Talking Point: Will Young

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Liz Nicholls asks local singer-songwriter Will Young, 40, about life, happiness, his new album Lexicon and upcoming tour

Q. You’re looking well! You said this new album has been stress-free –
is that why? “I think so, yes. Looking after your wellbeing is so important. I now work a four-day week and I’m working with a team I adore. Our rule is that if it doesn’t make us happy, we don’t do it! Also the music inspires me.
I think this [Lexicon] is my best album to date.”

Q. How do you like to listen to music? “In my car! I love driving down to Berkshire listening to BBC 6 Music… But I actually still own CDs!”

Q. What’s your first memory of music? “Listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller album on a sunny day and looking at the artwork on the LP.”

Q. Which tour dates are you looking forward to and which days out will you enjoy close to these? “I always love the New Theatre in Oxford. Kew Gardens in London is so beautiful and fun. Gigs in Gloucestershire are always fun as it’s near my sister and is such stunning countryside.”

Q. Do you like to travel & where’s next? “I love travelling. I have been to Marrakesh twice in the last few months. My next place is Brazil or India.”

Q. Do you consider yourself healthy? “I am healthy-ish. I try to eat greens a lot and drink a lot of water. I think moderation is important but my downfall is chocolate!”

Q. What advice would you give to any budding musicians? “It’s about finding your own unique voice and style. All of us are unique and we need to give ourselves the time to explore this.”

Q. What other projects are on your horizon? “I’m writing a book called How To Be A Gay Man which I’m very excited about. I’m touring the UK in October and also playing Pub in the Park gigs.”

Q. It’s lovely to hear you joyful. How do you feel now, looking back at your low period in terms of your mental health? “I feel very proud of how hard I’ve worked over the last seven years. It’s been a huge task and I’m fortunate to have the strength of will but also the time and money. I’m aware I’m very privileged and that’s spurred me to give talks on mental health to businesses around the UK to help set up a system that can aid their employees. Depression and anxiety are partners in that they create a cloud that descends over mind and body. It creates difficulties for one’s ability to function. I always say it’s like swimming in syrup.”

Q. Do you have a favourite book, artist, film and piece of music? “Enid Blyton’s Shadow The Sheepdog, Magritte – a Belgian artist, Remains Of The Day and Barber’s Adagio For Strings.”

Q. Who would be your dream party guests, living or dead, real or fictional? “Richard and Judy, Richard & Judy and… Richard and Judy!”

Q. What would you wish for if you had a magic wand to change the world? “Peace and love.”

• Lexicon is out now. He will perform at this summer’s Pub In The Park shows and has also just announced an extensive UK tour for October 2019, tickets via www.willyoung.co.uk

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Talking Point: George Clarke

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Home truths: Liz Nicholls asks architect, dad and TV star George Clarke, 47 about life & loves ahead of hosting Blenheim Flower Show this month

Q. What one piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to improve their home?
“Make it very personal and beautiful. I see so many homes that just look like any other and most are simply attempts to copy an interior design magazine. There is such a large number of bland global styles out there that sometimes I can hardly tell which country the house is actually situated. Of course, they are beautifully designed, but that’s it: they are a designed objects often devoid of personal charm or character. I get bored of that. Your home is like an extended member of your family, unique and personal and its design should reflect that. Make it about you and the people around you… not about what’s popular.”

Q. I know you love shopping – what’s your weakness?
“I love cameras. I’ve taken photographs since I bought my first camera at 14 years old (a second-hand SLR Chinon from a shop in Sunderland which is still there). I now have a bit of a camera collection. My favourite camera is my Leica CL. It’s a compact camera and it goes everywhere with me. I know there are great camera phones out there these days but taking a photograph with a beautiful camera that has an amazing lens on it feels completely different. I don’t keep a written diary, but I take photographs as a visual diary and they say a picture says a thousand words.”

Q. Do you know Oxfordshire?
“I love Oxfordshire. It’s a fantastic escape from London. And Oxford itself is the most wonderful city. My favourite place to visit is the Augustus Pitt Rivers museum. What an incredible collector he was. Oh… and a small part of me wishes I’d gone to Oxford University. I didn’t apply because I didn’t think I’d get in.”

