Katie Piper interview

Katie Piper is coming to Camberley Theatre on May 31st 2018. Emma Cox caught up with her to ask some questions about what we can expect from the show.

 

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Where did the idea for a tour come from?

Well, I get a lot of responses to the books that I’ve written. In my autobiography I started off writing very much about my personal experience, and then I expanded into self-help which drew on my own experiences, and those of psychologists and life coaches experts that I’d worked with and benefitted from.

I now feel that I’m on a position where I’ve got techniques and a mantra and things that have worked for me, and I want to help other people.

I am constantly inundated with letters and just people in the street and in restaurants coming up, asking me, ‘How can I get through this?’.

So I thought, if I can take it into the theatres and go onto the road with it, it would be great to help people.

It’s sharing parts of my journey, but it’s not about me re-telling my story word for word. Hopefully it will be uplifting and help people who are having their own battles with anxiety and depression and whatever they are going through.

 

Is it a day to day part of your life now, talking to people who want your advice?

Yes, it is, and it’s one I feel I can fulfil.

I can help burns survivors practically through my Katie Piper Foundation by giving them funding, we can help with treatment, we can mentor them, we can connect them.

But this is an extension of that: helping people with mental health issues.

 

What sort of people are you hoping will come to see the tour?

I think lots of different people will come because I think society is changing. With Prince Harry, for example, coming out and talking about mental health, and lots of other people have also come out and said, ‘I suffer from depression’ – people who look outwardly happy.

I think now we’re realising that so many of us are affected by mental health issues.

And now we know that having a counsellor or a therapist isn’t embarrassing, it doesn’t mean you’re crazy. So I think we’ll see very normal people in the audience. Everyone has a story, or something they’re going through.

The people who read my books are not just young women who’ve been burnt. There’s a real variety.

Katie Piper

 

It’s interesting you mention Prince Harry: it’s becoming okay for men to talk about their feelings, do you agree?

Yeah, and I hope we’ll see some men there. I do get men coming to my book signings. Sometimes they’re my dad’s age, even. When trauma happens, it affects the whole family, not just the person.

So I think encouraging men to keep talking is great and I hope the show touches them as well.

 

Can you tell us about some of the subject matter you’ll be discussing?

I’m a mother, I’m pregnant now, and when the tour starts I’ll be the mother of two small children.

And because we live in this glossy, Instagram, dating app sort of world, I think there’s never been so much pressure on us or that it’s ever been so hard to stay in touch with reality.

So I think as well as being a mum, I have that insight of what it’s like to be in that ‘celebrity’ world. Sometimes I’ve stood on that red carpet and I don’t even recognise people in the flesh because they are so photoshopped in all other mediums.

Lots of young people are making unfair comparisons to those role models, and feeling in adequate.

So those comparisons are something I really want to talk about.

For me, I had to find confidence and self-worth against all the odds, so if I can do that, I would hope I could help other people do that, who are just trying to get on with their lives but finding it difficult.

I want to help them find perspective between what is real and what isn’t.

 

What is the format of the show?

I’m going to talk a little bit about my back story, just to put it into context.

But it’s going to be very much about the present tense and the ‘now’.

I’ve got some interesting images to show people that will illustrate what I’m saying. Some images that I’ve seen on Instagram; and I’ve mocked up some examples of myself to show the difference between real life and photoshop.

I might have some special guests at some of the venues, too.

Then I’ll be taking questions from the audience and interacting with them. What they’ll get is absolute honesty. It’s certainly not just going to be me talking at an audience from a lectern.

 

You’re used to public speaking, of course, but does a theatre tour feel like something a little bit more intimidating?

It does! I think this is going to be so much more intimate. Because I’ll be interacting with the audience, this isn’t like going into a firm and talking in a certain slot.

It’s like inviting people into my front room and having a coffee and talking.

But I’m hoping that intimacy will keep it refreshing and it also means each show will be bespoke and different from the last one. And that does make me more nervous! But in a positive way.

 

How have you prepared for it?

