Fighting Talk

Round & About


Comedian Lucy Porter brings her smash-hit Edinburgh Fringe show Choose Your Battles to various venues Peter Anderson catches up with her…

In Choose your Battles Lucy Porter, with the aid of the audience and a punchbag, works out when she should stick to her guns and fight and when she can use her disarming charm to defuse a situation. I caught up with her and, while ducking the boxing glove, asked her about her life and the tour.

Q. Is your current tour based purely on your life and experience, or observation as well?
“It’s a bit of a mixture. Most of the material comes from my own experience, but my audience are wonderful at coming up afterwards or emailing me and saying ‘that story you told reminded me of something awful my husband did…’ or ‘when my kids were little, I found this was a really useful tip…’ so I get a lot of helpful feedback that finds its way into the show.”

Q. Have your husband or children seen the show?
“Oh goodness, no! My whole act relies on the fact that my husband is looking after the kids while I’m out talking about them on stage. I don’t know what I’ll do when the children are old enough to see my act – I’ll have to change it and just talk about our cats.”

Q. How long does it take you to collate and write material for a show?
“It’s a never-ending process of writing, presenting stuff to the audience and then revising it. It’s 100% my favourite thing about live stand-up; the fact that no two shows are alike. The skeleton of this show was written for the Edinburgh festival in August last year, and some of my favourite bits have stayed in, but there’s always stuff that’s new this week, today, or even on the night.”

Q. As someone who prefers not to make a fuss, and carefully choose your battles would you like to have lived in 1717?
“Ooh, I hope you’re referring here to my play the Fair Intellectual Club, which was set in 1717 and concerned a group of young women who decided to set up a secret society for studying maths, physics, astronomy and all the other things that ‘nice girls’ weren’t supposed to concern themselves with. I hope I’d always have been a mouthy, opinionated and difficult woman like they were.”

Q. You write both comedies and dramas. Is it easy to switch between the two?
“I never had any ambition to write drama, but as I’ve got older I’ve realised my life experience has gifted me some serious points to make. That said, even when I’m writing drama I can’t help playing for laughs sometimes. I hope never to have to take life, or myself, too seriously.”

Q. If you were stranded on a desert island, who would like to be stranded with?
“I love my own company and I need a holiday, so I’d be delighted to be on a desert island for at least a week. If I could be stranded with Dolly Parton and Paul McCartney, I could have the music and good company as well.”

Q. You are appearing at The West End Centre in Aldershot. What memories do you have of appearing there?
“The West End Centre is one of the nicest and most welcoming places I’ve ever encountered. Also, the people who run it have impeccable taste in music (and comedy too of course!).”

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Paloma power

Liz Nicholls


We chat to musician Paloma Faith,

Q. Hello Paloma – thanks for your time and congratulations on your new arrival! How’s life changed?
“I’m trying to juggle being a mother and a singer. I have no idea how I’m managing, but I am somehow! I do feel my approach to music has changed since I’ve become a parent – which does have an impact. With difficult things happening in the world, you feel protective and want to make things comfortable for your family. I think things are changing in our history and maybe not for the better, which is something I’m concerned about. I feel there’s a sense of duty to talk about events.”

Q. You’ve been keen to shield your youngster from the press and paparrazi haven’t you?
“I value my privacy more so than ever now, as it’s a real responsibility being a parent. I want my child to know itself first rather than everyone else feeling that they know all about them.”

Q. Growing up in East London and studying at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, did you always have an inkling you’d become a singer?
“Growing up in Hackney, I was surrounded by lots of different types of music – from my mum, I remember listening to plenty of revolutionary music from the 1960s such as Bob Dylan, while my dad was into jazz, which is where my interest in all that comes from. Later, when I was studying, I got into R n B dancehall, and originally I wanted to be dancer. Then I did my musical theatre, and I think music just chose me.”

Q. Your album Do You Want The Truth or Something Beautiful? hit the top 10, and proceeded to lodge in the album charts for the next 100 weeks – how do you look back on it?
“Well, that was nearly 10 years ago, and it was what it was. I think it is great that I’ve managed to sustain a career as unfortunately not many people get to make more than one or two albums these days.”