Q. Please tell us your favourite aspects of your home in Notting Hill – it sounds amazing! And what are your fave hang-outs/ pubs/ walks in SW London?
“I love my home. It actually a 1960s modernist house that I’ve fully refurbished. It’s not a big house, but it has everything I need. My garden studio has to be my favourite part of it. It’s my escape. I’m never happier than when I’m in that space… whether working, reading, sketching or watching the tv. It contains most of my books on architecture and design as well as many architectural models of beautiful buildings from around the world. My studio goes some way to proving that even the simplest and smallest of structures can be truly life changing. I love living in west London because it has such a creative buzz. There are some truly amazing people living there. I’m within a short walk of Portobello Road market and Golbourne Road. Porto, the infamous Portuguese cafe, is my favourite place for a coffee and breakfast. My favourite pub is The Cow. Ive being going there since I moved to London in 1996. It always reminds me of the pub in Cheers because everyone knows everyone and no matter who you are, or what you do, everyone treats everyone exactly the same. “You want to go where everybody knows your name”. The Cow is an institution.

Q. Do you consider yourself healthy? Is there anything you eat / don’t eat?
“I’m pretty healthy, but I don’t exercise anywhere near the amount I’d like to. There is always an excuse for not keeping fit, but my schedule doesn’t lend itself to a regular routine. Very early starts and late finishes when filming and travelling so much isn’t great. Everyday I’m on a plane or a long train journey. I think I’m the only person I know who gets fitter, healthier and slimmer when on holiday. I exercise every day and eat a lot of salad and fish when on holiday. I never eat sweets, cake or milk chocolate because I basically don’t like them, which people find very weird. I’m lucky as I don’t have a sweet tooth at all.”

Q. What advice would you give to any budding musicians?
“I’m always jealous of anyone who has put in the hard work and education to learn how to play an instrument beautifully. I gave too much time to architecture, design and sport to learn an instrument properly. But beautiful music has the power to move you more than architecture does. Architecture has brought me to tears a number of times, but not as much as music has. I’m not qualified to give any musician any advice other than carry on what you’re doing and enjoy every moment making beautiful sounds. Everyone should listen to Delilah Montagu. She’s a 20-year-old singer songwriter from London. She’s at the very beginning of an exciting adventure in music. A super talent.”

Q. What’s on your horizon?
“I want to go to Alaska. It’s at the very top of my bucket list.”

Q. What’s your favourite book, artist and film and piece of music?
“Master & Margarita by Mikhaial Bulgakov. Turner’s my favourite artist. I’m a sucker for any James Bond film; Spectre is up there. I never thought Daniel Craig would ever be my favourite Bond but he’s there now. He’s brilliant.”

Q …And piece of music?
“Here Comes the Sun by George Harrison. Simplicity and beauty personified.”

Q. Who would be your dream party guests, living or dead, real or fictional?
“George Best, Will Alsop (architect), David Attenborough, Elvis, Pink, Charlize Theron, James Bond (Daniel Craig) and my wife Katie. It would be a great night!”

Q. What’s the best lesson parenthood has taught you?
“Firstly, that parenthood is the greatest thing on earth… nothing else matters once you have kids… secondly that love is completely unconditional.”

Q. What are your three favourite buildings in Britain, do you think, and why?
“That’s a tough first question! I have too many favourites. I think my first would be Durham cathedral. I went there for the first rime when I was 8 years old and I couldn’t believe that something so beautiful and so big could be built over 1000 years ago. I’m not a religious person (my only religion is that everyone on the planet should be kind to each other) but I love beautiful, peaceful spaces and Durham was building I would spend hours in, enjoying the peace and tranquillity and doing a few sketches along the way. Durham was the building that made me fall in love with architecture.