I’ve been preparing for the last ten years, technically!

It’s actually harder than writing a book. Writing a book is very structured and you have a beginning, middle and an end, and I am used to writing to deadlines. But writing a show keeps evolving and manifesting. Every time I hear something new, that I like, I add it in.

I am constantly collecting quotes, photos, and mantras. In my downstairs loo, I put up stuff that inspires and motivates me, all the time.

In a way, you don’t know who’s going to be in the audience, so you can only prepare to a certain extent. If they ask a certain question, we might veer off in a totally different direction. And that’s quite exciting.

 

Is there anything out of bounds as far as what the audience can ask you?

Well I live by the mantra, ‘What happens to us, doesn’t define us’, so anybody expecting me to go over my story again is going to be disappointed. It’s not a story about a specific acid attack – I don’t think that would make a good theatre show.

But I believe that sharing is reciprocated so if I share something about my life, I find that people normally share something about their lives.

I feel like most people who come along will have some kind of issue – like we all do in day to day life – so I feel like it will be an environment that will be free and non judgemental. I hope people can say what they like and the audience will listen and empathise.

 

Have you practised any techniques to help with your delivery or performance?

When we very first started talking about this, I did wonder if I should learn to sing! But everyone shot me down!

I’ve been speaking for seven or eight years and I do still get nervous. I read to my husband, and I practise beforehand, but I actually don’t mind the nerves. I think that adrenaline is good. If you don’t feel nerves, things can get stale.

 

Are you looking forward to travelling the country?

Well it’s going to be a challenge because I give birth at the end of December and my first tour date is the beginning of March. So I’m going to take the baby with me. I’ll probably be breast feeding, and the baby is going to be very small, so it’s going to be ‘mums on tour’.

But I will talk about that: mums putting labels on ourselves and on what we can and can’t do.

I think being a working mum is challenging, but certainly achievable. So I can bring my experiences from that day into the theatre that evening! I just hope I’m not too tired…

 

Is Richard going with you to look after the baby?

I think my family are going to share babysitting duties. My mum and my sister are going to help sometimes, and Richie will help at other times. Everyone’s really excited.

Richie is so happy for me to be taking this next stage, but then he always embraces every aspect of my career. I must say, I couldn’t do it without him.

 

Will he see one or two shows?

I think so! My first show is going to be in my home town and that’s going to be particularly special because I’ll recognise faces in the audience. My family still live there, and I went back to live there while I recovered, and everyone was so supportive, so I have a special attachment to it.

 

If I told a very young Katie Piper that she’d be touring the country’s theatres one day, what would she say?

It’s definitely surreal! But when I was young I did tap dancing and jazz, and my parents have this fireplace that I would stand on, tap dancing, scratching all the surface. It was our theatre stage, me and my sister. So I’ve always had those aspirations!

 

So you’ve achieved your dreams, but in a very roundabout way?

Yeah, that’s really true actually, and that’s another lesson I’ll be talking about. Sometimes we get to where we want to be, but it’s not a straight journey: it does veer off to the left and to the right, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve always been interested in the theatre, so it’s really amazing and cool to be doing this.

 

What else will you be working on before the tour starts?

I’ve been working quite hard on my maternity collection with www.wantthattrend.com, so selfishly now I have a wardrobe to wear!

The launch went really well and it was something I’d wanted to do for ages.

It’s been really good fun – and it’s been really nice doing a photoshoot where I didn’t have to breathe in!

It’s been so successful, we sold out some of the lines within a couple of weeks, so I will continue to work with the brand.

It’s founded by a woman who had her first child and she founded it from a laptop in her bedroom, so she’s one of my inspirational women. To keep working with her would be great.

See Katie Piper at Camberley Theatre on May 31st 2018.

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ARLENE PHILLIPS THE GLITZ. THE GLAMOUR. THE GOSSIP. Interview with Simon Button

The fabulous Arlene Phillips appears at Camberley Theatre on October 12th. Simon Button caught up with her to ask some questions ahead of her tour.