Q. Your vocal abilities have continued to garner contrasts with the late Amy Winehouse – how do you feel about that?
“I’m flattered by comparisons to Amy. It’s not something I am offended by, though I am quite different. When she met me once, she asked if I played an instrument, but I said no, and she said that was a shame as she would have liked someone like me in her group. I was a massive fan of hers, and after watching the documentary about her life, I actually wrote a song for her, Price of Fame, which is on the new album. Her death was such a tragedy.”

Q. You were nominated several times for a Brit Award, with your persistence paying off two years ago – hurray! How did that feel?
“It was amazing to win the Brit Award and to finally gain some acknowledgement. I come from a long line of people that haven’t really been acknowledged for what they did… But I think there are a lot of people out there doing important work, like doctors and nurses who don’t get that recognition they should.”

Q. We’re looking forward to your tour and hear that you’re going to design some of your trademark show sets – are you excited?
“The only reason I do what I’m doing is because I love touring – as when I’m out there I am excited and feel that I’m in the right place.”

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Up swing

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to ballroom dancer Anton du Beke

Q. Hello Anton – lovely to chat to you! I’ve just been shuffling about in the kitchen to your CD… Do you like January?
“Thank you – that’s exactly the reaction I wanted! Well, in January I’m so busy. I’m in the studio working on my tour. It’s incredibly exhausting and I have about a thousand steps to learn so my brain feels like it’s about to melt. I have songs to remember and chat to learn. Erin [Boag] and I tour every January, February, March. So I don’t get January blues. I always feel quite poor, though, because those credit card bills mount up and I’ve gone a bit too mad at Christmas again. 2017 has been the best year ever – getting married and doing so much great stuff.”

Q. Where are you now?
“In the living room at my house in Burnham Beeches. It’s a lovely part of the world. I don’t come from round here; I grew up in Sevenoaks and spent a number of years in central London. When I met Hannah she came from here and I’ve loved to be here and discover the area. Bucks is gorgeous and equidistant between the M4 and M40 which is perfect when I’m on the road. Take the dogs for a walk in the woods – we have two short-hair black-and-tan daschunds called Antoninus and Branston.”

Q. How do you stay healthy?
“We do eat pretty healthily. Hannah is a great cook and we never eat meals you grab out the fridge and shove in the oven. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke but I’ve always lived that kind of lifestyle – it’s not something I’ve worked at, it’s just normal for me.”

Q. Who were your early musical influences?
“Growing up, I fell in love with musicals. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were my heroes – I wanted to dance like them but didn’t know how I’d go from a church hall in Kent to being Fred Astaire! Sinatra and Sammy Davis Junior – those great entertainers – also impressed me, having an orchestra on stage. This album features a 36-piece orchestra who usually don’t do swing but were lovely. The string section were from the Royal Philharmonic – that’s how good they are.”

Q. It was a joy to watch you dancing with Ruth [Langsford] on Strictly at the end of last year! Did you get on with Ruth?
“Brilliant; she’s a joy. She and Eamonn are so funny and Ruth has the best ever sense of humour!”

Q. Do you see much live music?
“A little bit but I don’t go to many big concerts. I found when I went to a few when I was young that you’re just in the way of the performance if that makes sense at all? But I’m always listening to music on Spotify on my phone to find stuff to dance to! And I do love going to all the big shows.”

Q. Your good friend Bruce Forsyth died last year and I’m sorry for your loss. How have you coped with that?
“Thank you. It was a massive shame and a big shock. I spoke to him about two weeks before he passed away and he said he felt a bit better and had been on his exercise machine to start building his strength up. I’ve got a song on the album called Me And My Shadow which is about him and quite an important song to me. I still feel sad but lucky to have known him. People deal with it in their own way, but my life is better for having known him.”

Q. Have you got any dreams for this year?
“No! With the babies and getting married last year and the album and a great Strictly I feel really happy with my lot! All I’d like is more of the same, please… well, no more twins! Actually what I’d like is them to grow big and beautiful and happy.”