Second would be Sir John Shane’s house in Lincoln’s-in-Fields…one of the most incredible homes in the world. When Soane joined the 3 existing houses together and refurbished them in the 19th century they must have been a magical wonder like no other. My third should be my own home…as your own home is the most important piece of architecture in your life. But I can’t have a top three and not choose an Edwin Lutyens house. I’d go for Goddards in Surrey. It is owned by the Landmark Trust and I’m a very proud patron. I was lucky enough to stay at Goddards in 2002 and it blew me away. The beauty and craftsmanship of the arts and crafts movement, leading into the Edwardian age, is one of my favourite periods of architecture. Lutyens is my favourite British architect and Gertrude Jekyll my favourite garden designer. Their collaboration at Lindisfarne in Northumberland would be my next favourite……see that’s five favourites…not three! I told you it’s too tough a first question”

Q. What would you wish for if you had a magic wand to change the world?
I’d reverse climate change so that everything we did made a positive contribution to the environment rather than a detrimental one. I genuinely worry everyday about the impact we are having on Mother Nature. If we don’t get our act together soon we are really going to screw things up…if we haven’t already. Everyone knows what is going on, but it’s going to require a massive change in the way the way we live on this planet for us to sort it out. That’s a depressing end to a nice interview. Sorry!”

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Talking Point: Julia Donaldson

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Multi award-winning author Julia Donaldson tells us about seeing her work adapted for the stage as Zog goes on tour across the UK this month.

Q. You’ve written almost 200 books – where do you get your ideas?

“It varies, but I always develop the storyline fully in my head before I start writing. I think you read some books and you can tell that people have just made it up as they go along – but I always think, you wouldn’t start telling a joke if you didn’t know what the punchline was.”

 

Q. Are you excited to see Zog adapted for the stage?

“I’m tremendously excited that Zog will be taking flight around the UK in this first ever stage production. Going to the theatre can be a truly magical experience, I know it will be such a thrill to see the world of Zog being brought to life on stage.”

 

Q. Where did the idea for Zog the dragon come from?

“My editor said to me ‘it would be lovely to have a story about a dragon’, so I started thinking about it and the name ‘Madam Dragon’ came into my head, which I thought had a nice sound. The story came to me bit by bit. My husband Malcolm, who is a doctor, also had some input here. Because when I was planning the story, I knew Zog would keep meeting the Princess, and originally I was going to have them play together and toast marshmallows. And Malcolm said that’s a bit soppy, couldn’t it be something with a bit more oomph? And then I came up with the doctor angle.”

 

Q. Animals feature very strongly in many of your books – why is that?

“It’s often used as a convention – like in Aesop’s Fables, where the animals aren’t really animals, they represent a quality or a characteristic. I also think it would be far more boring for the reader or listener, if Mouse in The Gruffalo was just a small but clever person, or the Gruffalo itself was a big, scary but rather stupid person. Or in The Snail and the Whale, if the Whale was just a big person and the snail a little person – I think you need animals to represent the qualities.”

 

Q. Your books always have a happy ending, which is very comforting, do you think it’s important to give that to your readers?

“I often think about the role of storytelling for young people. In life, not everything does have a happy ending – but I think storytelling is probably very important because to grow up with stories helps you have aspirations, even if life doesn’t turn out like that. Even as grown-ups, we know that there is a lot of sadness in life, but I think if we didn’t have those stories, aspirations and a sense of what’s ideal, life would be much harder to live.”

 

Q. As you’re writing, you must visualise characters in your head. What’s it like when an illustrator then comes up with something different?

“I always say it’s like going on holiday – you’ve got an idea in your head of how it’s going to be, and then it’s always totally different. But once you’re there and enjoying it, you just forget what was in your head before. It doesn’t influence the storyline, but it will influence how I picture the characters – so I’m usually not surprised when I see Axel’s interpretation.”

 

Q. What do you feel a visit to the theatre gives young children?

“Well I remember going to see The Nutcracker when I was a child and I found the whole thing completely magical. I can still remember how I felt when the curtain went up. I suppose in a way it’s the same thing that a book gives you, in that while you’re reading or watching, you believe in a different reality. And if it’s a good show, parents love to see that their children – even very young ones – can just be transfixed by it.”

 

Q. Your books are read around the world, and have been adapted many times, what do you think is the appeal?

“I don’t know for sure, but I think there are three main things: the storyline – it’s really important to have a well-crafted story; the language; and the illustration – and I do have to give a lot of credit to the illustrators. I think it’s a combination of those three things done well.”

 

Zog plays at various venues including Wycombe Swan, Guildford’s G Live and Oxford Playhouse between now and summer.

Photo credit: Zoglive.com

  For information and tickets visit ZogLive.com.

Talking Point: Nigel Havers

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Liz Nicholls chats to actor, dad, and all-round charming man Nigel Havers, 67, who is set to star in ART at Richmond Theatre.

February is here which brings Valentine’s Day! Do you celebrate?

“In a word: no! My wife is not interested in Valentine’s Day, thank God. We don’t bother at all. If that sounds unromantic, perhaps it would be to say that I think every day should be Valentine’s Day!”

Q. What do you enjoy most about ART?

“ART is my favourite play which is why I’ve done it so many times. It’s beautifully written by Yasmina [Reza] and one of the best comedies ever… Thirdly, it’s a joy to take part in because, being such a short play, you’re in the pub before 9pm!”

Q. You always have a lot on; how do you relax when you’re not working? Do you watch soaps?

“I don’t watch any soaps, no. It being panto season, I haven’t not worked for quite a while – I’ve forgotten how I relax! I tend to keep busy, but if I’m not lying down, I’m walking.”

Q. Does your dog accompany you much?

“Yes; she’s a black poodle who’s cut like a mongrel so people are always surprised when I tell them her breed. She’s called Charlie and a real character. I live between Wiltshire and London and we often take her to the pub with us. The Bell at Ramsbury is a lovely dog-friendly pub near us. In London there are several; we like Colbert in Sloane Square and a restaurant called Lucio’s in Fulham Road. I don’t know why more places don’t allow well-behaved dogs.”

Q. What’s the greatest lesson fatherhood has taught you?

“Agree with your daughter! Give them anything they want! Because they’ll win in the end so that little nugget will at least save you time.”

Q. Is there anywhere in the world you’d like to visit?

“I haven’t been to Vietnam and I’d like to explore that part of the world.”

Q. You’re godfather to Jack Whitehall, too. Do you see a hidden side to him?

“He’s a very bad influence on me! No; he’s a sweetheart; a really lovely man. There’s nothing secret about him because he lays it all bare in his acts. He’s very honest about his life. When he first started as a comedian, he performed at a pub in Putney and invited me to come along to watch and advise. My advice to him at the end of it was: look – don’t try to be a comedian! Well, that didn’t work and I’m glad he didn’t take it!”

  Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson star in ART on tour this month. Visit www.arttheplay.com for more information.

LONDON

See it at Richmond Theatre, 4th to 9th March.

For tickets, click here or call 0844 871 7651 (normal charge plus 7p per minute).

SURREY

See it at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, 18th to 23th February.

For tickets, click here or call 01483 440000

THAMES VALLEY

See it at Oxford Playhouse, 4th to 9th February.

For tickets, click here or call 01865 305305

 

Q&A with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody

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Snow Patrol’s frontman Gary Lightbody chats about his recent move to L.A. and what goes into their shows.

Q. Is it good to finally be back with Snow Patrol after so long away and obviously working with other musicians on other projects?

“Yeah, course. You know, we were working together all the way through those seven years. I mean we started making the album that would eventually be called Wildness in 2013 with a view of getting that out in 2014 I guess, but it just didn’t work out that way and we wanted to keep rolling really. All we did was take one year off Snow Patrol, and then we got back at it. The songs just weren’t ready, they weren’t right, unfortunately it took a lot longer than we thought. It’s so exciting to be back, to have the album finished, have the album out there, to get back out on tour, and you know, to tour Britain and Ireland again is amazing. We can’t wait.”

Q. With you having moved to LA and other members living in the UK, how easy was the writing process?

“Yeah I mean, we took a little bit of a break. Nathan went and started Little Matador, I did another Tired Pony album and co-wrote with a bunch of different people including Taylor Swift, and Johnny McDaid was doing that as well with lots of different people and producing. Jonny started Polar Publishing, Pablo was writing and producing with people, too, so everybody was doing their own thing, and I was trying to write the Snow Patrol album at the same time but, you know, I’ll write generally on my own and then I’ll take it in to Garrett (producer) and we will work on tracks together and then everyone else will come in over the period. The years between 2013 when I started writing and 2017 when we finished, we would get together for a couple of weeks or a month at a time. I think the album was probably about nine months work in those four, nearly five years. So it wasn’t constant working for five years – that would have probably killed us.”

Q. Now that you have had that turnaround in your personal life has this changed your songwriting?

“I have access now to a part of myself that I was always maybe afraid of. ‘Afraid of’ is maybe the wrong term, but I was afraid that it would make other people not want to be my friend! You know, like, as in, if I, if we all had that fear I think, or we all have that fear that our deepest, darkest thoughts would frighten everyone else, and that’s, to me that was always the reason why I never talked about it, you know, and I found quite the opposite when I started to talk about it, when I started to talk about my demons, I realised that people then go ‘oh yeah, you know, I’ve gone through the same thing’ or ‘I understand what you’re going through’. People, at the very least, understood what I was going through, and at the very best had actually been through the same thing themselves. It made me feel so much less isolated, so much less alone, and I waited until I was 40 years old before I opened my mouth about it. I feel like, I’m so glad that I did, I just wish I had done it sooner in my life. I guess this was just the right time to do it and you know, when you let the light flood into those dark places in yourself, you kind of create this space in yourself, you create this kind of bravery.”

Q. Do you find much difference between the large and the intimate shows, aside from the crowd size?

“Yeah, you know it’s funny, when I first started out, I had no confidence in my stagecraft. I just used to get on stage and stare at my feet and had a big red face the whole time, like I was embarrassed to be there. I guess I probably was, I was still probably questioning what I was doing and I didn’t really have any self belief. Then over time, over many, many gigs, many, many years, as the gigs started getting bigger the confidence kind of grew, that outer shell began to thicken a bit, and I was able to look at the crowd to begin with  and then interact with the crowd, and then cause a reaction in the crowd, go out there and try and make sure that everybody has a great night, make sure everybody has fun and get people singing along. Sometimes it happens naturally but other times it’s not a bad idea to start a sing-a-long, you know. Freddie Mercury showed the way on that one.

Towards the end of 2012 when we were finishing the last tour, I think I was a very good front man, and getting back into that has been an interesting thing. I sort of feel with the smaller shows, I was closing my eyes a lot, maybe feeling a little shy. The bigger shows; after the first few rows everything starts to blur a little bit; my eyesight is not that great at it, so you’re able to come out of yourself more and I think in the last few shows, I’ve really felt like my old self on stage again. We toured with U2 for many years, in 2005 and then in 2009, and ‘10 or ‘11, and I watched them every single night. I watched the two-hour set and it’s a masterclass.”

Q. Anything planned for the live shows?

“We don’t just turn up with our equipment and a couple of lights on the night and go ‘alright, well, where do you want us to set up these?’ We’re thinking about the visuals, we’re thinking about the staging, thinking about how the stage looks, we’re thinking about how everything is presented, we’re thinking about the lighting of course. We’ve got one of the best lighting directors in music – he’s won many awards – working with us. We call him ‘jock for life’. We’ve got some lovely, lovely little tricks up our sleeve and some things that we’re very excited to bringing out on this tour.

Talking Point: Alice’s adventures

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Academic, writer and Digging for Britain broadcaster Professor Alice Roberts chats to Peter Anderson ahead of her speaking tour this month

Q. What intrigued you about the human body and anatomy to prompt you to change tack? “I’ve always been fascinated by the structure of the human body – and by evolution as well. I read books by Richard Dawkins and Steven Jay Gould voraciously as a teenager, as well as watching David Attenborough of course – his series Life on Earth had a huge impact on me. I slipped from medicine into academia, teaching anatomy to medical students, and I did a PhD comparing the skeletons of humans and other apes. I just found anatomy endlessly fascinating; I still do!”

Q. You come into the tour off the back of doing the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture. Do you hope to inspire teenagers to follow your career path? “Not particularly! I hope to inspire teenagers about the world around them, about the wonders of science and archaeology, about evolution and history. But I think, in terms of choosing what to study and then what to do as a career, children should be nurtured and offered unfettered opportunities, rather than being encouraged into one area or another. I’m uncomfortable with the real focus on pushing science-related subjects at school, for instance – I can’t help feeling that’s sometimes at the expense of other subjects which are just as valid, fascinating and important. I’m particularly worried by the marginalisation of art, music and drama in schools.”

Q. Who are your biggest inspirations? “The scientists and writers Richard Dawkins and Steven Jay Gould, and Attenborough of course. But it was probably my teachers at school who had the most impact on me: Mrs Wood, who taught Ancient Greek, which I took at GCSE, was a real polymath and a huge influence on me – and she introduced me to the writings of Gould. My physics teachers, Mrs Ross and Miss Jones, were very different characters, but both inspirational, too. They tapped into the enthusiasms of our group at A level, and somehow we managed to cover all the exam material while still having plenty of time to follow our own passions. The lessons would just spark off in all kinds of directions – and we had the glorious feeling that learning could be something that we could lead. Heading off like this, following our own ideas and the passions of our teachers, made for some incredible, memorable lessons. That kind of creativity in the classroom is so precious.”

Q. We now have a female Doctor Who. If you were in charge of the Tardis, which period of history would you travel back to and why? “The Bronze Age. I’d love to see people living in a Bronze Age village, like the one at Must Farm – in roundhouses built on stilts over the each of a river, paddling log-canoes out on the water and driving their cattle down to the riverside to graze. I’d love to know how they wore the beads we find on our digs, and what they cooked for tea! I’d also love to know about their stories – and what they believed in – but I’d need a translator!”

Q. What’s the most memorable discovery you’ve either made or reported on? “A few stand out over the years – and we’ve covered some amazing discoveries on Digging for Britain, of course. In 2016, we reported on very early Neolithic crannogs or lake dwellings in the Hebrides; in 2017, we had two extraordinary Neolithic mounds which had been presumed to be focused on burials, but were found to contain the remains of huge timber buildings. This year, we devoted an entire programme to the incredible Iron Age chariot burial at Pocklington in Yorkshire – that just blew me away. The deceased man had been placed in his chariot, in the grave, and there was a pair of ponies standing up – reduced to skeletons of course – just extraordinary. I love the way that archaeology gives us these wonderful glimpses of our ancestors’ cultures.”

Q. What can people look forward to in Digging for Britain’s Past? “I’m going to be talking about archaeological sites that I’ve dug at and filmed over the years – from my very first Time Team shoot back in 2001, when we were excavating an Anglo Saxon cemetery with a lot of buckets buried in the dead – all the way through to the latest from Digging for Britain – including that amazing chariot burial. There will also be clips from my Channel 4 series, Britain’s Most Historic Towns – and plenty of behind-the-scenes stories, and time for Q&A with the audience, and I’ll be book-signing after each show.”

Q. How do you relax away from work? “I draw, paint, go for long walks and I absolutely love kayaking, on rivers and the sea, whenever I get the chance. I love watching with films with my kids, and reading to them. Visiting friends is important too – I have a lot of friends who are also busy, working mums and dads – and it’s so important to make time for a good cup of tea and a chat.

Q. If you were stranded on a desert island, but could have two or three companions living, historic or fictional who would you pick? “I assume I’m not allowed my family? If not, I’d have to have Bear Grylls, of course, to make sure everyone was comfortable and well fed on the island. And I think Dave Grohl would be a very entertaining companion, and could play us all the Foo Fighters back catalogue as well, of course (I’m assuming he’d bring a guitar). And I would have loved to met Mary Anning, the famous palaeontologist _ so let’s have her along, too.”

  • Catch Dr Alice Roberts on tour from this month, including Richmond, Oxford and Guildford. For more details please visit www.alice-roberts.co.uk

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Hal Cruttenden: Middle ground

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One of Britain’s top comedians, Hal Cruttenden brings his stand-up show to Maidenhead’s Norden Farm this month.

Keen to involve his family in the planning as well as being one of the subjects within the act, he asked his teenage daughters what he should call the tour. Hence “Chubster”, which also gives a clue as to other subjects – his battle with weight! Now Hal’s back on the 5:2 diet and onstage in a hilarious show that not only touches on his usual moans about being a middle-aged, middle class father of fat-shaming teenagers but also introduces us to new problems like his struggles with IQ tests, political zealots and the trauma of supporting the England rugby team.

So, who were the people who inspired Hal in his career that has often seen him nominated for awards? It seems those middle-class doubts needed satisfying as he says his inspirations were people like Eddie Izzard: “He convinced me that you could do stand-up successfully and be middle-class. I thought it was so impressive and it taught me that it was more the joke than the person telling it. I just so love Bill Connolly’s charisma, I just want to sit down and listen to him. Comedians like Frankie Boyle and Kevin Bridges, I think for me it is more a case of jealousy rather than inspiration.”

Having given his family the chance to name the show, do they also get a chance to see their dad in action? “Oh yes, they always see the shows. As to what they think of them, my children are now asking for a raise in their pocket money and calling it research costs!” Hal says. Speaking of research, how easy does he find the writing? Not, it would appear! “I am anything but disciplined, I am rubbish – if I did not have a deadline to work to I doubt I would get anything done. I have the upmost respect for Lee Mack, I have absolutely no idea how he writes all the comedy scripts and stand-up shows that he does.”

Having toured the world, it seems the bright lights of New York still beckon for Hal, he says: “I would really love to perform in New York, I really fancy doing Carnegie Hall or the Radio City Music Hall.” Your chance to see him at Norden Farm Arts Centre is on Friday, 11th and Saturday, 12th January.

  For more information go to norden.farm

Mr Tumble talks to us

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Peter Anderson chats to children’s TV star Justin Fletcher MBE, 48, ahead of another star turn delighting families as we hit pantomime season.

Q. What inspired you to go into acting? “I have always been interested in acting and drama, including making my own animated short films when I was younger with my dad’s Super 8 camera. I was born in – and have always lived in – the Reading area and went to drama school in Guildford. A chance meeting with Philip Scofield led me to asking him how I might get into BBC children’s television. He said ‘make a showreel’, and so I did! Having experience with the Super 8 was a great help. Now I have my own production company and am still loving my children’s television work.”

Q. Who were your inspirations? “One of the people I always wanted to appear with was David Suchet, whose career was also launched in Berkshire [at The Watermill in Newbury]. But one of my real loves – and obviously great for pantomime – is slapstick. I adore watching Laurel & Hardy and their looks directly to camera. I was blessed to have been taught slapstick by Jack Tripp, who is sadly no longer with us. He was considered one of, if not the best pantomime dame in this country.”

Q. How do you think children see your character within this year’s pantomime, at Reading’s Hexagon? “Although I am known and billed as ‘CBBC’s Mr Tumble’, I probably take on more than 20 roles across the programmes I make. But it is very important for the children to understand within the pantomime [Aladdin] who my character is. So, every performance we always have fun with the children about who I am as a character in the pantomime, and get them on-side to help me through the rest of the show.”

Q. Do you enjoy doing panto? “I always enjoy doing pantomimes, in the same way I enjoyed going to the Hexagon as a child in the 1980s to watch them. Aside from, as I said, slapstick being one of my favourite kinds of theatre, it is a marvellous way to get people – especially families – to go to the theatre. Pantomime is one of those things that can be enjoyed by the whole family, parents and children. Then if we can get them coming to pantomimes as they grow older they may wish to try other types of show.”

l Justin is patron of local charity Make A Wish foundation: www.make-a-wish.org.uk

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Will Greenwood: nice try

Round & About

Celebrity

With the autumn rugby internationals on the horizon, we chat to rugby legend and father Will Greenwood.

Q. What would you do to help injury in the senior game?
“There is no perfect world – the key is to get children to enter adult rugby having had a good technical grounding in the contact area and tackle point and make sure they have had a safe and enjoyable journey along the way – that’s what’s most important.”

