Star Q&A: Justin Fletcher

Round & About

Interview

TV megastar Justin Fletcher MBE tells us about his influences as he steps out to a venue near you for his all-singing and dancing live show Justin Live – The Big Tour!

Q. Hello! You’ve been a children’s TV star for more than 20 years. Who inspired you? “As a child I used to watch Playschool with Jonny Ball, Derek Griffiths and Floella Benjamin and loved acting out the stories. During my three-year drama course, I was inspired by Philip Schofield and Chris Jarvis in the CBBC Broom Cupboard. I put a show reel together, secured an audition for the Playdays theatre tour and I landed the part of Mr Jolly. That started my career.”

Q. The Big Tour will be full of slapstick. Who are your comedy heroes? “Slapstick comedy has such wide appeal. It’s great when children and their families laugh out loud watching routines by performers like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It’s a timeless format and you can’t beat the sound of belly laughter from the audience. I was inspired by Laurel and Hardy. I used to watch their slapstick routines over and over. They had such amazing chemistry between them.”

Q. Do you think family entertainment has changed? “The choice on TV is now huge. When I was a child there were very limited programmes. However, having a good strong story-based script and engaging characters is still the key.”

Q. How important do you think live theatre is for children? “Creating many family theatre productions over the last two decades has been incredibly important to me and hugely enjoyable. There is nothing like performing on stage and meeting the families that support you and your TV shows. Children’s theatre is quite often their first live show experience. We are hoping to inspire the next generation of theatre-goers.”

Q. What do you enjoy about touring? “We have an amazing production team who work extremely hard to prepare the show before it goes out on the road. We are like one big family. From the performers to the lighting and sound operators, the catering team, and the back stage crew, we’re all working together. We also support each other out on the road, which is really important when you’re away from home for fairly long periods of time. Touring provides a fantastic opportunity to experience so many different towns and theatres across the country and to meet so many new friends along the way.”

Q. You have written this show. Tell us a little about this process… “It always starts with a storyline. Once you have that in place, I think about the music content. Music is a vital element and I try to write some original songs myself.”

Q. Any favourite songs in the show? “You can’t beat seeing the audience join in with Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, If You’re Happy and You Know It and The Hokey Cokey. Then, in a heartbeat, all singing and signing Twinkle Twinkle.”

Q. It’s likely some parents who saw you on CBeebies now bring their children to see you live. How does that feel? “I feel very proud and flattered. This inspires me to continue entertaining generations to come. It’s been a very long time since we’ve been able to tour. I can’t wait to get on the road and meet all of our friends again.”

To book your tickets, please visit imaginetheatre.co.uk/justin-live-the-big-tour

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Star Q&A: Ray Mears

Round & About

Interview

Local television star & bushcraft expert Ray Mears, 57, tells us more about his new We Are Nature book & theatre show to help us “tune in and turn on” to nature…

Q. Hello Ray. When did you first fall in love with nature? “When I was about seven or eight and I started to learn about edible plants. In those days, there was no internet, so I went to the library. I came across this plant in the woods called wood sorrel. I took ages to study it in books before I plucked up the courage to try it. It tasted of apple peel… And I’ve never looked back.”

Q: Can you tell us about your theatre show? ”This show is all about thinking and feeling the depth of our ability and turning up the volume of the senses that we normally suppress. Effectively ‘tuning in and turning on’ to nature. I will show how we can reconnect with an evolutionary heritage that stretches right back to the earliest of our ancestors. We will look at the extraordinary work that the National Wildlife Crime Unit do to protect our local wildlife. There is a good chance people coming to this show will find their lives forever changed.”

Q: We love your book We Are Nature. You regard animals as teachers, don’t you? “Yes. I try to learn from the animals I meet. So, the crocodile, for example, is the master of stillness. It stays so still that it weaves a psychological spell over any potential prey. Even if you know it’s there, you forget it’s there, and that’s the danger. We can use exactly that stillness to observe wildlife and to protect ourselves.“

Q: What’s the closest shave you’ve had with wildlife? “I’ve had many but one that comes to mind is when I saved a director from putting his hand on a venomous eyelash pit viper. We were on a reconnaissance trip for a programme I was making with Ewan McGregor and had just been dropped by helicopter in the Honduran rainforest. I was showing him how to put up his hammock for the first time and he was just about to wrap his cord around what looked like a vine…”

Q: What can you tell us about “rewilding”? ”There are some very good books written about rewilding but if we’re going to look after the planet and nurture it, we need to rewild ourselves. That means understanding ourselves and our place in nature and feeling a deeper connection. Many different cultures talk about Mother Earth.  I believe in that philosophy.”