What Katie did next

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to philanthropist, writer, TV presenter and former model Katie Piper

Q. Congratulations on your second baby. How did you find this pregnancy?
“I’ve really enjoyed it, other than the morning sickness in the first three months! Having a young child I’ve enjoyed being able to share the excitement with her and it’s special being able to watch the bump grow together – she’s even been telling everyone that she’s pregnant herself which is very funny!”

Q. Have you enjoyed creating your new maternity range [] and what are your fave items?
“I’ve loved creating it! During my previous pregnancy I struggled to find affordable maternitywear I liked and ended up wearing my husband’s wardrobe half the time. This time around I wanted to provide a maternity collection that gave not just me, but all pregnant women, the chance to feel good. I also wanted to ensure that no matter what the occasion – a party, picking up the kids from school, or even Christmas day – expecting mothers always have something to wear! I love all of the items. The Bardot Twist Front Detailed (£24.95) dresses are amazing but I love the Maternity Navy Strappy Wrap Over Culotte Jumpsuit (£24.95) for the day with a white T-shirt underneath and a comfy pair of white trainers!”

Q. What are your fondest memories of Hampshire growing up? “Hampshire is very close to my heart; I had a wonderful childhood there. I think my fondest memories would have to be in our family home with my lovely parents and brother and sister, Paul and Suzy, and just generally enjoying my youth at Harrow Way School.”

Q. Your foundation’s made a difference to so many others – what’s been the most rewarding moment so far?
“Thank you, The Katie Piper Foundation is so important and has been a huge part of my journey. I don’t think there’s one specific rewarding moment; each day I meet or hear from so many inspirational individuals.”

Q. What advice would you give to anyone going through the darkest of times?
“Remember, no matter how big or small your challenges might seem, there is always a confident way forward and people here to help.”

Q. What attitudes to body confidence do you most hope to pass to your children?
“It’s so important for parents to have a positive attitude about body confidence as this will be reflected in your child’s values and attitudes. So if I’m having a ‘fat’ day (let’s face it, we all have one in a while), I’d never say that to Belle. Words like ‘fat’ are an absolute no-go in our house; everyone is beautiful in their own way and it’s what’s on the inside that really matters!”

Q. Who are your heroes and why?
“My mum because she is so kind and resilient, and all of the amazing volunteers for The Katie Piper Foundation – I cannot thank them enough for their help and support.”

Q. What’s your favourite piece of music?
Thriller by Michael Jackson – my favourite album and artist of all time!”

Q. I know you love writing – what is your favourite book?
“My favourite books are Richard Reed’s If I Could Tell You One Thing, Jo Malone’s autobiography and The Secret.”

Q. What’s your favourite food?
“It’d have to be something Italian; I love Italian, but I would only have it as a treat as normally I am very healthy!”

Q. What ambitions do you have for the future?
“To be happy and healthy. All I hope for is good health and happiness for all of my family. Work-wise, I have my first ever theatre tour What’s In My Head starting in March which is exciting as it will be intimate with my fans; I’ll discuss my own battles with anxiety and explain how I overcame it. Insecurities exist in us all of us and adversity is unavoidable but this is my chance to hopefully be able to help others learn how to manage it.”

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Digging deep

Round & About


Peter Anderson chats to history buff and television star Sir Tony Robinson.

Q. What sparked your interest in history; was it Baldric as Blackadder went through the centuries?!
“It goes back to when I was a child and my dad told me of his time in World War II. He was posted to Scotland, met up with some Canadian soldiers and spent the war touring in a Canadian dance band. That made me think of him as a child learning what his father had done, and his father before him – the continuum of history.”

Q. Of all the stories of folklore, why do you think King Arthur has lasted so well?
“The Dark Ages are shrouded in mystery, but the stories of King Arthur held a romantic appeal. They were also seized upon by the Norman Kings keen to use their lineage from King Arthur to legitimise their claim to the throne. They sought to publicise all the stories that came out regarding King Arthur’s time.”