Q. You’re a great ambassador for children’s rugby – do schools do enough?
“Schools are constrained by budget, safety and numbers of qualified coaches. Mentoring schemes, access to club and academy coaches are improving and I hope it continues. I try to do my bit coaching at my local club [Maidenhead] and with my holiday coaching business Legend Holidays & Events.”

Q. With Twickenham ticket prices so high, would it be a good idea to play internationals elsewhere in the UK?
“I like having a ‘Fortress’ at Twickenham – not always a fortress – but it looks and feels like one to me! However I feel the occasional game could shift north – which it is next year… to St James’s Park with a world cup warm-up game which is exciting.”

Q. What would you say is the best moment of your playing career?
“That’s a tricky one, but probably Durham University 1991-92 – playing some great rugby with people who are my best friends to this day.”

Q. What do you think is the best position to play in to captain an international side?
“I don’t think there is a best necessarily – history would suggest the forwards – but great people come in all shapes and sizes. Rugby is a great sport that caters for all those shapes and sizes; a legendary captain could play in any position.”

Q. Is there another Martin Johnson playing now who can fill the role of captain?
“There will never be another Martin Johnson – unique and awesome! They’re big boots to fill if someone is up to the task.”

Q. Why are the All Blacks so good?!
“I think their success comes down to a few key factors; culture, geography, genetics and Importance of the game as a national sport.”

Q. How do you relax?
“I love a good Sudoku puzzle, whenever I get time!”

Q. What’s your favourite book?
“I’ve read some brilliant books, but my favourite would have to be Flashman Papers by George Macdonald Fraser.”

Q. Music?
“Easy: Oasis or Take That.”

Q. What are your ambitions for the next year on?
“My biggest ambition right now is to be a good Dad, it always comes before everything else.”

Thick & thin: hair loss tips

Round & About

Celebrity

Jamie Stevens, hairdresser to the stars including Hugh Grant and Olly Murs, talks frankly about the sensitive topic of balding – and how to combat it

Thinning hair is a subject that’s close to my heart. Researching it has helped me understand the reasons for hair loss, how to slow it and, most vitally, how to help conceal it without a hair transplant.

I’ve seen the effect hair loss has on confidence – our survey of 2,000 men revealed many would rather have a small penis, be cheated on or have their internet history made public than lose their hair. A fifth think thinning hair makes them less attractive and a quarter are worried it makes them look older.

Hair loss causes real anxiety. As someone who has thinning hair myself, I hope getting men talking will stop them suffering in silence. There are lots of options. Clever cuts can make hair look thicker, and hair fibres and disguise spray cover a balding spot well. Hair plugs are a more expensive but long-term option for men who really don’t want to be bald. There does come a point when shaving is best but some men go too early – Prince William, for example, probably didn’t need the buzz cut as soon as he did.

Tackle thinning hair early and you can hang on to hair for longer. Grooming staples are the foundation for any good haircare regime; anti hair-loss shampoo and conditioner plus a treatment spray help reduce the rate of hair loss by prolonging the growth phase.

About 70% of men will be affected by some sort of male pattern baldness, from completely losing the hair, to receding or thinning in areas. Genetics affect different areas of the hair. The top area will thin and fall out, but the gene that affects below the recession and occipital bone (what we call the “Friar Tuck” area) means this doesn’t thin or fall out in tandem with the top. The simple top tip for cutting thinning hair is the back and sides should be shorter and thinner than the top. Also try colouring: darker hair looks thicker, and colour swells the hair shaft to enhance thickness. Volumising products also offer short-term improvement. Disguise colour spray will instantly make hair look thicker; hair fibres matched to your hair colour are another instant solution to make the hair look thicker.

Find a style to suit fine hair; for example, adjust a parting to avoid bald patches. Longer hair weighs more and may leave more scalp exposed. Never rub wet hair with a towel: thin hair is fragile and can break, so pat dry. A silk pillowcase causes less damage.

Practice makes perfect – if I asked you to spray a car it’d take more than one go! Look online for how-to videos and avoid wet gels or waxes. Pastes and clays are best as they are more matte.

Click here to check out Jamie’s products.