Q: Why do you think we’ve lost touch with nature? “Our dependence on electrical goods and gadgetry has accelerated in our lifetime. We spend more time looking at a screen than we do at the natural world. The willingness to employ old-fashioned field-craft is disappearing. I think it’s something we need to bring back.”

Q: Tell us about your cookbook, Wilderness Chef.“My son said, ‘would you write some of your recipes down?’ It’s become popular. Cooking is important outdoors. If you’ve had a bad day, cooking a good meal outdoors pushes the reset button on morale and helps you feel good again.”

Q: Do you have any animals of your own? “Yes. We have a Labrador, and now we have a Labrador puppy, who is causing mayhem! Pets are wonderful. Dogs are the most amazing companions. In times of difficulty, they are a distraction, and are excellent security. They also remind us daily how intelligent other animals are.”

Ray will star in Guildford, Basingstoke, Oxford, High Wycombe & more. Visit www.raymears.com

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Star Q&A: Gok Wan

Round & About

Interview

Television star Gok Wan, 47, talks to us ahead of his dazzling star turn as the Man In The Mirror in Snow White at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre from 4th December to 2nd January

Hi Gok! How did you get involved in pantomime? “I’ve dreamt of being on stage forever. I first began to think about panto some years back. I was fascinated… Then one evening, maybe 2012 or 2013, I was with Lionel Blair and the very naughty Louie Spence. They said I really should give it a try. I spoke with my agent and Channel Four got involved. I first met Snow White then. There have been other pantos since then but it’s really great to be back with Snow White.”

Q. What’s your character The Man In The Mirror like to play? “Man In The Mirror sounds like a piece of furniture! I’m not and it isn’t! The script is amazing. I finished re-reading it again this morning – the tradition has again been tweaked for the 2020s and I’m excited. The mirror has messages. The mirror motivates. The mirror is magic.”

Q. And your costume… do you have a professional opinion about it? “Do I have an opinion? Oh yes I do! I like it. I was encouraged from the start to contribute input, although the designer anticipated so much that my suggestions could be called incidental. There’s a vital aspect, though, and one I insist on. An aspect that’s seen and unseen – the fit! My costume has to fit and over the Christmas period that could mean adjustments… It’s gotta be done.”

Q. Do you have any pre-show dressing room rituals? “Haha! Not only in the dressing room! Yes, I’m superstitious and my rituals – as you call them – go on throughout the performance; I don’t leave them to lurk alone in the dressing room. What can I tell you? Ahh, there’s ‘first on stage.’ Of course there is going to be stage crew but I like to be the first cast member on stage before a performance. What else? This year in Snow White I am required to fly and when I’m up high, without fail, I whisper a hello to my Mum. I love the flying bit. Love it, love it!”

Q. What is the secret to a great pantomime? “Three ‘secrets’: the first is definitely the audience; the second is likely to be the audience and the third, in my experience, is probably the audience. I like to open the show, to greet and welcome everyone and I can predict within 20 seconds
just what sort of evening it will be. People
have probably had tensions at work, frustrations with traffic, delays or hold-ups – it’s important to me that everyone feels wanted.”

Q. We’re enjoying your new TV show Bling… “I believe you can get a lot from the series. Jewellery can mean so much more than ‘an accessory’ – so often there is special significance attached to a piece. The series sparkles with stories, memories and emotion, as well as amazing technical skills and explanations. It is fascinating. I learned a lot.”

Q. Do you know this part of the world well? “Not really. My home’s London so I’ll commute. I like town and city life. The hustle, the bustle, the noise, the rush, the dirt, energy, sweat, the crowds. I am a absolutely a city boy! I was brought up and lived over a restaurant so it’s what I’m used to.”

To book, call 0333 009 6690 or visit atgtickets.com

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Star Q&A: Samantha Womack

Round & About

Interview

Actress, singer, model & director Samantha Womack tells us about festive feelings as she stars as the White Witch in The Lion, The Witch & the Wardrobe at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre as part of its UK tour

Q. Hello! We’re celebrating Christmas shows. Did you go to many of these as a youngster? “I loved all shows as a child. My grandmother was a choreographer and often had friends in shows. She was a great friend of the theatre manager at the Palladium and so I remember going to see Michael Crawford in Barnum countless times which was an incredible performance.”

Q. What is it about this production of the CS Lewis play that will really make Christmas sparkle? And why should we all book a seat? “This production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is directed by Michael Fentiman whose work I’m a massive fan of. With this production he brings a similar vibrancy and originality that he created with his award-winning Amelie. It is a magicial, spellbinding show with Narnia being revealed in earthy pagan magic and musicians on stage whose physical talent is breathtaking.”

Q. Any favourite hang-outs or places to visit while you’re in town? “Aylesbury is an area I’ve performed in over the years, in South Pacific, Guys & Dolls… so I have many fond memories of here. I always bring my dogs with me as there are so many beautiful walks around Thames Valley.”

