Fat Friends

Friends in the North – Interview with Kay Mellor

by Karen Shaw

Kay makes words come to life, tiptoeing along the fine line of comedy and tragedy, encapsulating life as we know it, in all its raging glory.

Kay’s excited, the ‘weight’ is over and rehearsals are underway for the return of Fat Friends The Musical in February when it visits the north and this one promises to be bigger and better than ever, bulging at the seams with foodie fun.

Following a sell-out tour in 2017, the musical is based on the hit ITV show, Fat Friends, that starred James Corden, Ruth Jones and Kay’s daughter Gaynor Faye – can you believe that was 20 years ago! Fat Friends – The Musical reunites our favourite foodie friends as they are put through their Zumba paces at their local slimming club, whilst Kelly fantasises about fitting into the wedding dress of her dreams.

 With actors clambering to secure a role in any of her productions, Kay has the pick of the cream of the crop. “I recently auditioned a young lass, who has just graduated, her audition reduced me and the producer to a puddle of tears after her first performance,” says Kay, full of enthusiasm. “Her voice was incredible. It was so emotional. She’s going to be a huge success. This is her first job. Some people just have the ability to ‘reach out’ and really grab you!” and if anyone knows how to spot talent it’s Kay, “James Corden, he must be knocking on 40 now,” she laughs. “He was only 17 at the time.”

Kay Mellor

The latest star-studded cast sees Lee Mead star in the role as Paul. Joining Lee will be Sherrie Hewson as Julia, Jessica Ellis as Kelly and Les Dennis as Fergus. Marc Akinfolarin joins the cast as Alan with Alex-May Roberts as Val.

“I’m looking forward to working with the actors, I’m sure they’ll bring their own ideas along and the show will continue to evolve and develop,” says Kay. “There’s a real magic in musicals, the marriage of music and drama is very powerful. Over time I’ve realised that musicals are not written – they evolve and grow.”

She’s good at this writing lark, and not only has she penned the story, she’s also laid down the lyrics too. With Nick Lloyd Webber as composer, she’s found the perfect recipe for success. “Music really adds another dimension and dynamic,” says Kay, “Nick read the script and said he would like to try out to write the score. I write lyrics imagining how they should be sung, and Nick will suggest ideas on how we can work the words and music together.”

Kay is a woman of substance who prides herself on her Yorkshire heritage, if she was a cheerleader for the City of Leeds, she’d most certainly have the biggest pom poms.

Kay’s writing career began at Granada TV and over the last 30 years she’s continued to entertain the nation with cracking TV series such as Band of Gold, Playing the Field, In The Club, Girlfriends and The Syndicate.

It was after the first series of The Syndicate came out that Kay received a call from movie mogul Steven Spielberg…

“I told him, ‘I can’t believe that he was on the phone to me’. To which he replied, ‘Why wouldn’t I be on the phone to you? You’re an amazing writer. We can learn from you,’ and I was thinking, ‘What? You must be joking – you can learn from me?’ I said, ‘I was rather hoping I would learn from you actually.”’

Kay had turned up on Spielberg’s radar after he watched The Syndicate and, like us all, was enamoured with the chronicle of the mixed fortunes of a group of lottery winners. He praised her work, imagining her sitting at her desk overlooking the wild moorlands of Yorkshire. Kay told him, “It’s just me, sat at my kitchen table writing with my slippers on! ‘Take a picture and send it to me.’ So, of course, I did!”

Kay is a woman of substance who prides herself on her Yorkshire heritage, if she was a cheerleader for the City of Leeds, she’d most certainly have the biggest pom poms. She supports her birthplace like a lioness would protect her cubs. When it comes to casting, she insists that actors audition for her up north. “There’s a complete snobbery that goes on, and it’s not just about northern accents,” says Kay. “They say that any northern actor ‘worth their salt’ should live in London.  Why? I’ll never understand it. There’s enough theatre and TV going on up here, that’s why I will never go to London casting. If they’re interested, they should come up here! I make a complete stance on it. It’s my home, the people are people I care about. I feel there’s enough said about London or Manchester, I want to share Leeds.”

“Willy took me to a party, the door was answered by Meryl Streep,” chuckles Kay. “She welcomed me in with open arms gushing, ‘Oh darling I love your work!’

Kay makes words come to life, tiptoeing along the fine line of comedy and tragedy, encapsulating life as we know it, in all its raging glory. But when Covid hit in March 2020, she couldn’t find it in herself to write.

“It was really strange, I just couldn’t go near my computer to write, I had a real under-lying anxiety, and it wasn’t just me, Sally (Wainwright) was the same. I just baked loads of soda bread. It was almost reminiscent of what I imagine wartime to be. It’s the nearest thing to war that the majority of us have ever encountered. Everyone was obsessing about it, ringing each other up and asking, ‘do you know anyone who has it?’, ‘What’s it like where you are?’ It was constant.”

She’s right. Kay knows her stuff, a formidable lady, who, in true Yorkshire style, delivers the truth if you like it or not, but it’s that attitude to life that has paved the way to a successful career. There’s only a whiff of playful resentment when I mention Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’. “That was my story!” Laughs Kay. “I should have written that!” But despite that, there’s no jealousy, just mutual respect between the two, she remembers with fondness the time the two of them were both out in the States…

“Willy took me to a party, the door was answered by Meryl Streep,” chuckles Kay. “She welcomed me in with open arms gushing, ‘Oh darling I love your work!’

“She didn’t even know my work!” Laughs Kay. “The star-studded event was packed full of A-list celebrities like Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, I was the only non-famous person there!” Kay laughs.

She’s chatted in her slippers to Spielberg, partied with Streep and won a string of accolades, so I was curious to discover where she gets her sense of job satisfaction. Kay goes on to tell me, “A lady who has seen Fat Friends The Musical eight times recently approached me and I asked her why she comes so often and she replied, ‘because it makes me feel alive, it makes me laugh!’ That is the most rewarding feedback you can get,” grins Kay.

This show of hope, humour, love and weight loss, promises to deliver a fun night out full of laughter and encourages us all, as the final song sings, to Love Who You Are! “It doesn’t matter what size you are; the important thing is to embrace who you are!” grins Kay.

So, grab your buddies and buns, reserve your seats and prepare to be served up a feast of fun with a side order of laughter.

NORTHERN TOUR DATES

Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield, Mon 31st Jan – Sat 5th Feb

Leeds Grand Theatre, Tues 22nd Feb – Sat 5th March

Bradford Alhambra,  Mon 30th May – Sat 4th June

The Lowry, Mon 6th June – Sat 11th June