Starting today, I’m going to publish (or re-publish) columns, interviews and reviews I’ve written in the past. I begin with an interview I conducted with Amanda Holden, as she was about to star in the West End in Shrek in 2011 [pictured below as Princess Fiona, right, with Nigel Lindsay, playing the title role] that was commissioned for the Sunday Express.
But ahead of going to the interview, the paper’s then-editor Martin Townsend called me and excitedly instructed me to quiz her about her recent miscarriage. I told him I’d been told that this was specifically out of bounds, as the PR had told me this already; but he insisted I should try, as I was bound to charm her.
On the day, the PR concerned escorted me to her dressing room, and was going to join us, except she’d not agreed this in advance, so I told her I’d rather she didn’t. Instead, she waited outside — and listened at the door. At one point in the interview, Holden told me that Simon Cowell was so open he’d answer any question at all, and I considered, for a moment, seeing if she would, too, but then thought better of it: a miscarriage is a very traumatic event for a woman, and I’m sure she wouldn’t want to go to this painful place again. So I respected her privacy.
When I filed the interview, the editor refused to run it: she’d been withholding, he said.
I’m happy to finally be able to publish it here — nearly ten years on, but better late than never!
THE OLDEST PRINCESS IN TOWN
Mark Shenton meets Amanda Holden as she returns to the West End as one of the stars of Shrek the Musical.
The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane [above] may be the West End’s most prestigious musical theatre, but backstage there’s a typically scruffy jumble of corridors and corners.
A cold stone staircase leads to one of the star dressing rooms, currently being occupied by Amanda Holden with a sign posted outside it revealing that a princess is in her tower. And walking in, it’s true: she’s not only steam cleaned the carpets and disinfected the toilet (“well, John Barrowman had this dressing room once”, she quips straight away), but the room looks like it has come straight out of the pages of a fairytale. And the TV princess that is Amanda is playing one, too: she is Princess Fiona in the Broadway stage musical version of Shrek that opens officially in the West End this week.
Amanda has had her dressing room custom designed by a designer friend called Tipp, who she knows from Norfolk where she has also has a house. “I’ve got a little bit of OCD,” she admits – “I brought my own Hoover, too.” There’s a picture of Amanda’s five-year-old daughter Lexi on the wall, with her cat Muffy “who she tortures regularly”, Amanda adds, and a corner of the dressing room is hers: “She often comes up here on a Sunday and plays in here”.
Lexi played a big part in Amanda’s decision to do the show at all: “The reason I even considered it was because of her – it’s a massive thing in our house, we have everything to do with Shrek”. But Amanda missed seeing the show in New York because of her: “It was on but I never went to see it because I didn’t have her with me, and I thought I can’t – it would be like being unfaithful!”
She is clearly a devoted mum and does the school run herself every morning. “I’m always up for that, there’s no choice – I always laugh when the kids in the show here say they’re so knackered – I say, try doing the school run! But I wouldn’t have it any other way – she is my priority. And she only ever wants me to make her breakfast! Chris gets to stay in bed.”
Chris Hughes is Amanda’s second husband and Lexi’s father, who is a music executive. So the princess also has her own prince, too, but they’ve not had exactly had a fairytale year: a second child was due in March, but was stillborn a month before. It’s the only subject that is off limits in our conversation, but she alludes to it when she talks about her role in the show: “Sometimes I think I am singing about my own life in this – but I haven’t had a fairytale ending.”
However, the role of Princess Fiona, she says, is “quite similar to me”. In what ways? “We both have flatulence problems,” she jokes in reply. “She’s forward thinking and kooky and feisty and independent and won’t take anything lying down. She’s not one of the princesses in a movie and says carry on without me; she’ll pick herself up and fight for herself, which is what I’ve always been like.”
She was always determined to succeed, and in fact began her career in musicals after training at Mountview Theatre School in north London: “I was Liesl von Trapp in a tour of The Sound of Music with Christopher Cazenove as her father when I was 21.”
That, I ungallantly remind her was nearly half a lifetime ago – this year she turned 40. “I’m the oldest princess in town,” she quips. “But when I was at drama school I couldn’t have dreamt this would happen to me. I never doubted I would work, but I never thought of it on this scale. I always vowed, though, that if I couldn’t work properly, I would never be scrabbling about – I would just reinvent myself and do something else. I love this work and this job, but I don’t love it enough to struggle. So I was very lucky that I did make it.”
Of course, that struggle to make it is what drives the contestants on Britain’s Got Talent, the TV show on which she has been one of the celebrity judges [pictured above] alongside Simon Cowell for the last five years. “Doing the show, I am constantly reminded of why I started in the business in the first place. You get swept along and get a nice car, nice house and nice lifestyle and all the good things that come with the job, but you forget what you actually went into it for. Then you see these people who are so hungry to succeed, and that was me. And it still is!”
She had to audition three times for Shrek. “I kept thinking why I am I putting myself through this – I don’t need to do it! But I wanted to do it. I wanted to make myself wake up and have that nervous energy and fear again.” There’s nowhere to hide in the theatre or on live TV. She does both, and adds that on TV there’s the added complication “where you have to be you, too. In the theatre, I am at least technically hiding behind Princess Fiona.”
That appearances, of course, can be deceptive is one of the lessons of the Shrek story, and she says, “It’s a good lesson for kids to learn – to think about the person underneath and not what’s on the surface. On Britain’s Got Talent, I’m constantly judging people if they wear terrible tracksuit tops – I think that they’re not going to be able to sing, but they can. You constantly slap your own wrists.”
I mention The Voice, the new show where the judges have their backs to the singers. “It’s a brilliant idea – it’s like Blind Date for singing.” Talking of that show, Amanda was, while still a student at Mountview, a contestant on it. “I was only 19, and I didn’t get a date!” She’s come a long way since – now she’s not only a TV star with her own settled family life, but she gets her man in the show, too, even if he’s an ogre called Shrek.