Q. What’s your go-to snack or food or drink you could never live without? “I try to eat healthy food as I eat a lot. Avocados and kimchi is my current craving and homegrown veg. Having said that, Lidl does dangerously good ice cream…”

Q. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had & choice for a last supper? “The best meal I’ve ever had? Tricky! Anything my grandmother cooked. She did a mean Welsh rarebit and roast tatties.”

Q. Who would be your six dream dinner party guests, alive or dead, real or fictional? “My six dream dinner guests would be Oliver Reed, Richard Burton, Nick Drake, Edith Piaf, Sidney Poitier and Kathryn Hepburn.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? And your favourite song or album? “My first memory of music was my Dad playing Cat Stevens on acoustic guitar. I miss that sound.”

Q. Do you love Christmas, and what especially are you looking forward to this year? “Christmas is special to me. My father Noel was born on Christmas Eve so that feels bittersweet but I always have a house full of people and music over the Christmas break.”

Q. What other highlights are on your horizon? “I have just bought a retreat business with my partner in Valencia in the mountains and so we will be working on that next year.”

Q. If you could be a real white witch for a moment and make one wish for the world, what would it be? “My wish for the world would be environmental awareness so we stop any more species and plants from being wiped out. And it sounds corny but… to be kind and love one another.”

For tickets please visit atgtickets.co.uk

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Star Q&A: Timmy Mallett

Liz Nicholls

Interview

Broadcaster, artist & dad Timmy Mallett, who turns 66 this month, tells Liz Nicholls about family, football, art and his new book Utterly Brilliant – My Life’s Journey

Q. Hello Timmy. It’s wonderful to speak to you & I’ve really enjoyed your book, in fact I cried reading it! Are you pleased with it? “That’s very kind of you, I’m pleased it resonates. I’m proud of it, yes. You don’t know when you write a book how it’s going to go down. I wanted to combine the story of an adventure, a big personal challenge, with memoirs of Wacaday and my radio days and career and things I’ve done over the years, and my love of history and art. How do you do that? And I remember my editor saying: ‘you start at the beginning and crack on and see how it goes’. Haha!”

Q. I loved your drawings at the start of each chapter. “Part of that is to stop and look at where you’ve stopped. I say it in the book: work on the assumption you’re only going to do this once, you’re not going to come back and do it again with more time. It’s not every day can you devote masses of time to drawing so give it all you can in the moment. Sitting down and drawing or sketching or painting is a way of thinking about at the place you’re at and absorbing it. And that’s the nice thing about taking the bike, because you have to think about what you’re going to take. In a car you chuck everything in, but on the bike, you have to be quite precise. It seemed to work.”

Q. Your late brother Martin sounds so inspirational. Do you still talk to him, as you do in the book, and feel he’s still with you? “Thank you. Yes I do, it happens every day, Liz. Every day I have those little conversations with him. He pops up in what we’re doing. I remember when I was planning the adventure I was thinking about Martin and how he reached his potential. It takes the pressure off, in some ways. You haven’t got to be the best or the fastest… you’ve just got to be the best you can be. And Martin, with his language and learning difficulties, showed me how to do that, just by being absorbed and interested in everything he was doing. As brothers sometimes it was a little bit annoying that it wasn’t at the same speed, but he was always in the moment, he lived his life in the moment and his time scale was different. We often judge things as ‘life will be good when… lockdown’s over or when I get the new job, when I move house, when I go on holiday, get the new outfit…’ Well, what’s wrong with now? Now’s the moment. Everything’s got a time limit hasn’t it? We think everything’s going to carry on forever, like this lovely warm hot sunny day. Tomorrow we will need a jumper on!”

Q. What do you love about living here? “I moved into this house 30 years ago this Christmas and my son Billy, who’s grown up here, and was born here, is a gardener in the neighbourhood; he speaks with a Berkshire burr. The thing I love about it is the people; it’s great for families. It’s a lovely place to live. I’m passionate about my cycling and there’s some great cycle routes, either out southwards to Windsor or north into the Chilterns. I’ve got good friends here, I play five-a-side football, tennis. There’s good pubs and restaurants. I ring the bells at Holy Trinity church; I like the involvement. The fact I’ve put down roots, haha! This is the longest I’ve lived anywhere and it’s got something special about it. Then seeing the way Billy has taken to being a gardener. He knows the Latin names, the nicknames and the proper names of every plant in the garden as well as every football team in the country. I like the fact that when I’m out and about people say ‘hello Timmy!’”