Q. What’s the significance of Round Tables?
“The Round Tables were a common item at tournaments as everyone could be equal in standing and speak. There is an example at York where guests sat in niches around the table and stepped forward to speak. But the best thing to compare is the corporate boxes around modern-day sports grounds like Wembley, where a lot of networking can be conducted alongside the sport or entertainment.”

Q. Did your time with the experts on Time Team,
including Jonathan, prepare you for this next event?
“Jonathan impressed me when he appeared on Time Team, and we have been friends ever since. He is an archaeologist, but specialises in standing archaeology, a lot of the work in Time Team was looking at holes in the ground and assessing what had been there; his expertise is looking at buildings still standing. He can look at a building and then guide you through clues he has spotted to all the various phases of construction within it. It is a remarkable skill.”

Q. Do you have a favourite period of history and would you fancy travelling back to it?
“I think Ellen Degeneres was right when she said now is the best time. There are so many things we take for granted now that were not available. However, from a point of intellectual curiosity I would love to go back to the time of King Alfred I. I find it so intriguing that someone could go from a small kingdom in the South West of England and in the space of a couple of years take on the invading Vikings, beat them and have the leader of the Vikings paraded through the streets wearing white and converting to Christianity. I would so love to find out how he achieved it.”

Q. Is there anything from history you’d still like to do a programme or talk on?
“So many! But the main one would be a programme that shows wars were not won so much by fighting on the battlefield but by organisation, the ability to move troops and equipment quickly, to supply them. I was lucky enough to film out in the middle of the Sahara Desert, in the middle of nowhere, the shifting sands had cleared to reveal a metalled road thrown up quickly by the Germans in World War II to move equipment. Now taken back and covered by the desert sands…”

Q. Who would be your perfect dinner party guests?
“King Alfred, Archbishop Asser, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Francis Walsingham, William and Robert Cecil. We are a little light on the ladies, so I think Eleanor of Aquitaine; rumour has it she was the one who was running the country.”

Q. Is there anything we could learn today from the Age of Chivalry?
“Definitely: the Chivalric Code held people together in times of crisis. It was a code of politeness, being honourable, with honesty and courtesy.”

Feel the Byrne

Round & About


Jonathan Lovett chats to comedian, actor, writer and dad of two Ed Byrne, 45, who has just embarked on his biggest ever tour to date, Spoiler Alert, following a sell-out success at this year’s Edinburgh Festival

Q. What is Spoiler Alert about…or is answering that a bit of a spoiler in itself?!
“Well, I called it that partly because if there were any bad reviews people wouldn’t read them because it would say ‘Spoiler Alert’ at the top! But it’s mainly because the theme of the show is the notion of how spoilt we are in general and how we’ve become quite mollycoddled as a nation. Stuff like having to push a button to start a car rather than turn a key because it’s such a great drudgery to turn a key these days. And how it’s the trivia stuff we act really spoiled about, whereas with the big stuff, such as politics, we seem to just accept how bad things are. There was a big women’s march after Trump was elected and some people were like ‘Uhhh. What are they complaining about? We don’t live in Saudi Arabia,’ with the implication being ‘Shut up, luv. We’re not stoning you to death, what are you bothered about?!’”

Q. If you had the opportunity to say something to Donald Trump what would it be?
“If I ever did have such a marvellous opportunity I’d have to look him straight in the eye and say, ‘You really are an awful person, aren’t you?’ or maybe I would just scream ‘STOP PAINTING YOURSELF ORANGE…YOU LOOK RIDICULOUS!’”

Q. You’ve just begun an epic tour. Do you love touring this much, Ed?
“If you are really famous you can just go and play the main cities and people from little towns will come into the big cities to come and see you. Whereas if you are just ‘that bloke on Mock the Week’ you have to go to those small towns. People from Evesham can’t be bothered to go to Birmingham to see me. So I have to go to Evesham.”

Q. What was your worst gig ever done and does it still haunt you? “I’m sometimes hired to do corporate gigs and now and it can be a real struggle. On occasions there is just no laughter at all and you’re up there in front of an audience who are just there for their own thing and perhaps you’re just not the right comedian for that particular crowd. I mean, Metallica are a great band, but if I booked them to play at my in-laws’ golden wedding anniversary it might not go down particularly well. I have been on stage in the past and just wished ‘God. I wish I was a stripper’ because I would’ve got a far better response from that audience then I ever would as a comedian!”

Q. I can testify you are very funny on stage. Were you the funniest kid in your class?
“I was the classic case of having to be funny to avoid being bullied, but even at school it was bigger, louder kids that were considered funnier. My humour was a bit nerdier. So at school I would be reciting Monty Python sketches and I would be met with a kind of, ‘What the flip are you on about?’ I was probably a little more ‘niche’ as a school kid than I am now and I used to play Dungeons & Dragons even as a teenager. My cousin and I were proper little geeks and I would go into school with a spring in my stride on a Monday morning having got my wizard to Level 14 the night before.”

Q. We’ve just seen you and best mate Dara O Briain on TV in Dara & Ed’s Road to Mandalay, a follow-up to Dara & Ed’s Great Big Adventure in which you travelled the Pan-American Highway. Where next for the intrepid duo?
“Well, if they do ask us to do another one, we are both quite keen on travelling through the Nordic countries. I think there will be a lot of mileage in that. We have a tendency to think of everyone up there as Swedish but it would be really interesting to get under the skin of these places and go, ‘Swedes are like this, and Danes like this, and the Finnish do this etc’… And, if we could get Abba to reunite, that would be good. I was talking to this guy in New Zealand who reckons he saw them all living and working together in this house in New Zealand and I was like ‘Really?!’”

Q. What’s the best thing or worst thing about Dara?
“I tell you what the most interesting thing is about Dara… he doesn’t know about spoons! If you showed him a spoon and said, ‘Now, is that a soup spoon or a dessert spoon?’ he’d be like, ‘It’s a bloody spoon!’ He knows big spoons and small spoons but in-between he doesn’t know anything about them! He only knows ‘spoon’ or ‘not spoon’.”


True Colours

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to world-famous decorative painting expert and queen of chalk paint products, Annie Sloan, 69, who lives in Oxford.

Q. Lovely to chat to you, Annie! Is your house, like mine, a work in progress?
“Yes! I’m so busy it will never be finished. It looks good in parts – so long as I look in the right direction! Of course, it’s very colourful! I don’t have a favourite shade – for me, it’s all about combinations.”

Q. Which artist made a big impression on you as a child?
“Gauguin made a real impression; my father was a fan and we had a lot of prints around the house. I identified with him. His use of colour is pretty strong and he made me want to paint.”

Q. I’ve got to ask you about your music – your pre-punk proto-girl band The Moodies!
“Ah yes – that part of my life still follows me around! We’re talking 1971-74 and yet the band really resonated with people, still does. We had some great fans – Mick Jagger, David Bowie… I think back to those times and think ‘how weird!”

Q. Did you meet Bowie?
“Yes, amazingly. He came to see us play – it was at a cool bar in London called The Last Resort. I was keen to talk to him but it was difficult, I’m afraid, because that night he was looking for cocaine and quite out of it. This was in his gaunt, pale, skinny phase. But we did chat about art school and south London, where he was born and I used to live.”

Q. You’re a citizen of the world – born in Australia to a Scottish father and Fijian mother – do you still find inspiration on your travels?
“Yes; absolutely. I’ve just got back from Oregon and San Francisco. Portland is the coolest place ever! San Francisco used to be the place of flower power but now it’s one of the most expensive places in the world because Yahoo and Google are there; you’ve got these young girls and guys earning mega-bucks and lots of ‘normal’ people who can’t afford to live there, so the city’s a bit schizophrenic. It actually made Oxford look affordable! I always love travelling and seeing what the hipsters are up to. In Portland, there are lots of wooden Victorian painted houses painted in a gorgeous array of colours. I absorb inspiration from everywhere.”

