By Tahira Yaqoob
As romantic gestures go, it is way beyond a bunch of red roses or a bottle of bubbly. When business tycoon John Barker decided to repay his girlfriend Heather Axelson for nursing him through illness, he didn't do things by halves.
Knowing her love of classical music, he searched high and low for a concert hall playing her favourite piece, Jan·cek's Sinfonietta.
But he could not find one, so he splashed out £100,000 on booking the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra himself to play it at London's Royal Festival Hall tomorrow.
Mr. Barker, 40, who revealed the surprise to his girlfriend once the event was arranged, said: 'Her name is on the programme and the evening is dedicated to her. It is a big chunk of my life savings, but she is worth it.'
Stunned Miss Axelson, 29, said: 'When I discovered what he had organised, I couldn't believe it. I doubt any man in the world has ever done such a thing. But then John is the most romantic man alive.'
The pair had known each other for five years, but love blossomed after Mr. Barker became ill last year. He suffered a nervous breakdown and suicidal depression from the pressure of running his firm, Sportarm, which sells angling and shooting equipment and clothing and has an annual turnover of £4 million.
Web designer Miss Axelson, who worked for his company in Dorchester, Dorset, began visiting him at home and often took him pieces of classical music to lift his spirits.
One day she brought in a CD of Jan·cek's Sinfonietta , which she said was her favourite piece,' he recalled.The couple moved in together last Christmas and then Mr. Barker decided to realise her dream. He paid £12,000 to book the hall and £35,000 to get the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to play.
'She said she would love to hear it live. It is seldom performed, as it requires a huge orchestra and 14 trumpets. The Sinfonietta became "our tune".
He also paid for violinist Nicola Benedetti, the BBC Young Musician of the Year, to take the lead role. The rest of the cost went towards booking a conductor, concert organiser and advertising for the event.
The show will also feature pieces by Ernest Chausson and Camille Saint-SaÎns and Mr. Barker hopes to fill the 2,900-seater venue and recoup some money by selling tickets to the public. He said: 'I cannot possibly break even, but I'm quite happy to blow my savings. Heather deserves it.'
A spokesman for the Royal Festival Hall said: 'We often get private bookings, but as far as I am aware, no one has gone to these lengths before as a romantic gesture. It is very sweet.'
(C) 2005 Daily Mail. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved