Afternoon Tea with Tom Chambers and Charlotte Ritchie

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Noel Coward’s classic farce Private Lives is coming to the Birmingham New Alex Theatre this February, and to celebrate the occasion, the theatre hosted a very special Q&A session and afternoon tea with two of the stars, Strictly winner Tom Chambers and Call the Midwife star Charlotte Ritchie. It was a lovely opportunity to learn a little more about the play, and about the life of an actor working on a play. And to eat cake, lots of lovely cake.  I took my mom along for the afternoon, and we had a lovely time enjoying the  charm and wit of Tom and Charlotte, who are just perfect for Noel Coward’s legendary work.

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It was a fascinating afternoon, where we were entertained with tales of how actors cope when they forget their lines and just clam up. Tom told the tale of being fed lines by a nine year old when performing White Christmas, and how he coped when he tripped over on stage recently during a performance of Private Lives. I loved the story about how a cocktail that has been spilled was worked into the play so that the audience were totally in on the mishap. Charlotte, who has recently been acting in a lot of TV programmes, talked about the differences between acting in television – where you film something and then never see it again, and theatre, where you are performing the same lines over and over again, sometimes even twice a day. Charlotte admitted that learning lines is very boring, with no real way of livening it up.

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There was also discussion of whether Tom and Charlotte actually liked their characters from the play. Tom admitted that Elyot is almost a sociopath, but is also immensely charming and ultimately likable. Charlotte describes her character Sybil as a woman of her time, but feels she would like her modern day equivalent.  She also loved the elegant 1930s fashion that the play allowed her to wear.

Once the chat was over, a glorious afternoon tea of crust-less sandwiches, petit fours of savoury mozzarella, sun-dried tomato and pesto, and sweet raspberry and custard were highlights, as was a rather delicious yellow drizzle cake. Tom and Charlotte mingled with the guests and I managed to have a little chat with Tom, who I had interviewed last year ahead of Strictly Come Dancing Live (read here). I can confirm that he is charm personified, an old style matinee idol transferred to the 21st Century.

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Private Lives 8th – 13th February New Alex Theatre, click here for ticket information.

Strictly Come Dancing Live is back

The sparkles and sequins were all there, the glitter ball was back in place, and yet again, the Barclaycard Arena had put the chandeliers up. All this could only mean one thing, Strictly Come Dancing – The Live Show was back. Yesterday saw the press call for the most glamorous show around, with celebrity favourites and professional dancers giving press a sneak preview of what, once again, promises to be a fantastic show. I was lucky enough to be invited along, and to even grab a few words with Alison Hammond, Simon Webbe and new judge and former Strictly winner, Tom Chambers.

The 1.00pm press call started with the couples coming out onto the floor to pose for publicity shots for the assembled regional and national press, before stopping to chat to the press from television and radio. Thom Evans and his partner Iveta were first onto the floor, both heart-stoppingly gorgeous in full dance costumes. They were followed by Rachel Stevens and ‘Kevin from Grimsby’, Rachel of course replacing the pregnant Frankie Bridge. The celebrity count continued to rise, as Simon Webbe and Kristina Rihanoff, Mark Wright and Karen Hauer, Brummie fave Alison Hammond AND Aljaz Skornajec and Scott Mills and Joanne Clifton all took to the floor. Missing was reigning champion Caroline Flack and new partner Tristan MacManus (not sure why?).

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Thom Evans

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The glamorous (and very tiny) Rachel Stevens

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Thom and Iveta

Mark and Karen

Mark and Karen

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Rachel and Kevin

I had a quick chat with Alison, who was most definitely looking forward to coming home, and admitted she hoped to lift the glitter ball at least once on ‘home soil’. She also giggled when I told her how she was my little boy’s favourite on the show, and how he had cried when she left in week 7. Alison admitted that she seemed to have lots of little fans when on the programme, and that they all seemed gutted when she was voted off. She also cast her eyes to the upcoming local Derby between West Brom and Birmingham City, backing her team, Blues, all the way.

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2 Minutes with Simon Webbe

I also managed a (very) quick interview with Blue singer Simon Webbe.

FM: Simon, you have spent a lot of time in Birmingham over the past couple of months, is it a second home now?

SW: Well, I grew up in Birmingham, I moved here when I was seven from Manchester,  and lived in Bordesley, and although I don’t live here now, I still have lots of friends and family here, my daughter is still here, so it is great to spend some time here again.

FM: Are your friends and family coming to see you?

SW: Yes, it’s great they’ll be able to see me dancing ‘in the flesh’ so to speak.

FM: Does that add any pressure?

SW: (Laughs)…errrrr….YES!

FM: You started really well on Strictly, then it seemed that you might get voted out after being in the bottom 2, but then you turned into the surprise package – appearing at the top of the leader board again and again – what do you put that down to?

SW: Kristina. She always had total belief in me, from day one. You don’t realise what you are stepping into when you agree to do Strictly, the pressure and levels of work. I think, at first, I took it too seriously, you need to relax and enjoy it. Kristina had the belief in me, helped me to adapt and relax and actually enjoy it.