Q. And Oxford United? “I love Oxford I’ve been a passionate fan of them since the 1990s when I worked at Radio Oxford when they soared. I watched how when the football went well, the town did well, there was a bounce in the air and people were inspired. I have two teams now – I have Oxford and also Maidenhead Utd who have the oldest football ground in the world. With both my teams, I like the ambition at the start of the season. Pre-season in these friendlies, new players are coming in you’re thinking ‘are they any good? Are they going to be better than the last lot? Are they going to set us alight and entertain us?’ Then, 45 minutes in, they’re 3-0 down and you’re like ‘arrrgh where are my hopes and dreams?!’ It’s about enjoying the ride. I don’t judge the season by whether they get promoted. No: it might be a great season if they stay up! If they stay in the midst of it all with great games or a great run. All those things are to be celebrated and you’re seeing players giving their best and trying their hardest. All these ups & downs are to be celebrated.”

Q. What are your favourite songs? “Anything by the Beatles. I often have Band On The Run by Paul McCartney & Wings playing loudly in the house, and The Stranger by Billy Joel. Lovely haunting melodies in there. And The Bluebells’ Young At Heart. Pop music is your personal diary isn’t it?”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “My mum playing the piano. Pop music was always really important, too. Listening to Alan Freeman on Pick Of The Charts each week. The charts mattered – whether they went up or down. How they did in the league. We used to love that. When I was at boarding school my brother used to send me lists of the charts and what he thought they should be. We had a little pop group, me and my brothers. Paul couldn’t remember the words, Martin couldn’t say the words so I made them up. We were called the Kettleholders. Singing and pretending to be pop stars!”

Q. Which artists inspire you? “I really like the impressionists – I like Dutch 17th century artists like Vermeer and modern artists like David Hockney who rejoices in painting the seasons.”

Q. Do you have any favourite local galleries? “Nova in Marlow, Lemongrove in Henley and Whitewall galleries have all supported my art. I like going to visit some of the weird and wonderful museums we have in the Thames Valley – the chair museum in Wycombe! Wow! Bizarre! Reading Museum in the old town hall which has a copy of the Bayeux Tapestry. I like the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. I like the Bodgers exhibit in the Turvill Church, in the vestry. The Bodgers lived and worked making chair spindles in the 19th century. I like the Heritage Centre in Maidenhead. And if you want to see more of my art look at Mallettspallette.co.uk

Q. Who would be your dream party guests? “Eleanor of Aquitaine, an impressive woman in a man’s world. Tom Hanks, particularly because I love his character’s line in Castaway; ‘all we have to do is keep breathing because tomorrow the sun will rise & you never know what the tide will bring in’. I’d have Gareth Southgate. Also, I’ve been watching The Kominsky Method on Netflix and Michael Douglas seems like good value. And my mate Michaela Strachan who makes me laugh.”

Q. Do you get any weird fan mail or attention? “Fan mail is interesting because I get it just as regularly now as in the Wacaday days. It doesn’t surprise me when a message comes via social media or actual letters. Everyone has their memory of Wacaday, like you Liz, when you said you and your sister used to watch it. I was in the British Museum and someone shouted ‘Tony! You’re Tony Robinson, wow!’ I reminded him of Baldrick, obviously. Some people want a pinky-punky mallet, so I brought out a 30th anniversary edition which people can buy.”

Q.  If you had a magic wand, as well as your mallet, what would you wish for the world? “I feel as though climate change is fixable, all we have to do is put our minds to it. I’ve done this in a small way in my own house. If I could have a domestic wind turbine on the roof, I would do. I’d find a way to make where I live work harder. I reckon it’s doable in the bigger picture. I’m optimistic.”

Q. You’ve done so much in your varied career! Anything in the pipeline? “These are the golden years to make the most of what you’ve got and make it happen. One of the things I was surprised about, researching the Camino, was how much connection there was with the Thames Valley. Santiago de Compostela is where you go to see the tomb of St James the Apostle, where all of him is buried except for his left hand, which is in Marlow, at St Peter’s. Then when I was planning my trip, I contacted my MP who said I want to hear more about this, so the PM came to my house to hear about the camino. Then there’s the Bishop of Oxford who didn’t know about any of it. All these little connections putting people together. Your story is part of the thousands of ‘Camino’ journeys that happen every year. There’s probably another adventure to do on my bike. And there’s another big idea which I’m trying to persuade Mrs Mallett about, so I don’t feel it’s fair to tell you first, Liz, until she’s on board! At the moment she’s like; ‘you’re going to do what?!’  I want to do more cycling and painting – that suits me. Meeting people, hearing their stories, sharing some tales would be a good thing to do. Always take that inspiration of brother Martin, with the smile on his face and a warm embrace.”