3. ARLENE! The Glitz. The Glamour. The Gossip. Arlene Phillips and Jacquie Storey. Photo Josh Tomalin

How would you sum up the show?

It’s like a tea party with Arlene Phillips where you can ask me any question you like because you’ll hear about everything. It’s a Q&A format, with lots of footage from things I’ve worked on with loads of famous faces and also many photos from my personal archive. I’m working with Jacquie Storey, who is someone I used to teach at Arts Educational school.

What prompted you and Jacquie to team up?

When I created my dance group Hot Gossip [in 1974] we had a few years of phenomenal un-success because we only had a one-night-a-week gig at a club in the West End. I kept thinking ‘We’re going to be famous’ but every time I brought a producer in to see the show I was told ‘It’s too sexy for television’. We were getting nowhere so after three years I told the group: ‘Look, go off and audition and see whatever work you can get. I’m gonna put Hot Gossip on hold’. Within a week or two of delivering that message I had a call that television director David Mallet had seen a photograph of Hot Gossip. Just from seeing the photograph he said ‘I want Arlene Phillips and Hot Gossip on The Kenney Everett Show‘ but some of my dancers had gone out and gotten other jobs. So I turned to some of my students at arts educational school to ask them to be in the show and I was very lucky because three of them said yes, but the fourth one said ‘Oh no, I’m going to do a summer season and I won’t be able to do it because I’m the lead singer’ and that was Jacquie Storey. I caught up with Jacquie recently and she said ‘We have to do a show’. It all started from there.

What’s the glitziest thing you’ve ever done?

One of the glitziest things I’ve ever done was the Elton John video for I’m Still Standing. We planned to shoot it in the South of France with a big opening scene showing Elton driving in an open-top car down the mountains onto the promenade in Cannes. When he arrived in Cannes he was going to swerve into a plate glass window, which would shatter and then three dancers would step out of it, with the dancers being brought over from England.

However, when we arrived early in the morning and were about to begin filming, health and safety stepped in and said ‘No, no, no, we can’t insure Elton driving down the mountains into a plate glass window!’ So, I had to think on my feet. My friend owned a dance group and school in the South of France, so I called and asked, ‘Can I get your dancers?’ She said yes so we told them to bring swimwear, then we body-painted them and suddenly it was like the South of France opened its doors to us. Nice gave us the promenade to dance on, and we were given the beaches and ballroom and staircases of the Negresco Hotel. I taught the dancers the choreography and we them immediately filmed it, so it was like instant choreography. It took us two days to film and after we finished on the last night Elton took people to dinner.

10. ARLENE! The Glitz. The Glamour. The Gossip. Arlene Phillips and Jacquie Storey. Photo Josh Tomalin

What’s the most glamorous event you’ve ever been to?

That would have to be the opening night party in New York City for the film Annie. It was a vast and very, very glamorous party. Everything was divine – the food, the wines, the champagnes – attended by the toast of Broadway and the film world. It was very glamorous indeed.

And what’s your juiciest bit of gossip?

It’s probably the little drama I had on Freddie Mercury’s video for I Was Born To Love You when Freddie had to rescue one of our poor dancers after an accident. Off he went with her to Mile End Hospital to get her stitched up, but the big thing that happened is that it introduced me to my partner [Angus Ion]. I had no idea that an argument would end up with me finding my lifetime partner.

Can you elaborate on that?

When Freddie went off to the hospital I went into the green room and while I was sitting there one of the carpenters on the set started blaming me for the girl’s accident – saying that the throw where one of the dancers picked her up and flew her along a catwalk was dangerous and that I just stood back and watched again and again as we filmed it without stepping in and saying anything. This whole argument developed and I was quite put out that someone had come into the green room to tell me the accident was all my fault. He was angry and said ‘I hate violence towards women’ and then I started accusing him, saying ‘Actually you built that catwalk and what you possibly didn’t see was that it was getting shinier and shinier’. Eventually I walked out. It was leading up to Christmas and I seemed to be doing one video after the other, one of which was an AC/DC video at Brixton Academy – which was absolutely filthy, with us all sitting in dust. Again, it was a very long night and towards the end of a long night/early morning Angus, who was on that shoot as well, walked up and apologised. He said, ‘I’m sorry, I really overstepped the mark’. We got talking and we haven’t stopped talking since!

You’re known for being outspoken so will it be a no-holds-barred show?

It is a no-holds-barred show, yes. It’s a Q&A and people can ask me anything they want and I’ll answer absolutely anything they ask.

Why do you think audiences are so intrigued by backstage stories?

I think it’s because what they usually only get to see is the finished product. When they watch something they don’t know too much about how it’s made, what you go through to get it made and what the people you work with are like. Are the stars easy or difficult? Do they behave? Do they do what you want? The public only sees the finished product – whether it’s a musical or a film or a music video – so I think they like to go deeper into it. And people are so involved in dance today. Everyone’s an expert. With all these reality shows they’ve been taught that they can be an expert, that they can comment on something. So the knowledge of how things are put together, how the machine works, really intrigues people.

You’ve worked with so many big names over the years. Who have been your favourites?

Oh gosh, I loved working with Elton John and of course I’ve had a very long association with Andrew Lloyd Webber. He is one of the most exciting creative people that I know, no question. And I’ve worked with so many female divas – from Whitney Houston to Aretha Franklin to Tina Turner to Donna Summer. My collection of female divas were stunning and all very different, some demanding and some not, all asking for different things and you just have to be there for them. A choreographer often exposes what you can and can’t do so you need to keep the choreographer on your side and make sure they show you at your best.

Any tough customers?

Diana Ross wasn’t easy at first but by midnight she thawed. [Laughs] She thawed in the freezing cold while we were filming outside. Generally, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything where I’ve finished with a mortal enemy.

You made a name for yourself as director and choreographer of Hot Gossip in 1974. Were you being deliberately saucy?

The group was created at a time where I was not only teaching rock jazz but also going out clubbing at night, feeling the excitement of London and the way people were moving in clubs and discos. Putting those two together with the clothes I was wearing – which was not a great deal – seemed so opposite to the smiley dancers that were shown on television on the likes of Seaside Special and the Saturday night entertainment shows, full of vitality and bonhomie with simple steps and lots of energy. I felt at odds with that. I wanted to put into dance what I was experiencing at night in the clubs, namely a more immediate form of dance and physicality where you connected to it and didn’t always have to smile. It was about using your body and expressing your feelings so it became very sexy. Then there were the clothes, which were really borne out of having no money. Lingerie was cheap and cheerful and you could dye it lots of different colours. Everybody in Hot Gossip was doing part-time jobs and one of the boys was not only driving a taxi but also worked part-time selling clothes in a sex shop. He was given some of the clothes by his manager for us to wear so the whole image visually and physically became very sexy.

What have been your subsequent career highlights?

A big highlight is Starlight Express – trying to get triple threats and having them rollerskate or teaching skaters what a bar of music is and getting them all to stop at the same time on a count of eight. For me that was so thrilling and the show goes on and on, celebrating its 30th birthday in Germany next year. It was a real challenge and I loved it being part of my life. I also loved doing a lot of the music videos, especially Duran Duran’s Wild Boys where I had such great dancers. Gosh, there have been so many highlights.

What did you most enjoy about your time on Strictly Come Dancing?

I loved doing Strictly. I’ll never forget it, especially the excitement in the beginning. I remember being there for the pilot with Len Goodman where we really didn’t know what the show was going to be about. It seemed like it hadn’t quite formed, then gradually it found its feet. We had the amazing Natasha Kaplinsky, who really took to dance, and there was the comedy element where everyone fell in love with Chris Parker when on his paso doble he just ran around the floor stamping his feet with a cape on his back. The format was formed, with these wonderful professional dancers who were going to go on winning and these extraordinary characters who the audience fell in love with.

What is it liking to launch the show at the Edinburgh Fringe?

