War Horse creator reveals the Queen’s love of Joey as novel celebrates 40 years

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The creator of War Horse has revealed the late Queen’s love of the play’s main character as the novel celebrates 40 years since its publication next month.

Sir Michael Morpurgo published the classic children’s book in 1982. It is set during the outbreak of the First World War and documents the extraordinary friendship between a young boy named Albert, and his horse Joey.

It was adapted for the stage and premiered at the National Theatre in 2007, later becoming a staple on London’s West End for eight years and in 2011 it was released on the big screen in a film directed by Steven Spielberg.

To mark the milestone anniversary of the best-selling novel, a special concert will premiere at Chelsea History Festival on September 22 ahead of embarking on a national tour in 2023.

National Army Museum’s War Horse: Fact & Fiction exhibition
War Horse author Sir Michael Morpurgo with Joey, the large stage puppet from the National Theatre’s War Horse production (Georgie Gillard/PA)

Sir Michael will read an abridged version of his beloved story while accompanied by songs and music performed by Ben Murray, an original songman from the National Theatre production.

The author said: “For many it will be the echo of the book, of the First World War, of horses and men, for others it will be a concert full of memories of a wonderful and iconic theatre production.

“And it is so right that these concerts should begin in the chapel of The Royal Hospital Chelsea, home to so many old soldiers, and at the Chelsea History Festival too.”

Sir Michael also recalled how the character of Joey, which is portrayed in the play using true-to-size horse puppets, was a “great favourite” of the late monarch, who had a known love for horses.

He said that after she came to see the play she was “so impressed” that she invited the horse puppet for an audience at Windsor Castle.

Royal visit to Surrey
Sir Michael Morpurgo revealed the character of Joey the horse was a “great favourite” of the late Queen (Peter Nicholls/PA)

One of the play’s original songmen, Murray said what makes this concert unique is the “level of intimacy it offers”.

“Rarely do you get to hear such a legendary author tell his story in his own way, in his own voice and in such lovely surroundings”, he added.

“The show is normally presented by 35 actors and puppeteers, not to mention an enormous orchestra underscore. This concert gives people the chance to hear the music and song as it would have been sung during the war, and to hear the story from the man who wrote it.

“I like to think of the concert as true fireside storytelling, but with all the drama of the incredible events that took place all those years ago.”

To celebrate the 40th year milestone, Farshore will also publish an anniversary edition on October 13 featuring a new photographic cover from fine art photographer Nine Francois featuring illustrations by war and reportage artist George Butler.