Please visit Timmymallett.co.uk & mallettspallette.co.uk

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Star Q&A: Martin Jarvis

Liz Nicholls

Interview

Actor Martin Jarvis OBE tells us about life, love and turning 80 as he prepares to star as Ted Heath in Michael McManus’ smash hit play Maggie & Ted at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud this month

Q. Maggie & Ted sounds a wonderful play. Has playing Ted changed your understanding of Sir Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher? And do you think Ted was entitled to his “Incredible Sulk”? “Yes, it’s an extraordinary play. Brilliantly observant. Very funny! Surprisingly moving at times. The author Michael McManus was Ted’s Private Secretary. He has based so much of his play on personal recollections. So if, as ‘Ted’ I ever wanted to question a line or speech in the drama, ie ‘Would Heath ever say this? Michael is likely to reply ‘Well he did, I was there!’ Haha!

I once had the pleasure of actually meeting him. He suddenly arrived at a wine-bar/restaurant where my wife [Rosalind Ayres] and I were dining. He hadn’t booked and he and his eight young musician companions needed a table. With the help of the manageress, Ros and I relinquished ours. As we withdrew to park ourselves near the door he turned to us and, with immense charm and his familiar widening smile, announced: ‘Thank you so much. Very grateful.’

So that’s where I have begun in inhabiting the fascinating, and as I learnt, complex character of Edward Heath. Unexpected charm. I’ve much enjoyed discovering, too, how amusing he was. His comments about Maggie are often extremely funny, though sometimes with an undertow of misogyny and deep disapproval. I don’t think he ever quite recognised how very alike they were. Their backgrounds were oddly similar. I hadn’t appreciated how lonely a person he was, even early in his political career. And how cool and comedic he could be – his television encounter with Dame Edna (which occurs in the play) is a classic. When he lost office others termed him The Incredible Sulk. Really this came from the popular television character ‘The Incredible Hulk’. I sense he quite enjoyed the pun, even using it himself in public.”

Q. Do you follow British politics now? And how do you think this Conservative government compares to the times when Maggie & Ted is set? “How could I not follow current events and policies? Some things never change. Only perhaps ways of demonstrating attitudes and disunity. Perhaps there was more apparent courtesy offered in political exchanges in those older days. But in private, the attitudes of differing personalities, points of view, mindsets, jealousies were probably just as bitter, vitriolic, corrosive. Fortunately they didn’t have to deal with the pitfalls of social media.”

Martin Jarvis OBE & Clare Bloomer starring in Maggie and Ted at the Yvonne Arnaud

Q. You are renowned for your acting, and mellifluous voice – how do you take care of it? Anything you don’t eat or drink? “Well, thanks. I gave up smoking when I was 16, which I presume helped a bit! I’m told singers have a glass of warm water standing by in the recording studio for the occasional sip, to keep the throat open and relaxed. And an apple ready for the odd bite to prevent the sound of ‘lip-smacks’ on the microphone. I prefer cold water and a banana! Perhaps that’s why I’ve never been a great singer!”

Q. When did you know acting was for you? Were there any actors you remember being dazzled by growing up? “When I was selected for the school Shakespeare plays (Whitgift, Croydon, Surrey) I found I had an instinctual understanding of some of the verse and characters. Thanks to an inspirational English teacher, Maurice Etherington, I discovered I could speak the text believably and make it sound natural.

Actors that dazzled me ranged from Terry-Thomas the great comic performer and the superb actor Alan Badel. And on stage and film: John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson. Later I was lucky enough to work with many of them. Not Olivier. Though I did speak to him on the phone when he rang-up to offer Ros Ayres a role. It seemed almost surreal when I asked: ‘Who’s calling?’ and he said in those recognisably crisp tones, ‘Larry Olivier!’

Gielgud gave me some wonderful advice when I was embarking on Peter Hall’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the National Theatre, with Judi Dench. ‘Acting in Wilde’ (said Sir John) is best approached with all the seriousness of taking part in an elaborate practical joke’? He was right. We found that the more deadpan and ‘earnest’ you were, how much the comedy increased.”

Q. I laughed at an interview in which you say you almost trod on the Queen… is this still your most embarrassing moment?“Ah yes, it was fairly embarrassing. At a Windsor reception I hadn’t realised that Her Majesty had suddenly arrived and was standing just behind me. I had backed, laughing at something one of our group had said – oh dear – I then turned and apologised to the queen profusely. Absurdly it didn’t end there. Some years later at a party given by Jeffrey Archer I had to edge along a row of seats in order to get to my own. Unfortunately I had, in passing, trodden on Margaret Thatcher’s toe. Again an apology. In Maggie and Ted I haven’t yet trodden on the wonderful Clare Bloomer’s foot, either by accident or design. She plays Maggie superbly and would no doubt improvise a characterful response. When I was fortunate enough to be awarded the OBE for services to Drama a friend suggested it should really have been for services to Apology.”

Martin Jarvis OBE & Clare Bloomer starring in Maggie and Ted at the Yvonne Arnaud

Q. What’s your first memory of music? And your favourite song? “My first music memory (if I could call it that) was my attempt at the age of five to play the xylophone in the school carol service. I hit the wood more times than the metal bars.

My favourite song? It changes all the time. Sometimes it’s Schubert’s The Trout. Sometimes, especially now that we hope the world is opening up, the emotional and rhythmic After Hours by Weeknd.

Sometimes it’s Half a Moment from Alan Ayckbourn and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s By Jeeves. I listened to it from the wings every night when I played Jeeves on Broadway. A genuinely moving ‘relationship’ song that gradually turns into a supremely comic rendition because of Alan’s brilliant staging.”

Q. What’s the most surprising lesson fatherhood has taught you? “That the fun and laughter goes on forever. Toby Jarvis is composer of everything from popular game show music to television ads, and the scores for plays by Ibsen, Sheridan and Wilde.

Olly Jarvis, criminal barrister, is also a best-selling author of legal thrillers, (his latest: The Genesis Inquiry.)”

Q. Having voiced so many great stories – do you read a lot for pleasure and if so who is your favourite author and why?“I read for pleasure, though very often it’s also for professional reasons. PG. Wodehouse, Michael Frayn, Christopher Matthew, Gyles Brandreth, Olly Jarvis are all authors who can make me laugh aloud – and also make me think. I’m grateful for my long association with Richmal Crompton’s Just William stories. Have just recorded five more for Radio 4 to be broadcast this Christmas. My favourite biographer is Claire Tomalin. I’m proud to have recorded so much of these remarkable writers’ work, either as a performer or as producer/director for BBC radio or audiobook.”

Q. Many happy belated returns on your 80th birthday. How do you feel in your ninth decade and how did you & will you celebrate?“Ros arranged two ‘celebrations’- a family dinner the weekend before, and a ‘friends’ dinner the weekend after. In between, business as usual. On the actual day I visited the dentist, and then recorded a voiceover for an American company. Should perhaps have been the other way round? Cold water and a banana saw me through.”

Q. If you could make one wish for the world, what would it be? “One wish can never be enough – we desperately need an end to all the various horrors that are currently being visited upon us. This short piece, A Soldier’s Dream from the 1st World War poet Wilfred Owen comes to mind. He was 24 when he wrote it, in 1917. Killed in action the next year, a week before the armistice was declared.

‘I dreamed kind Jesus fouled the big guns gears;

And caused a permanent stoppage in all bolts;

And with a smile Mausers and Colts;

And rusted every bayonet with His tears.’

 

If only.

Q: We look forward to the play in Guildford & lots of best wishes & thank you for your time. “Thank you, Liz. I’ve always appreciated Guildford. I came here in the 1960s to audition for the Surrey Scholarship that, somehow, I was awarded. Which meant I could go to RADA and begin to really understand what it might be like to be an actor. I’m thrilled to be back.”

Martin Jarvis OBE & Clare Bloomer star in Maggie and Ted at the Yvonne Arnaud, 12th-16th October. Visit yvonne-arnaud.co.uk or call 01483 44 00 00 to book.

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Star Q&A: Ed Byrne

Round & About

Interview

Liz Nicholls talks about life, laughs & lockdown saviours with comedian & dad Ed Byrne, 49, ahead of his live shows in September, including Oxford, Newbury, High Wycombe, Farnham, Camberley & Dorking

Q. Hello! Which comedians did you like when you were young? “I always liked Dave Allen. My brother had a 12-inch album The Pick of Billy Connollly which I remember laughing at with my Ma & Da. And then repeating the jokes (that I didn’t really f***** get but were still funny), to other kids who also didn’t get it, in a bad Glaswegian accent.”

Q. Have you had to rewrite material for your new show If I’m Being Honest? “I’ve done a few outdoor & drive-in shows, so I’ve been able to tinker as I go, see what works and what doesn’t. Now I am making jokes about the fact that jokes in the show are a couple of years old which really changes the joke. It demonstrates that life has been in suspended animation for two years.”

Q. What were your lockdown saviours? “I had visions of having a nice break, then taking myself off to the Scottish Highlands when the kids went back to school…but no! I did manage to film a show interviewing celebrities while hill walking but people love to accuse you of breaking the rules. At home we did a lot of Dungeons & Dragons and Pokemon battles. We divided and conquered in this house, and I was banished to the garden. I dug a vegetable patch, made raised beds, I laid a patio… all in the first flush of lockdown, obviously, before my get up and go got up and went. I taught myself via YouTube. When it comes to practical stuff it’s better to watch someone who’s only slightly more qualified than you cackhandedly find their own way through it first.”

