Exclusive interview with Jane McDonald
by Karen Shaw
What’s New Pussy Cat?
I had the good fortune of interviewing TV success Jane McDonald five years ago after her departure from ITV’s Loose Women. A lot has changed in that time and she has had nothing but good news since she left– including her success in obtaining the leading role of Grizabella in the hit musical, CATS at the Blackpool Opera House. “I can’t believe it, it came as a huge surprise,” says Jane, when I caught up with her to discover what’s new for this pussy cat…
“I can’t even catch my breath! It’s like being in love again!” purrs Jane. “You just don’t think this is going to happen, do you? It’s a different league… I’m just in awe of it all! I walk in every day, see the cast and think: ‘I’m in this!’” “I’ve had a fantastic and blessed career for 17 years. I’d just come to the point where I thought I needed to do something else. I consciously came out of television and just hoped the phone would ring. It was a very big chance to take and a lot of people thought I was very foolish. I just needed a new challenge. I actually said on the Lorraine Show ‘I wouldn’t mind doing musical theatre!’ She’s a good luck charm, for me, is Lorraine (Kelly). “I did panto, and it was a lot of fun – I was mad with myself that I’d never done it before! I was upgraded from the role of a fairy to The Enchantress!”
A lot of people were sneaking in to watch what I was doing, and I think that is how CATS came about. It was a weird thing, because I had a bit of a ‘meltdown’ at the end of last year, and thought that ‘I’m just tired and need to stop’, I’d just done 97 shows one right after the other! I told my agent I just wanted a year off, to rest and to potter around growing vegetables!
Jane was in her own words ‘petrified’, by the sheer thought of auditioning for Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“When I arrived for the audition I just thought: what am I doing here? I thought I’m not going to get this. I was a lot older than the other people auditioning for the part, and I thought I wouldn’t stand a chance. So, I went down there thinking I wouldn’t get it which took a lot of the pressure off. I’m taking over from former Pussy Cat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger and you don’t often see our names put in one sentence!”
Following in Nicole’s paw prints, Wakefield born and bred Jane, at times, certainly sells herself short. She’s been rejected from many a role over the years but this feisty northerner isn’t one to get down. This lass definitely knows how to pick herself up again.
“I was absolutely ‘gobsmacked’ when I got the call saying I’d got the part of Grizabella. If I hadn’t have got the role, I wouldn’t have been too bothered because I’d have gone on to something else. You know, I’m quite lucky.” I remember that Jane is a firm fan of Drambuie and received an affirmative ‘yes’ when I asked if she got a wee bit tipsy on hearing the news she’d secured the part. “Of course, you know me so well,” she laughs.
Jane returned briefly to Loose Women and left again a couple of years ago. “I went back because they asked me, which is lovely because they’ve always got an open door for me.” But, for now, Jane has closed the door on Loose Women and stepped through the cat flap into the musical arena, and boy, is she busy. “I can’t have pets because I travel so much. I don’t really do pets, plants and children! It’s difficult to for me to find the time to nurture anything, because I’m simply not at home very often.” Wise woman…
Despite her lack of nurturing skills, our Jane is never far enough away to break the strong bond she has with her mum. When I ask her how her mum Jean is keeping, her voice softens slightly. “She’s grand,” replies Jane, “absolutely great. This has given her a new lease of life. She’ll be coming to Blackpool to see the show. I remember going to Blackpool and seeing CATS with my mum in 1989 when it first came out. She asked me what I thought about it, and I told her, ‘You know, ‘I could do that!’ She actually reminded me recently and said ‘Do you remember what you said that day?’”
Cats is one of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway history, attracting audiences of over 73 million people. “I’ve had to ‘up my game’ with a cast like that,” says Jane. “They’ve all been hand-picked. There are four original cast members in it, and the rest are out of college and simply phenomenal. To watch this talent coming in, you think: blimey, what am I doing here? They’ve all got to be great singers as well, because there are big singing roles in CATS.
“I didn’t realise how unfit I was before I started this, my body’s had a fair transformation, it took me all my time to get down on all fours!” jokes Jane. “The warm-up is Pilates based with plenty of cat movements thrown in, it’s all about strengthening the core, and by doing that it’s enabled me to ‘belt the songs out, like I’ve never done before! I was working with the musical producer recently, and he just says: ‘Blimey, that’s been in there all that time… and you’ve never even used it!’ And I thought: I’m in my fifties now and I’m only just learning to sing.”
In her role as Grizabella, Jane has the pleasure of singing the celebrated song ‘Memories’, I was curious to discover how she manages to keep it together performing such an emotional song…
“I’m in bits!” she laughs, “But I’m allowed to do that, Grizabella is dying, she’s giving it a one last push. I defy anyone who isn’t moved by it. I put my heart and soul into it every single time. It’s the most iconic musical theatre song ever and I’m getting the chance to perform it. I’ve done some great things in my career, but this – to me – is the biggest thing I’ve ever done.”
Jane’s full of energy, and it’s refreshing to speak to someone who does have doubts regarding their abilities, she’s honest, her unbounding enthusiasm is infectious.
CATS is running at Blackpool’s Opera House and will run until September 5. “It’s one of the best theatres in Europe. It’s just fantastic and the stage is huge, it’s just unbelievable! They’ve actually ‘upped’ the production of Cats at Blackpool, it’s bigger than that of the London Palladium production.”
Jane spent many of her formative years singing in the pubs and clubs in Blackpool, and rates it as her most favourite place in the world.
“Blackpool, for me, is just the best thing. I don’t know what it is, but Blackpool’s taken me to its heart. I’ve always been humbled by the audiences there. I know that Blackpool’s special. It’s been my most favourite venue. I’ve got a lot to thank it for. I remember thinking, all of those years ago, if you’ve got a gig in Blackpool – you’ve made it.
“Everything I’ve worked for – all of those years on the ship, all of the years treading the boards of the clubhouses. All of them have helped me to be this person now. I’m just a jobbing artist, all of my life I’ve just been at a turn, and all I think about is the next job. It’s all about doing the job to the very best of your ability.”
This cool cat has certainly got the cream. Life couldn’t be more purrfect…
CATS is running to the 5th September, tickets are priced from £20 and are available from wintergardensblackpool.co.uk.