From the Dales to the Big City
Verity Rushworth is a Yorkshire girl through and through who moved to the big city to follow her West End dreams, much like her character Penny Lane in the new hit show Carnaby Street.
You might know Verity Rushworth as Donna Windsor from Emmerdale. From the age of twelve, Verity played the daughter of Viv Windsor, through a rollercoaster of love affairs, burning cars, weddings and even a sexually transmitted disease. Set against the back drop of the rustic Woolpack and beautiful rolling hills of the Dales, Donna went from naive girl and reckless teenager to police officer and wife of Marlon Dingle before their marriage crumbled and Donna moved to Essex.
Verity left in 2008 to pursue her career in the West End and ever since her career has soared. She’s played Penny in Hairspray, Maria in the Sound of Music and now Penny Lane in brand new musical Carnaby Street. The show will be coming to Manchester Opera House on May 20 to May 25 and Northern Life caught up with her before her return to her northern roots…
“I love Manchester because I grew up with my Mum and Dad in Leeds and all my family are coming to Manchester to watch and all my friends, so I’m really excited.”
I bet you are! So tell me more about the story of the show and more about your character?
“Carnaby Street is set in the swinging sixties so music like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were just being discovered. It’s set in London’s Carnaby Street where the famous Marquee club is where they discovered all these famous bands like The Who and the story is about me- Penny, and Jude.”
“We have travelled down from Liverpool to go to London to try and break the music scene and there’s all these sort of twists and turns along the way with dodgey managers and agents and record deals coming and going. Love affairs, drugs, sex and rock and roll. There’s plenty of ups and downs and it’s the true journey of what it must have been like in those days. The music is all songs that everyone would know, it’s packed full of songs, it’s a really fun show!”
“My character is Jude’s best friend and she’s there to support him but she’s secretly in love with but he doesn’t see it and he looks straight past her to the hot blonde…It’s a bit of a rollercoaster for her.”
Can you relate to moving to the big city for fame and fortune?
“Oh yeah, definitely! I moved down to London from Leeds, straight off the back of Emmerdale and it was a completely big difference. From being in Leeds all my life to moving to London and dealing with how much bigger it is and unfriendly and you can’t just jump in your car for ten minutes and go and see your family. Everything takes an hour, it’s busy, it’s a rat race! It’s a really big culture shock! So I can definitely use that as well.”
Carnaby Street also stars Aaron Sidwell from Eastenders, and Matthew Wycliffe from Jersey Boys. It’s a brand new musical set against the backdrop of London’s West End in the Sixties. The show explores the Sixties as a time of hope and freedom and will feature hits from the era including Keep On Running, Twist and Shout, You really Got Me, Mustang Sally, Sweets For My Sweet, Shout, Born To Be Wild and many more.
“We’ve done really well, we’ve only been opened three weeks and it’s obviously a brand new show, so we’re still working on it and still getting it improved.”
Is it quite a risk doing a brand new show?
“It can be a risk but with the songs that are in this show, everybody loves it, everybody is enjoying the music and having a drink and having a really good time so it wasn’t too much of a risk at all.”
Do you get on with your fellow cast members?
“They’re all absolutely hilarious! They’re all completely mental! We’re literally just screaming up and down the corridors and in each other’s dressing rooms, it’s all very camp! We’ve been having lots of after-show movie nights and sort of cinema days and days out at the beach and really making the most of it.”
Do you prefer musicals to TV acting?
“I like them both the same really. They’re a completely different feeling; you don’t get the feeling of adrenalin and the scary feeling of being live with TV. It’s a different environment but I love the fact that on set it’s a different script every week so you’re not doing the same thing every day. The variety of being on set is really nice and then the adrenalin rush of being on stage is amazing! I’d like to keep doing both really, I wouldn’t like to choose, they’re both fantastic!”
You made your West End debut starring in Hairspray and when you were interviewed by Karen last you were just about to start. How was that?
“Oh! That was absolutely amazing, it was the best time of my life. It was my West End debut and all my life I wanted to do musicals from being a kid and seeing them when I was little and then to be in something like that, I just felt so lucky to be in it! I had the absolute time of my life, I loved it.”
How did you get started with acting because you were really young, weren’t you?