Q. Is it true you shook hands with David Bowie? “It was more than that! I was in Adelaide and was invited on to an evening TV chat show. It was live, and as I was doing my bit, Bowie and his band gathered opposite me next to the cameras and audience. Then he did his interview & he was easily as funny as I was. We had a chat and, despite the enormous disparity in our standing, he spoke to me like we were contemporaries, like equals, which was very sweet, if mad! The following day Steven K Amos did the same TV show and he got to meet… The Wiggles. So I won that one.”

Q. What’s your most memorable heckle? “To this day the most devastating heckle I ever had was in Sydney when woman just stood up and shouted [adopts drunken Aussie accent] BLAH! BLAH! BLAH! That really was all she was hearing.”

Q. You’re a humanist, right? “Yes. Humanists help people organise things differently. A lot of the big things in life; how we mark marriage, babies, death, used to be controlled by religion but now there’s choice. You can be altruistic and an atheist.”

Q. Any up-and-coming comedians worth a shout-out? “When work was scarce, I watched a lot of short videos. I do think it’s fitting that I’m made to feel old by the app TikTok, which sounds like someone pointing at their watch counting my career down. I have enjoyed Alistair Green, Tom Little and Naomi Cooper who are all very funny.”

Q. If you could make one wish for the world what would it be? “Wow; big question! That it be disease free. And if we can’t go for disease-free, can we just make the diseases we have slightly less contagious?”

For Ed’s show details & to book, visit edbyrne.com

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Star Q&A: Andre Rieu

Round & About

Interview

Liz Nicholls asks international classical music champion & dad Andre Rieu, 71, about life, love & music ahead of Together Again which comes to cinemas on 28th & 29th August.

Q. Your concerts look so joyful! How do you create that magic? “Wherever we play in the world, people start to dance when they hear The Blue Danube. Magicians use their wands, I have my violin and my bow. But there is also the joy I feel when I play my music. It’s real, and luckily, my fellow orchestra members share that joy and passion. And then there is this unmistakable interaction with my audience: we face them and they can see our faces too. You know, classical music has been composed for all of us – not only for the elite like some people tend to think. Johann Strauss, Mozart; they were pop stars in their own times. Music is my oxygen!”

Q. How have you coped over the last 16 months? “When a concert was over and we were travelling to our hotel, I used to watch baking tutorials on YouTube. So that’s what I’ve been doing: making cakes, pies and all kind of pastries for the street, haha! One of the most famous cake bakers in the Netherlands (Cees Holtkamp) gave me a masterclass on my birthday, that was a nice surprise! Nevertheless, I missed contact with my audience and my big family; that’s the nickname for all my fellow orchestra members. My saviours? My wife, our sons with their wives and our five gorgeous grandchildren. I am looking forward to touring and returning to the UK in 2022.”

Q. How did your father shape your path in life? “I was raised in a classical family. My father was a symphony orchestra conductor, all my brothers and sisters play one or more instruments, chosen by our mother. She thought the violin would suit me and she was right! No other instrument translates my inner feelings so well. My first violin teacher was an 18-year-old blonde girl with whom I instantly fell in love (I was five years old, haha!).”

Q. What’s the key to a happy marriage like yours with Marjorie? “The key to our blissful happiness is the 100% mutual trust, but also sharing the same sense of humour and giving the freedom the other needs. We’ve been married 47 years, we work together but we’re also still each other’s lovers. Most people forget but it’s important to enjoy life and laugh. In the Netherlands we have a saying: ‘Not having laughed one day is not having lived that same day’.”

Q. What surprising lessons have fatherhood, and being a grandpa, taught you? “Not a single day is the same as another. Try to enjoy every moment because your (grand) children grow quicker than you think. Besides that: freedom is the secret… they’ll come to you as a father or grandfather when they’ll need you. Last thing: I love to spoil my grandchildren once in a while…”

Q. Who would be your dream dinner party guests? “Walt Disney who said: ‘If you can dream it, you can do it!’ Next to him, the one and only true King of the Waltz: Johann Strauss. Albert Einstein because of his knowledge about the universe: Jules Verne and Columbus.”

Q. What wish would you grant the world? “World peace. Not to fight for, let’s say, one year. Try to make music… more fun than weapons!”

For tickets please visit andreincinemas.com

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Star Q&A: Paul Stellar

Round & About

Interview

Singer & dad Paul Weller, 63, opens up about his new album Fat Pop (Volume I), collaborations and a hopeful return to live music.

Q. Congratulations on the album! How was it born? “Most things become more apparent when you’re working on a record, so I don’t think I had a masterplan, I just wanted to make a record as I was facing a whole year or more of not doing anything, as all the live stuff had been cancelled.”

