Sparkie Williams (1954–1962) was a talking budgie who has provided the inspiration for a new opera by Michael Nyman and Carsten Nicolai. The opera was performed in Berlin in March 2009. Sparkie had a repertoire of more than 500 words and eight nursery rhymes, becoming a national celebrity after fronting an advertising campaign for Capern’s bird seed, and making a record which sold 20,000 copies. After he died, he was stuffed and put on show at Newcastle’s Hancock Museum.
Born and bred in North East England, Sparkie was owned by Mrs Mattie Williams, who lived in Forest Hall, near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He earned his name after Mrs Williams called him ‘A bright little spark,' and she taught him to speak, recite songs and sing nursery rhymes. Sparkie had a huge repertoire of words and sayings. By the time he was three-and-a-half, he had won the BBC International Cage Word Contest in July 1958. He was so good, in fact, that he was disqualified from taking part again.
Sparkie was courted by bird seed sellers and fronted the advertisement campaign for Capern’s bird seed for two years. He was recorded talking with budgie expert Philip Marsden on BBC radio, and appeared on the BBC Tonight programme with Cliff Michelmore. When Sparkie died, he was stuffed by the best taxidermist in London and taken on a tour of Britain in an exhibition of his life and work, before coming back to the Hancock Museum in 1996. Sparkie Williams is acclaimed as the world’s most outstanding talking bird in the Guinness Book of Records.
He is now part of the collections owned by the Natural History Society of Northumbria.