“Yeah. I just went to this drama club in Leeds called Scala, for kids, as a hobby really and I did dance classes and musical theatre stuff. It was all after school hours. They’re now the agency for Yorkshire and the local TV shows and film as well. They phoned up and said ‘we need someone whose about twelve years old, from Yorkshire, with brown hair.’ So it was probably me and twenty twelve year olds with brown hair, from the region. All sat in the studio and then like four recalls later there was just me and one other girl and I was the lucky one really.”
That must have been amazing! Was it strange being a child actor? Did that affect you while you were growing up?
“Well, I just worked so much and I’ve got very down to earth parents so I wasn’t allowed to have a day off school in my life. I had to work very hard to keep up with it and you just get used to it. I think it was the right age being twelve; you just get on with it. You pick up so much, you have to be really hard working and it didn’t change me as a person or anything.”
Do you think growing up in Yorkshire kept you grounded as well?
“Definitely! Yeah. I would have got a crack if I’d have started playing up!”
Where’s your favourite place to go in Yorkshire?
“I really like going to Betty’s Tea Room for afternoon tea, live music bars in Leeds. Leeds is brilliant for a night out! It’s such a good city! And I love going to Harrogate for the shops!”
Am I right in saying you just recently got married?
“I did, yeah!”
“Thank you so much! We got married at Priory Church at Bolton Abbey. It was stunning. It was really lovely and then we went to the Devonshire Arms hotel for the reception, it was absolutely stunning. The food was amazing; it’s like Michelin star food and lovely big log fires and comfy sofas and a big dance floor. There was something for everyone so Grandma was asleep on the sofa, my Dad was dancing, someone else was picking at the buffet, there was food all night and it was just brilliant, it was the best day!”
And you met your husband, Dominic Shaw, on Hairspray didn’t you? That’s really romantic!
“Yeah I know. I moved to London and met my hubby! We’ve got so much in common though as you can imagine. We just clicked straight away; it was really nice and really good fun. Hairspray was so much fun, I’d be smiling every night and then like oh I’ve got a new man as well! How good is that!?”
You must feel very lucky. Often there is a worry that when you’ve been quite an infamous character on a soap that when you leave you might fade away but you haven’t at all, you’re bursting into colour across the country with Carnaby Street!
“Yeah, I know but I think a lot of it is down to hard work too. I’ve been really lucky and I’ve got a good agent and all those things that help you get where you are but with my dance training and singing technique it’s something that I take really seriously and still work on it every day because you can’t expect to walk into these jobs, you’ve got to put the work in and then hopefully you get lucky really.”
Carnaby Street is releasing a proper album of all the songs as well? That must be exciting.
“Yeah, Universal has got involved because our producer Carl Leighton-Pope is a music mogul and he looks after Michael Buble. It’s his first time he’s done any theatre. He’s got more connections in the music scene so he can help with promoting the album and everything like that.”
Your life is a busy whirlwind of performances and settling in with your hubby but do you ever miss the rolling hills of the Dales and playing Donna?
“Yeah, I do. I don’t miss the very early mornings at six am! Now it’s like the opposite you’ve got the whole day off and the show in the evenings. I definitely miss being in the show but I’m actually fulfilling my lifelong ambition doing what I’m doing now so I can’t complain! But yeah, I miss everybody but they all come and see the shows that I’m in so it’s like I’ve never left sometimes.”
So your still in good contact with them, would you say you’re closest to Mark?
“Oh yeah! I’d say Mark because obviously I was married to Marlon but one of my best friends from the show is actually Sammy Winward. She came to my wedding and we’ve known each other since we were fifteen, we’ve grown up together.”
Aww, that’s sweet! So for fans of Emmerdale who felt like they watched you grow up through their TV screens, do you reckon you’ll ever return to Emmerdale?
“Well, nothing’s been mentioned but I suppose I’m not dead!”
Exactly, you left in a taxi and not a coffin so there’s always a chance?
“Yeah, I suppose it would be down to them though. Since I left there’s a new story and a new producer so it would be down to them deciding that they want to see Donna again. But I’m not aware of anything at the moment.”
I’m sure a lot of people would be really happy if you did return! So what are your plans for after Carnaby Street then?
“I’d like to do more TV now. I’d really like to do some Period drama. I’d love to get involved in Mr Selfridge or Downton that would be nice!”
Watch this space for Verity in petticoats and bonnet…but for now, Verity is enjoying living out her West End dreams and looking forward to a night out in Manchester to celebrate!