Q. You recorded in each of your homes, coming together at Black Barn studio in Surrey didn’t you? “In the first bit of lockdown, I was recording my vocal and a guitar or piano to a click track, then I’d send that to the band members… so there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing until we could all get together. It was very weird, and I wouldn’t say completely enjoyable as little things kept coming back that we could have easily fixed if we were all together, but it enabled us to stay working. Getting together in person though, was special. I’d say like the first day of school, but I hated school, so it was more like the last day, a real f***ing joy.”

Q. With your huge back catalogue you like to keep it fresh don’t you? “I’m always trying to keep my own interest and not repeat myself, which when you’ve been recording music as long as I have, can be difficult. The older I get, the less cautious I am about trying things. There was a similar ethos in The Style Council, I just don’t think I had the chops to bring it off successfully at times. If I believe in something though, I want people to hear it.”

Q. What was it like working with your star collaborators Andy Fairweather Low and your daughter Leah? “It was so easy and natural with Leah. We were sitting around the night before and I was playing this song on piano. She’s doing an album just now that Steve Cradock is producing. Even without doing the proud dad thing, I can see she’s coming up with really good songs. Andy Fairweather Low? Well, it was a joy to have him on board. We sang together a couple of years ago on a charity thing round my way in Guildford and our voices went really well together, so we’ve often said we should do something together.”

Q. What’s on the horizon? “My only ambition is to have more of what I’m having now; life, music, family, children and all that. I don’t have long-term plans because, as we’ve discovered in the last year, there ain’t no plan. As long as I get a bit more of this, I’m a happy man.”

For the latest news on Paul’s tour dates and releases, visit paulweller.com

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Star Q&A: Danny Goffey

Round & About

Interview

Liz Nicholls chats to musician & dad of four Danny Goffey, 47, who will star with his Supergrass bandmates at Englefield House in Theale as part of a series of gigs which have been postponed to July 2022…

Q. Hello Danny. It’s great that live music is back – do you enjoy playing the hits, getting the bangers out..? “I love getting my bangers out! Our songs are interesting and intricate enough that when you’re playing them, you’re concentrating and getting really into them. We did a tour before Covid, finished with a couple of gigs at Ally Pally and it felt… all right actually! Now playing live has a new meaning. Mind you, we’re doing a year of touring – maybe ask me at the end of that!”

Q. Do you know Englefield House? “I don’t. I moved to Oxford when I was 10 or 11. I went to school in Maidenhead and grew up around Cookham. It was a lovely childhood, mucking about in the woods, on the river, mad stuff.”

Q. Can you tell us about Oxford in the 1990s? “I remember loads and loads of pubs, characters. We had such a good laugh up and down the Cowley Road and in Jericho, at the Tavern, Freud’s and Raoul’s. Down Little Clarendon Street there was a place called Barcelona; I think I got thrown out for wearing pyjamas and acting really stupid. It was so free and easy compared to today.”

Q. Do you wish you kept a diary of those early days? “I suppose the beauty of mad off-the-wall moments is that you don’t remember them, which is sometimes the best way, haha! Some of those times were hectic and insane so it’s great not to be able to remember them. I’ve been writing my book to go with my new record so I’ve been reflecting on old times. I wish I’d written a diary from ages 16 to 20; how the band started, ins and outs. I’d recommend anyone starting something they think’s gonna be great to document it… Which everyone does these days anyway.”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Going through my dad’s rack of 45s, the Beatles, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Rolf Harris. Weird comedy records. The first band I got into were Dexys Midnight Runners; that was the first single I bought. I am crap with music nowadays; I haven’t got a record player or good stereo at the moment. I don’t listen to music much, it’s more Radio 4.”

Q. Have you felt insular during lockdown? “I’ve kept busy, with my album and book. It’s about an ageing semi-retired rock star and how he gets bullied by his family! I’ve spent a lot of time at a beach house, trying to fit decking. But I know it’s been really tough for a lot of people so I’m lucky.”

Q. What’s on your rider? “Me and Gaz tend to have a few vodka and Red Bulls before going on stage; it gives you a bit of an edge, lets you go a bit bonkers for a couple of hours. Wine and beers. A good coffee machine. We’re quite easygoing.”

Q. Who is your dream collaboration? “Ahhh, it’s endless. I’d loved to have worked on songs with Ian Dury. David Bowie. Years ago I wangled a way to play drums with Paul McCartney on bass for a Christmas album. That’ll do me.”

Q. Do you still get compared to McCartney? “Not as much as when I was younger. I look really mental at the moment with my long, wild hair.”
• To book your tickets visit heritagelive.net