Q. Do you visit a lot of galleries?
“We are so, so lucky to have two amazing galleries in Oxford – Modern Art Oxford and the Ashmolean. I don’t go to London as much as I used to; I used to go to them all. But whenever I travel I always try to see an exhibition; that feeds my soul hugely. I went to an amazing exhibition in America last week – celebrating 50 years since the summer of love – 1967. Haight-Ashbury, flowers in your hair, all that. It was superb.”

Q. Do you listen to much music?
“Yes, I listen to a lot; anything that relaxes me, any genre. I love Iggy Pop’s show [on BBC R6, Fridays]. He makes me laugh and I love his taste in music and that gravelly voice! My big love is also podcasts. This American Life and Radio Lab are my current faves.”

Q. You started your network of Annie Sloan shops and range of products has expanded hugely from humble beginnings – how does that make you feel?
“Having success in my business is nice – not just financially but I love to support the shops, the network of independent businesses – that’s very rewarding. We all work together. It’s hard in retail at the moment, particularly with the world the way it is.”

Q. Are you at the happiest point in your life, do you think?
“Really, I’ve always been quite happy and grounded. That’s why I moved away from the art scene proper early on – some of it really has a tendency to disappearing up its own bottom. People often tell me I’ve had an impact on their life and inspired them to paint or upcycle, which is fantastic as that’s what it’s all about. Life’s pleasures are often momentary – a good cup of tea, a great exhibition that makes you think ‘I want to create, I want to paint!” I’m happiest with a paintbrush in my hand. I have to find time to make sure I paint, paint, paint as that’s what makes me tick.”

Visit for details of Annie’s local shops and products, including the new stencil range.

Full Floella

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to Baroness Floella Benjamin, OBE

Q. Hello Floella! I know you love to write – do you have any tips for our readers who might like to write a short story and don’t know where to start?
“Yes, firstly, don’t get it right, get it written! You can always go back and change or chuck it later, after all. You might not know where to start, but once you start to inhabit that world you’ve created, the imagination will help you find a way. Also: use your experiences. Children are wonderful natural writers because they’re seeing things for the first time. So, remember the innocence of when you saw the moon for the first time, a river, a butterfly, rabbit! I always like writing with pen and paper – you feel your hand move across the page which is wonderful. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it! You can!”

Q. You love to sing, don’t you?
“I love singing! When I’m singing I go into orbit – I just float. My father was a jazz musician and I used to sing with his band. He used to say ‘feel the song, feel the words’. You don’t even have to have a great voice; Frank Sinatra didn’t, but he lived every word. As children, we used to sing the blues while we did the chores [bursts into song]! You feel lighter, and don’t notice you’re working! My mum used to sing Jim Reeves but she had a terrible voice. Every birthday she’d call up and sing Happy Birthday really badly, and now that she’s gone my brothers and sisters all take turns to sing it in her voice. And I used to love singing on Playschool!”

Q. You’ll be 68 this month; how do you stay so full of beans?
“I did my stretching this morning before I spoke to you; I like to stay supple. I ran ten consecutive marathons but one day my body gave up and said no more of that! I used to be president of the Ramblers’ Association and still walk a lot; for Easter I went to Cumbria and walked for nine hours a day – it’s my spiritual home. I’m not a gym-goer, but am always running up and down stairs, hoovering the stairs, carrying bags. I’m conscious I’m getting older and have to stay mentally and physically fit. I try to remember phone numbers and, when I’m giving a speech, I never have a script. We live in an age where you press button and it’s done, it’s instant. But the brain is like a muscle – you have to keep it fit. I might have a glass of champagne on special occasions but I’m not a big drinker. Apart from that, I keep smiling! It makes you resilient and strong.”

Q. What’s your secret to a long, happy marriage?
“I’m such a lucky girl, to be honest; I was born into a family full of love and left the bosom of my family to fall in love with a man who loved me so passionately. Keith and I were born a day apart and we’re made for each other. When I was ten I came to London from Trinidad and he came to London from Manchester. We lived in Chiswick, a few streets from each other and, for the next nine years we probably criss-crossed paths across London. Then we met in a theatre, 47 years ago, and have been together ever since. We have such a pure partnership; it makes us confident in ourselves.”