I love Edinburgh. I’ve only done one show there before, Brazouka, which was a Brazilian dance show. Edinburgh Festival Fringe is so exciting; with the audiences there you almost feel like you’re in your living room with you. They’re all around you and it feels like you’re chatting just as you would to friends.

Do you have any pre or post-show rituals?

I always eat grapes. [Laughs] Don’t ask me why, but I nervously eat them before going on stage. I don’t mind if they’re green or red as long as they’re really hard. I will not eat a soft grape. They have to be crunchy otherwise they don’t pass the Arlene test. I don’t know why that’s my ritual but it somehow calms my nerves. Then after a show I get changed as quickly as possible and get out of the venue while my mind is still fresh, get my notebook out and scribble down what I think worked and what I think didn’t.

When fans meet you what are they most intrigued to know?

The questions that come up the most are about being a mother at 47 and about my time on Strictly. Then many people tell me what their favourite musical is and where they saw it.

Peter Pan Photo-shoot!

We’ve been having fun and working hard – casting ‘Peter Pan’ for this Christmas and taking photos – yes, in the summer!

Here’s Nana the Dog saying ‘hi’

And here’s us sneaking a photo of the photshoot! Meet Tinkerbell, Capt.Hook and Peter Pan! Watch this space, we’ll be going Peter Pan crazy, we promise! 🙂

Tickets are on sale now, get yourselves ready for an awfully big adventure!

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Exciting times at Camberley Theatre!

Not only has the main auditorium been completely refurbished, (including gorgeous, plush new seats), but there have also been a few promotions and new members of the team welcomed.

Here they are to explain….

Congratulations on your new role at Camberley Theatre! Please can you introduce yourself and let us know your new job title and what that basically involves for you?

Andy Edmeads

Andy Edmeads

I’m Andy and I’ve been a part of the Surrey Heath family for nearly 5 years and have spent 2 years at the Theatre. My job as Venue and Operations Manager includes booking shows, managing the different teams, organising events and producing the pantomime!

Nick Duncan

Nick Duncan.JPG

Hi there I am now the Senior Lighting and Sound Technician. My jobs include liaising with companies to ensure their technical requirements when they arrive are being met. I oversee the live and sound technicians and apprentice technician. I assist with get in and get outs of all shows incoming and our own and look after the over-all maintenance of the building.

Zoe Stanton

ZoeStanton

Hi, I’m Zoe Stanton and I am a Front Of House Officer. My role involves being Duty Manager at the theatre, as well as being responsible for customer feedback and monitoring. I am also taking a leading role in organising and developing children’s parties.

Kayleigh Garland

KayleighGarland

Thank you! I have just taken on the role of Front of House Officer in the theatre and that involves assisting in the management of all front of house operations.  I mainly oversee the bar and events and have some exciting projects lined up to work on including Frimley Lodge Live.

How does your new job differ from what you were doing before?

Andy: I’ve worked in a couple of different roles in my time here but the big change is booking shows; I only really booked the odd comedy gig before so it’s been great to spread my wings and get to know all the different promoters we work with. My big project for 2017 is booking and organising Frimley Lodge Live which returns for its 4th year in August.

Nick: I have been working in an outdoor venue for the last 1 ½ years so the main difference for me is been back inside as I was also a Lighting & Sound Technician before.

Zoe: I was very busy before I started this job role! I was a full time Duty Manager at a leisure centre, alongside being a casual Front Of House assistant at this theatre.

Kayleigh: I previously worked within the theatre team in a similar role as a casual duty manager so my day to day work isn’t vastly different.  However, I do have some more areas of responsibility now and some exciting things to get my stuck into!

 

Have you any goals for 2017, either professionally or personally?

Andy: Our 2016 pantomime, Cinderella, was our biggest selling and most profitable show yet so the challenge is to match it this year with Peter Pan. So I’m really excited for Peter Pan as it’s my favourite story and working on Frimley Lodge Live and some other exciting events which  are a secret at the moment!

