and a spot on that main stage tomorrow night.
For me, I'm looking for an energy that connects
and that wants to connect with someone.
Obviously, they have to have a unique voice.
You recognise Maria Callas
or recognise Pavarotti or Bryn Terfel,
you want that special voice
-so that you can immediately say "Oh, that's
I think those are the key things -
the wanting to communicate, the energy and the voice.
And if that happens, what will you personally feel,
that you know, "Right, this is happening"?
Oh, I'll get excited!
You know, cos it is such a joy to see someone, you know,
get that step further, because, I'm getting emotional now,
but it's a beautiful thing.
As an opera singer, obviously you're going to sing
-in a wide range of languages.
Is there something different about singing in Welsh?
Yes, I think so.
I think I was more concentrating on singing the words right!
But no, I definitely feel it comes...
It's a natural thing for me,
even though I don't speak the language,
more than if I sang in German or French.
Welsh comes much more naturally to me, I think.
So what does being here at the National Eisteddfod,
having this opportunity, mean?
It's, you know, it's a big prize.
And financially, as young singers, we're not exactly rolling in it,
so that kind of help would be amazing, really,
just to carry on having lessons and language coachings
and all that sort of stuff
that comes along with training to be an opera singer.
24 hours later, Sarah makes the final
and puts in a winning performance.
SHE SINGS WELSH OPERA
I think nothing of listening to opera in Italian or French
or German, but for some reason I thought that Welsh
might be quite strange,
cos I'm used to having either the subtitles
or the story in the programme
to help guide me through.
But I am understanding and enjoying,
but there is a little door that I simply can't go through
without the language.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
My first Eisteddfod week is coming to a close
and I've loved it more than I thought,
but I'm left with one feeling I wasn't expecting.
So, I've come here as a non-Welsh-speaking Welsh person,
and, I have to be honest, I'm starting to feel a bit guilty
that I didn't grasp all the opportunities
that were there along the way to learn the language,
because I've come here and I absolutely love it.
I'm loving it, but I am super aware
that there's a little bit of it that I simply cannot access.
First of all, don't feel guilty.
I wouldn't want anybody to feel guilty if they don't speak Welsh
and use the Welsh language everyday,
or perhaps their Welsh isn't good enough
to stand on the Eisteddfod stage
and win the competition here.
But for people to feel... This is a part of who we are.
Your identity is part of my identity.
So how should I go about getting the most out of this experience?
Just wander. Get... You've got a guide.
Look what's on in the Pavilion, look what's on elsewhere.
There's hundreds and thousands of events right through the day.
I think one of the great things about the Eisteddfod
is that you do get to go to different places.
Next year I'm looking forward to it in Cardiff Bay,
where you don't have this Maes.
The Maes is the bay and the bay is the Maes.
You'll be able to wander the streets of Cardiff
and see a completely different urban Eisteddfod.
On a final wander round this wonderful bubble,
I find a form of old Welsh music
that I've always wanted to hear live.
GENTLE CERDD DANT SINGING
That was just stunning, absolutely beautiful.
So, that was Cerdd Dant, which I'd never heard before.
Can you explain to me, Bethany, what exactly were you doing there?
It's a very old tradition here in Wales
and the Cerdd Dant is basically a poem
set to the accompaniment of a harp,
and the melody counters the accompaniment of the harp
and each verse is unique.
The Cerdd Dant is certainly a tradition that's inherent to Wales
and it's a massive part of our upbringing.
We sing Cerdd Dant at primary school,
at high school and all of us come to the Eisteddfod
and we compete as soloists and in choirs and such.
Can I sit in amongst you while you do some more?
I mean, as I'm here and have this incredible privilege, can I?
THEY SING IN HARMONY
CRYING: That was... That was very lovely!
Thank you very much, ladies. That meant a lot, thank you.
That's...a bit too overwhelming.
You know when something is so beautiful
that it overwhelms you and you simply don't have words,
it just touches you somewhere inside of you.
That's what that did.
That's really an incredible experience.
And I see what they're doing here.
They're kind of creating their ideal world for one week only,
where all of these beautiful things happen,
and it's a wonderful bubble to be in.
Thank you so much, ladies!
-Josie! How are you?!
-She spied me!