Lucy Benjamin, Guildford panto star Q&A

Liz Nicholls


We chat to EastEnders star, actor Lucy Benjamin who stars as Cinderella’s Wicked Step Mum in the Yvonne Arnaud’s pantomime this year.

Hello Lucy! What’s your first memory of pantomime?

“My first memory of panto, is back when I was five or maybe six when my Grandma took me to Camberley to see Jim Davidson playing Buttons in Cinderella. I even remember getting a merchandise pen! This was a bloomin’ long time ago!”

Q. What are your earliest memories of TV and what’s your favourite soap nowadays?

“I remember watching Bagpuss, Mr Benn, Camberwick Green and Trumpton; I was an avid TV watcher even from a very early age. My fave soap is currently EastEnders because I’ve just been back on the square and got right back into watching it.”

Q. Who was your hero growing up? And now?

“My mum was my hero growing up and still is now. Mums are the best!”

Q. How do you feel about this production of Cinderella?

“I’m delighted to be playing The Wicked Step Mum in Cinderella this year and stepping into the Uglies’ shoes, as there’s nothing more fulfilling than to be playing a baddie, when I’ve spent a lot of my panto years being the goodie. Bring it on!”

Q. Who is the ‘baddest’ pantomime and soap villain of all time?

“I remember performing alongside Kate Omara in Dick Whittington in Dartford one year and realising that it was probably one of the best and sexiest panto villains I’d ever seen. My favourite soap baddie has to be Dirty Den in EastEnders… Phil Mitchell can give him a run for his money though too!”

Q. What is the weirdest or most touching piece of fanmail you have received?

“The weirdest fan thing that’s ever happened to me was that a woman once turned up at stage door at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton during panto season and proceeded to show me a tattoo she’d had done on her thigh of my face! I think she went on to truly regret it, as you would.”

Q. Do you love Christmas and what does the festive season look like in your household?

“I love the Christmas holidays and all the food and drink that goes with being with the family over an extended time. Although I do find cooking Christmas dinner very stressful.”

Q. What’s your favourite piece of music and who’s your favourite singer?

“My favourite artist at the moment is Labi Siffre and the track Lying, Laughing, Loving, Crying.”

Q. What is your favourite book?

“My favourite book as a child was always The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, which ignited my love of reading for the rest of my life!”

Q. What do you most love about Berkshire & Bucks and how was it as a place to grow up?

“I went to Redroofs Theatre School in Maidenhead from the age of nine to 17, so have very fond memories of spending many of my formative years in Berkshire. I was also born in Reading, so I have a very local connection.”

Q. How about Surrey – will you and the cast & crew go out in Guildford during the production run?

“I’m sure there will be a little bit of socialising with the cast and crew during the panto run, but trust me, doing two shows a day is no mean feat!”

Q. What advice would you have for any youngsters who are interested in acting?

“My advice to any youngsters wanting to go into acting is to pursue your dreams, but always make sure you have an education to fall back on in order to give you as many strings to your bow as possible if things don’t work out. It’s a tough old business.”

Q. Finally, if you could make one wish for the world, what would it be?

“I’m no Greta Thunberg, so my best (cheesy) answer to this question, is for everyone that can or is able to, to come and see our fabulous panto at the Yvonne Arnaud this year and make the most of the festive period! You won’t be disappointed!

You’re all invited to the ball! Cinderella, 2nd December to 7th January: book your tickets at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

Lost & Found

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to actor and musician Martine McCutcheon

Q. I know you’ve had a hard time with your health [Martine was diagnosed with ME and Lyme disease]. How are you feeling now?
“Really good, thank you. It’s been a lot of work, slowly but surely I’ve built myself up. At one point it was an achievement to get myself to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and go back to bed without feeling like I was going to collapse. It was literally that difficult. I was very depressed. Now I have a whole new appreciation of life – so much so that I can be a bit annoying! I’m always saying ‘look at those trees! Look at that lovely old couple holding hands!’ My friends are like ‘Calm. The hell. Down, woman!’ But it’s great to feel alive.”

Q. How does it feel to know your album is coming out after a long break from music?
“I was nervous at first because these song were never meant to be on an album! It’s really personal stuff, some of it written when I was having a hard time, just so I could try to work through some of my feelings. It’s nice that something good has come out of something so difficult. I’m also pleasantly surprised that anyone is interested. You don’t take it for granted in this game – being away for so long and focusing on other things. It’s amazing and I’m so grateful.”

Q. Is your two-year-old son Rafferty musical, like his parents?
“Well, he has music in his genes; he’s got a little Spider-Man guitar he likes to play and he is on the drums in (Jack McManus) Daddy’s studio all the time. I always wanted to be a mum, but it eluded me for a long time. He’s been the beacon of light in all our lives.”

