Birthday Fundraising Project 2010
In 2010 the Ken-Friends decided to celebrate Kenneth Branagh's 50th birthday with a donation to the William and Frances Branagh Memorial Bursary fund for students from Northern Ireland, and also with a special donation to name a seat in the newly refurbished Lyric Theatre in Belfast in Kenneth's honour. As well, a circulating birthday card project was organised which resulted in a nice number of cards arriving from all over the world for Kenneth's birthday. This year's project raised $4,565 US for the William and Frances Branagh Memorial Bursary fund for students from Northern Ireland at Royal Aacademy of Dramatic Art (RADA), in addition to the $728 donated to the Lyric Theatre, for a total of $5,293 US in 2010.

Here is Kenneth Branagh's thank-you note:

"Dear Ken Friends,

I wanted to wait until today to thank you for the spectacular generosity and imagination of your birthday wishes and gifts, on the occasion of my 50th. Let me explain.

Today sees the announcement of part of the new season at the rebuilt Lyric Theatre, Belfast. It's a wonderful new building that is now specifically supported by the Ken Friends via the seat which you have sponsored and named in my honour. I am thrilled and made proud by both ends of this connection. Thank you so much.

And it is only today therefore that I am allowed to share some related and exciting news for me, and news that I hope will be pleasing to you all, in considering not only the generosity of your Belfast gift, but the aptness. This Autumn I will perform in a production on the stage of the Lyric theatre.

It's a comedy, The Painkiller.
It has been adapted from Francis Veber's French original by my great friend and collaborator, the brilliant Sean Foley, who will also Direct. I will be joined in the cast by the wonderful Welsh actor, Rob Brydon. On a personal note, the play will also mark 30 years for me as a professional actor, having started in October 1981, in Belfast, in the first of Grahame Reid's 'Billy' plays.

So all in all, this birthday gift was a triumph of timing, and a marvellous, much appreciated gesture of support to the new Lyric.

In addition, let me relate a family story. At Christmas my brother and sister, who were proudly aware of the Bursary fund at RADA, were at my house, and both stared in wonder at the small plaque which sat proudly above the fireplace. Not only did they share my astonishment and pride at the amount gathered this year at such a time of hardship for so many, but at the cumulative amount raised over the life of the fund. We agreed that our parents would be humbled, as we are, by what this represents. They would also continue to be inspired by what the Ken Friends have contributed in practical, meaningful terms to the lives of young actors so often struggling to make ends meet. It is a GREAT thing that you do in our names, and to paraphrase James Cagney's George M Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, ( a character and story I took to Belfast in one of my theatrical adventures as some of you will know), "My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, my brother thanks you, my sister thanks you, and I thank you".

And finally may I say how touched I was by all those cards! They made me feel very very lucky, and apart from messages of such kindness and appreciation, many contained words of wisdom that I will treasure for ever.

Thank you my friends for making a special birthday even more special. I hope to thank some of you personally if you make it to Belfast, and for those who don't, we plan to make three more Wallander films this year which I hope you will enjoy. I also hope you will be entertained by our film of Thor.

Lastly, let me send to all of you a wish for a 2011 that brings the greatest of health and happiness to you all, and the time to enjoy both.

With sincere gratitude,

your friend,

Ken Branagh."

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