Q. How does it feel to be a baroness?
“I tell you something: life has a mysterious way of working out and I’m so grateful to be treated with such affection. We used to live in Anerley [in south London] and my mum really wanted to move to Beckenham – a very white, middle-class area with the best healthcare and best jumble sales! We went to go and view a house there and someone called the police to say black people were there, and they might steal the fixtures and fittings. Anyway, my mum bought that house and we lived there for 40 years. They’re both buried now, my parents, in Beckenham and, once I became a baroness, I visited them in the cemetery there. I told them my news and said ‘I’m now Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham – how about that for a turn-up?’ Everything that happens, you can use. Grab the positives and focus on what you can offer the world; it will reward you.”

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Lost & Found

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to actor and musician Martine McCutcheon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jackson Live!

Liz Nicholls


Liz Nicholls chats to singer, songwriter, guitarist and dad Tito Jackson

Q. Hello Tito and thanks for coming to play in this country for your 50th anniversary. 50 years – how does that feel?
“It’s been a great trip! In the early days, as brothers we couldn’t have dreamed we’d be what we are today. To have such a longevity is a blessing – we can put ourselves in the same category as the Stones. Every turn of the way there’s something new to be excited about which keeps our motivation going. We’re very proud of the 50 years we’ve done. We keep making the music and telling our story and being The Jacksons – that is who we are.”

Q. Do you feel Michael is present with you on stage?
“Yes, Michael is constantly in our minds while we’re on stage. We’re performing songs of the Jackson Five and we feel him with us. We do some of Michael’s music on stage and he’s certainly remembered.”

Q. I hear you love playing in England?
“Yes; England has always been a love, not just for me but the whole group – it was the first country we ever visited outside of America. When we got there in the early 1970s we got such a reception – they chased us through the airport, gathered outside our hotel singing Jackson Five songs, the streets blocked off and everything! England’s history, beauty and the people mean we love performing for English people!”

Q. What was it like meeting The Queen?
“I played at the Jubilee show in the ’70s and met The Queen and Charles – Elton John played, too. We had all the instruction on how to greet The Queen – there’s certain protocol, you see, you mustn’t touch her hand and all that… and we were nervous! But when we met her she was very nice to us, made us feel so comfortable around her. It’s a memory you’ll never forget, meeting The Queen of England; I have that picture of us all on my mantelpiece. For us, it’s right up there with being inducted into the Hall of Fame.”

Q. Do you listen to new music?
“Yup, I try to put my ear on everything I can. Even if you don’t care for a song when you first hear it, you can get something from it. I listen to as much as possible; it keeps me musically trained so that’s where I’m at with that. I like Bruno Mars, Maroon 5, Beyoncé, The Weeknd… and all music by The Jacksons, 3T stuff [Tito’s sons’ band], and Janet’s too, of course!”

Q. Did you encourage your sons [TJ, Taryll and Taj] into the industry or was it a natural career choice for them?
“It was natural because when they were little boys they always went to their uncles’ shows. They’d lip synch along to I Want You Back and ABC and I’d say ‘what are you guys doing?’ And they’d say ‘we love the music and want to be like our uncles’. And I said ‘there’s more to it than lip synching – if you’re gonna be like us you’ve got to learn some instruments!’ The next four years we’d mess around, having so much fun with drums and keyboards and, the next thing you know, they were playing a Yamaha convention and have been going ever since. I’m proud of my sons – you’ll be hearing more from them!”

Q. Would Janet or Latoya ever be part of the group?
“As far as sharing a stage, it’s a possibility. It’s just scheduling – a task that can be tackled! We’re all excited for Janet, the baby of our family who now has a baby of her own; she’s doing great. She’s very happy about her new son and can’t wait to get herself back on the road someday.”

Q. What advice would you give to any budding musician? “Remember showbusiness is fun but has lots of setbacks. There are good avenues you can take, but bad ones, too, which lots of artists have taken. If you can keep your head level, make the best music you can, love your fans and never rely on one hit, you’re good. Without fans you don’t have a leg to stand on – they support you and keep you standing. I’ve never refused a picture or autograph. You owe them… Yep – remember your fans!”