When a young Neil Taverner was Morris dancing on the stage with his fellow Ballasalla classmates, little did he know that a few short decades later he would win The Guild’s most prestigious prize.

But, last week, Neil final got his hands on the Cleveland Medal after battling it out with five other talented singers. They had all impressed the judges at the Manx Music, Speech and Dance Festival which came to a close over the weekend.

Neil, 58, performed ‘Mab, LA Reine Des Mensonges’ from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Charles Gounod and ‘The Apple Orchard’ by Lori Laitman which he first sang in the Special Baritone Section before performing again for the Cleveland Medal.

‘It is still a little bit difficult to take in,’ he said, ‘but it is gradually sinking in now. It was quite a moment to realise I had won. I have the medal at my bedside so when I wake up and see it I know I wasn’t dreaming.

‘It is my first time winning the medal although I have been in the final the last couple of years. Knowing what it is like to miss out makes winning it all the more special.

‘There were six brilliant singers so you can never know if you have won it or not no matter how confident you feel.

‘This year we had to choose a female composer which was brilliant as it makes you explore songs you may never have come across before and Lori Laitman was a great example of that.’

It was in the 1960s that Neil first performed Morris dancing with Ballasalla Primary School and he performed his first song the following year.

But, having moved to England for a number of years, it would be some 40 years before he appeared at The Guild once more. On returning to the Island in 2012 he began competing at The Guild again in 2016.

Now semi-retired, Neil worked in insurance before setting up a tourist accommodation business with his wife while looking after their daughter who has a genetic disorder. But music has always been a part of his life.

‘I have been in choirs all my life,’ he explained. ‘I was in the Manx Festival Chorus where I was asked to do a solo and I got the bug. When I moved to England, I was in choirs over there.

‘I have been involved in Manx Operatic as well. The pandemic was a big blow for us. Me and my daughter were about to perform Manx Operatic’s version of Ghost and we had practised all year. But just as we were about to perform Covid struck and put paid to that.’

So what does the future hold for the newly crowned Cleveland medal winner?

‘I would love to win the Cleveland Medal again but at least I have done that now,’ he said. I have been asked to do a few things on the back of my win which I am looking forward to. I am also looking to finally take my singing diploma exam which I have been working on with the help of Dr Mandy Griffin (former multiple Cleveland Medal winner).

‘I will be certainly competing in The Guild next year, unless a meteorite strikes of course!’