Nick: I would like to progress within the theatre hopefully completing a couple of courses through out the year.

Zoe: I have just started taking salsa lessons with my partner, which is something I’ve always wanted to be good at. Look out, Strictly!

Kayleigh: I am currently studying for a degree in Leadership and Management through the Open University and 2017 will hopefully bring me within sight of the finish line!

 

Have you been to any good theatre productions lately – if so, what made it so good?

Andy: In the last few weeks all I’ve seen are pantomimes (8 and counting!) but I’m seeing the West End revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf soon with Imelda Staunton and Twelfth Night with Tamsin Greig – both will be brilliant!

Nick: I went to see Robin Hood at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. It was the first time I have seen a Qdos Panto and they really captured the magic in the Lighting, Costumes & Scenery.

Zoe: I went to see ‘A Comedy About A Bank Robbery’ at London’s Criteria Theatre last month. It was hilarious, especially when the set onstage was literally and very cleverly turned on its side and the cast were trying to cross the stage sideways like Spiderman.

Kayleigh: I may be biased, but Camberley Theatre’s pantomime production of ‘Cinderella’ was definitely my favourite of the festive season.  I saw a few, but ours was a winner for me!

 

Thanks for your time and good luck in your new roles!

 

 

Russell Kane interview!

Brian Donaldson caught up with Russell ahead of his Camberley Theatre show on May 3rd.

Russell Kane is a changed man. For his Right Man, Wrong Age tour, you may encounter someone with a new look, fresh perspectives and a different approach to his comedy. “In the last year I’ve been married and had a baby. I’ve changed my hair, I’ve changed my look, I’ve thrown all my eyeliner in the bin. I literally went to my wardrobe one day and got all my ridiculous clothes and took them to the Sue Ryder shop for some other man having a midlife crisis then bought the four exact same suits in different colours from Topman. Then I got my hair as flat as it can go and I thought, ‘that’s it: this is me now’.”

 

russell-k-use-mid-resIn fact, Russell can pinpoint the exact moment when he needed to alter his outlook and write a new show. It started with somebody at the door . . . “I’m always looking for the moment that can make me look ridiculous in a way that is compelling. I was in the middle of spray-tanning myself upstairs in these tiny pants when the doorbell went. I went downstairs in my dressing gown and this window cleaner was touting for work. He leaned in and said, ‘I’m really sorry to disturb you: is your mum or dad in at all?’ Initially you might have thought this was a compliment, but it’s really not. He could be talking about how I’m putting myself across so I thought: ‘clothes in the bin’. And at that moment, there was Right Man, Wrong Age.”

 

In the world of stand-up, acts are continually expected to evolve and grow and turn over a significant amount of material every one or two years. For some this burden might prove too much, but for Russell Kane this is a challenge he relishes. “I’ll keep changing, and I don’t really ever want to stand still. I don’t care if it confuses people about where I’m coming from. I’m protean; I don’t want to be recognisable in five years’ time; that’s what keeps my writing going. One day I’m learning Spanish, the next I’m learning survivalism. I might do my maths GCSE next week: who knows?”

 

For now, though, Russell is focused on making Right Man, Wrong Age the best show it can possibly be. His topic this time around is how we never quite feel the life-stage that we’re in and the age that we’re at, whether we’re 80 or 18. “When you’re 18, you look in the mirror and think ‘I know what I want to do, so why am I trapped in this 18-year-old body?’ while the 80-year-old is still waltzing and dancing around in her head. That’s going to be my jumping off point and from there I’ll do lots of accessible observations as well as the odd thinky bit. But I don’t want to disappear up my own bum with this show, I just want to go on in my suit, like Michael McIntyre or Peter Kay, and just be funny and have lots of big laughs. My only job in life is to be funny.”