Q. Are you sick of the press focusing on your weight?
“Yes! Rightly or wrongly, my weight has usually been the last thing on my mind. In this industry when being a size six is the norm, it’s a lot of pressure. Luckily – at my age – there’s no pressure to be supermodel-perfect. I think it’s demeaning to grade women by their weight. I can’t believe that in this day and age we’re so demeaning – you wouldn’t judge someone for the colour of their skin or their accent. I find body shaming really weird and creepy.”

Q. How do you unwind?
“I love Thai massage bubble baths and scented candles. I’m a typical Taurean – I love luxury; it makes me feel safe. I love to do really gentle yoga and watch something really light and fluffy on telly. I’m a big Murder She Wrote fan – I’ve always loved it, like a little old lady, Rosemary & Thyme and Midsomer Murders!”

Q. Do you watch EastEnders?
“I don’t! It’s a bit of a busman’s holiday because you know how it works, you know the mechanics, and it’s a different time. I feel blessed that I was in EastEnders when I was. In those days you had no reality TV, only four channels. So when you made a name for yourself in one of the big soaps, people at home were really intetested in you. At that time we had Top of the Pops filming in the nearby studio, and pop stars like Bono and Kylie would come and hang out. I remember me and Patsy [Palmer] pinching ourselves because Noel Gallagher came along and was pleased to meet little old us! It was a hedonistic but innocent time and I loved it.”

Q. Do you get nervous before performing live?
“I get horrifically nervous! I turn into a very irritable nervous wreck before I go on stage! I try to deep breathe and calm down. But the minute you stop getting nervous, you stop that energy. So long as you treat nerves as your friend and not your foe, it will give you that oomph you need on stage.”

Q. Is there one stand-out live music performance you’ve seen? “Fleetwood Mac in Madison Square Gardens. Jack took me to see them and Lindsay Buckingham just stole the show, so did Stevie Nicks. I adore the chemistry of them together. They had the whole audience on their feet; everybody was smiling and singing. It was the most spine-tingling experience and I was walking on air for three days after. Seeing them, showed me why I want to do what I do.”

Happy as Larry

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to actor, radio presenter, dad and star of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Larry Lamb

Q. How do your children feel about you being an older sex symbol?
“A what? [Laughs] Oh – a half-dead sex symbol? Yeah they find that idea of their old Dad amusing. It also verges on ‘too much information’, when it comes to parents and ‘sex’, if you know what I mean. So there’s a bit of embarrassment, too. But they’re very supportive – they’re good kids.”

Q. What’s the weirdest fanmail you’ve received?
“Funny you should ask that. Fanmail only tends to arrive in large amounts when you’re somewhere fixed. When I was on EastEnders I got loads. But – must be a mark of getting older – it was generally very tame, respectful stuff, asking how to get into acting and so on. Other actors have told me about all sorts of out-there ‘requests’ and whatever… but I never got that. Disappointing, really!”

Q. You’re descended from a lion tamer aren’t you?
“Yes I am but I wouldn’t fancy that job much! The BBC took me to Woburn to get up close to a lion there. And, I tell you what, those huge creatures are beautiful… on the other side of the wire mesh. I wouldn’t want to get in a cage with one, that’s for sure. I have a lot of respect for animals – I just can’t imagine doing that.”

Q. But you didn’t seem scared of anything in the jungle! Does anything frighten you?
“Once you face mortality, not so much. When I was young I was convinced I was going to live forever, which is how all young people are. It’s only maybe over the last ten years I’ve started to grow up. I think once you hit 60 you’re not immortal any more and that helps you look at things with a more sensible eye. I stopped drinking, partying, calmed it down and that is very levelling. I want to be around as long as I can for my kids and not much else matters.”

Q. Was it a laugh, working on Gavin and Stacey?
“Comedy is unbelievably exacting. You’ll have a bit of a laugh now and again but laughter is what you’re trying to produce, not do, if that makes sense. When you’re working on a scene that’s got to be funny and you have ten people in a room and have to get that perfect take, it’s pressure I can tell you. You love your team but at the end of that day most people in that room want to run out tearing their hair out. Sorry to sound so serious about it but if you’re doing it right, the finished article crafted for the public should be much funnier than the making of it.”

Q. Is there anything on your ‘bucket list’?
“There are places I’d still like to go and see, places I will be happy to go back to. I’d like to spend a bit of time in India as well as China. So much more of the world to discover.”

Q. You’re returning to EastEnders aren’t you?
“Yes – I’ll grab it by the reins and go for it. EastEnders is a big machine, a massive show. The production, the cameras, the viewers… it’s big machine, EastEnders, and a huge responsibility. I imagine it could be daunting to go into for the first time but I’ve been there before and worked in so many media that I treat it as a job – an important one at that. Exciting, though!”

Q. Any advice you’d give to your younger self?
“Be nice to people. There’s a good chance people will be nice back.”

Mummy’s Boy, Larry Lamb’s autobiography, is published by Hodder & Stoughton.