 

Inevitably, his new fatherhood status will have to be addressed in his show. As ever with Russell, he’ll work hard to avoid easy clichés and tired stereotypes as he tackles a subject that has been raised on many a stage by several generations of comedians. “It’s so hack to talk about having babies that I need to find another way in. It’s like walking into Pret at 5pm and there’s one boiled egg left: that’s what’s left to say about childbirth. But when you’re coming at it from a male point of view, you need to find a way in. I’ve never heard a man talk about caesarean section, so that might be the way to go.”

 

If you’ve seen Russell on stage, you’ll know there is a physicality to his act which matches the blizzard of ideas and words. So, how does he wind down after a show? “Nothing exotic, just a glass of red wine. I would like to get to bed earlier, but I need a good movie or, if I’m feeling particularly tired, something like Towie or Take Me Out; something that lobotomises me. I’m always reading good stuff, but now and again you need a burger because you can’t live on quinoa all the time. So I need something mega mainstream to bring me down.”

 

Normally in the run-up to a touring show, Russell will have almost a month of preview gigs under his belt. This time around, he had to ditch most of those plans to film his BBC series, Stupid Man, Smart Phone, for which he jetted off to various inhospitable parts of the world (the Arctic Circle, North Africa and Costa Rica among them) to see if he could survive purely with the aid of a constantly fully-charged mobile device with a permanent Wi-Fi connection. This is another example of a man who constantly wants to stretch himself, both physically and intellectually, whether it’s going on to Radio 4’s Saturday Review alongside AS Byatt to discuss the new Julian Barnes novel or writing his own next literary work. In 2012, two years after he won the Edinburgh Comedy Award, Russell published The Humorist, the tale of a tormented comedy critic who discovers the secret blueprint for humour, and he is continually working away on future literary projects.

 

Kane also has ambitions to tap into the online market with his stand-up. “I’ve not really seen other stand-ups doing it; I’ve seen some using their social media and doing bits of sketches but I haven’t seen many take the risk of doing stand-up down the barrel of a camera, posting it and seeing what happens. I did a thing recently, which I called The Kaneing, where I looked at a celebrity news story and put it on my Facebook wall. I was worried it might seem a bit embarrassing and desperate, but it got 64,000 views overnight.”

 

The popularity of Russell Kane is in little doubt, but he’s keen to make the most of his time at the top of the British stand-up tree. His sense of gratitude for the job he’s doing is palpable and he confesses that touring the country and making people laugh is something he will never tire of. “I love it. If I ever have a bad day and feel miserable, I think about the things my family have done for a living. The fact that I can walk into a hotel, lie on the bed, watch a sci-fi movie, go and do an hour’s work on stage is incredible.”

Joe Swift – A Man About The Garden

We have television gardener Joe Swift appearing at Camberley Theatre on March 23rd.

Tickets available here: http://www.camberleytheatre.biz/events/joe-swift-man-about-garden

Brian Donaldson caught up with Joe to ask him a few questions.

Joe Swift brochure web.jpg

Gardening has long been a mainstay on British television, and Joe Swift is currently one of the genre’s most popular small screen presenters. He’s fronted the likes of Gardeners’ World, Garden Invaders and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show while he’s also written books such as The Plant Room and Joe’s Urban Garden Handbook. Away from the cameras and covers, he gets involved in community and school gardens, and is an ambassador for the National Gardens Scheme and patron of the Horniman Museum .

And now he’s taking his expertise and personality on tour for A Man About The Garden, with live shows which will feature his memories of starting off in landscape gardening in the mid-80s, his rise to become an acclaimed garden designer, and the eventual move into TV. But above all, what will come across is his unconditional love of gardens, whether big or small, commercial or private, contemporary or classic.

It’s been something that’s kept me going and I really love it,” Joe tells me. “I like the people in the industry, I like the fact that you’re always learning, and I love that it’s very creative. And now I write about it, have ended up on TV, and do live tours; I find that they all feed off of each other and improve my garden design. Over the years a lot of funny stories have come up. For the show, I’ll have a lot of slides and visuals, but it’s not an evening lecture about gardening, it’s much more light entertainment. There will be a 10-15 minute Q&A but I will not be talking about dead plants.”

So if your perennial has recently passed away into herbaceous heaven and you feel the need to share with someone about your grief, best not make that person Joe Swift. “I think, ‘just dig it up and put something else in and take responsibility: you killed it!’ I want to think more positively and creatively rather than just about keeping a dying plant alive. A lot of these evenings with gardeners tend to be a little like Question Time, and I like to think that my events will still be informative but hopefully just a bit more fun. I think the audience will soon realise that we’re not here to talk about the pH of their soil.”

His convoluted route into the gardening world will be familiar to many in his audience no matter their own chosen profession. “I’m the classic art school drop-out. I felt a little bit in the lurch so did some travelling and went to spend time on a kibbutz. Friends of mine had been there and hardly spent any money, yet came back looking healthy and tanned; all you had to do was get yourself there.”

 

So, Joe spent six months in Israel, working in the fish ponds, quickly becoming hooked on life in the fresh air. “I just loved working outdoors so when I came back to London with one art A-level to my name, I started working for this landscape gardening company. It was for this guy who was half-actor half-gardener, and I worked beside this hippy gardener called Antonia who was amazing and taught me so much. I started at the bottom, mixing up cement for the landscaping guys and later I went to Australia to landscape in Melbourne and Sydney. I had experience behind me so when I came back to the UK I studied garden design properly.”

In some way, Joe Swift’s journey to expressing that deep passion and genuine love for his job on a stage could perhaps be seen as inevitable. After all, he has actors and writers in his family: his dad is Clive Swift who most famously played the brow-beaten husband in BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances while his mother is acclaimed novelist Margaret Drabble. And his late uncle, David Swift, was best known as the badly-behaved news anchor Henry Davenport in Channel 4’s classic 90s satire, Drop The Dead Donkey.

So, was a life of writing and performing almost inevitable? “People say that it’s in the blood but I’m not so sure,” reckons Joe. “The funny thing is that I forgot my lines at my primary school’s nativity play. Both my parents went to Cambridge and my brother and sister went to Oxford yet I was an art school drop-out. But yes, I did end up writing and performing; it’s just that I’m so passionate about gardens and gardening that I’ve really just found my thing.

Looking back on his career to date, Joe pinpoints the moment he considers his proudest achievement. “In 2012 I won a gold medal at The Chelsea Flower Show which is the pinnacle of garden design. I’ve been presenting The Chelsea Flower Show since about 2001 so a lot of people associate me with that. I’ll be talking about what it takes to get a gold medal. It’s quite phenomenal really; there’s an incredible amount to be done because your garden has to go up in three weeks, stay up for a week and then back down again in a few days; you have a quarter of a million pound budget and away you go. There’s no room for error and it’s on such a global stage. If you’ve made a crap garden or if you’re in any way embarrassed about it, you’ve nowhere to hide.”

While garden design, TV and Joe Swift eventually all found each other, he could well have been performing for a living on a very different kind of stage: the rock ’n’ roll one. “We started off as a teenage band and then kept going after we left school, gigging around a lot of clubs and pubs around north London. We were all convinced, in our own minds at least, that we would be rock stars. It was an early 80s, post-punk thing: we thought we were The Clash. We called ourselves Tumbling Dice after a Rolling Stones song because the Stones were named after a Muddy Waters song. We thought, ‘well that worked for them, so it’s bound to happen for us’. It didn’t.”

 

While Joe will still have the odd tinkle on his bass and go for a jam with mates (he has the odd session with The Pogues drummer who lives on his road), it’s clear that rock ‘n’ roll’s loss has become garden design’s gain.

Exclusive interview with Strictly’s Pasha!

Pasha Kovalev very kindly ‘phoned us this morning and answered questions you put up on social media for us to ask him!

Listen to this wonderful, exclusive interview with Camberley Theatre. If you buy your tickets for his performance here on May 13th 2017, before December 31st 2016, you will be invited to a very special Q&A session here, 30 minutes before the doors open. This applies if you have already purchased your tickets – know anyone might like some for Christmas??