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Shameless Selfie with Simon Webbe

Shameless Selfie with Simon Webbe

The two new judges, Tom Chambers and Camilla Dallerup were also in attendence, with Mr Nasty, the fabulous Craig Revel Horwood and new presenter Zoe Ball. All looked fabulous, with the ladies wearing stunning gowns in midnight blue.

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Five Minutes with Tom Chambers

New judge Tom Chambers, who totally resembles a 1930s matinée idol, stopped to have a chat with me, and I have to admit to now having a total girl crush (think Cary Grant – just so charming!). Tom was already a favourite of mine, I watched him win in December 2008 from my hospital bed, three days after giving birth to Joe, so his win is very memorable for me in more ways than one.

FM: Tom, Strictly Come Dancing really opened a lot of doors for you.

TC: Totally, I wouldn’t have had a lot of the opportunities I’ve been lucky enough to have without Strictly. I’ve been able to play leading roles in the West End in musicals like Top Hat because of Strictly. As you can imagine, Fred Astaire’s shoes are large ones to step into, but Strictly totally opened that door for me.

FM: And Christmas saw you starring in White Christmas.

TC: Yes, it was a fantastic show and I am very proud to say that it totally broke Box Office records for the Dominion Theatre in London where we were playing. Audiences just seemed to love it.

FM: Which role were you playing in White Christmas?

TC: I was playing the Danny Kaye role which meant I had a seven minute tap routine – which is pretty incredible. I have played the Bing Crosby role in Sunderland, but it was great to recreate Danny’s role.

Fm: You came into Strictly as a bit of a novice in terms of dancing.

TC: Yes, I’d done a bit of basic dance at drama school, but hadn’t done any Latin or Ballroom, which is a little like saying you can drive a moped rather than a car. But I was always fascinated by movement and dance, particularly tap dancing, I’d copied a Fred Astaire routine by freeze framing a video and copying the steps bit by bit. Being invited onto Strictly was like winning a golden ticket from a Willie Wonka bar – a total no-brainer for me.

FM: Simon Webbe says you have no idea what you are letting yourself in for when you agree to go on Strictly – would you agree?

TC: You have no idea how much pressure there is, the fear of going out and doing intricate steps and routines that you have had only five days to perfect. You have to get the routine into the body – get it memorized in the head. It is tough, but it is also a fantastic experience.

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Tom Chambers stands centre stage with Camilla Dallerup, fellow new judge and his winning partner from 2008.

There was just time for a sneak preview of what I believe may be the opening dance, before a pretty wonderful afternoon came to an end.

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The Strictly Come Dancing Live shows start tonight at the Birmingham Barclaycard arena. You can find details of tickets by clicking here or here.

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Fashion Mommy at the BBC

BBC WM

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Fashion-mommy had a small taste of stardom today when she was featured on the ‘Mornings with Joanne Malin‘ show on BBC Radio WM.  This was during the style guide ‘Sex in the 2nd City’ slot. It was frankly one of the most exhilarating and nerve-wracking experiences of my whole life…and I would do it again like a shot!

The day didn’t bode well. Baba and I had slept at nanny and grandad’s house the night before so that Auntie Jodie could be babasitter extraordinaire whilst mommy talked fashion on the airwaves. Unfortunately, we had to sleep in a single bed, and nobody has yet explained to Baba about personal space. I was balanced precariously on the edge of a tiny bed for most of the night, whilst trying to avoid feet and elbows. Needless to say, by morning, I felt battered, bruised and in need of a good nights sleep!

BBC Radio WM is based in ‘The Mailbox‘, one of Birmingham‘s shopping hotspots. This is full of higher end stores like Harvey Nicholls and Jesire, and also home to the glorious Crabtree and Evelyn store. I travelled there by taxi, chatting incessantly to a lovely cabbie, who promised to tune in to listen to my slot. By the time I got to ‘The Mailbox’ my already frazzled nerves were totally on a knife’s edge. What if I couldn’t speak – if I opened my mouth but nothing came out? What if I got so tongue tied I couldn’t be understood? Two toilet trips did nothing to alleviate the nerves, and my fab Miu Miu heeled shoes, which had seemed a good idea when I was dressing this morning were now crippling beyond belief. And who the hell was going to see my feet on the radio anyway?

I got to the BBC public space and relaxed a little. Fashion-Mommy is never more relaxed than when she is in the presence of gorgeous clothing, and there, on display, were glorious costumes from Strictly Come Dancing. There was an amazing gold dress that was worn by Zoe Lucker, one of Tess Daley’s always amazing cocktail style dresses, and a fab tuxedo and stunning dress as worn by Tom Chambers and Camilla Dallerup when they had won the series in December 2008. I remembered that final very well as I had watched it from my hospital bed after the unexpected early arrival of Baba, who had made his appearance three days earlier.

A cup of strong coffee to smooth the nerves didn’t really work, so I tried to read the latest edition of Vanity Fair, the one with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. Didn’t actually read a word, but at least I looked calm to any passing onlooker. All the time I was sitting in the public space cafe I could hear links being made to my slot – ‘We’re going to be talking to a blogging mommy after the news…’Nooo! you’re not, she’s lost her ability to speak properly and can now only make sounds.

But the show producers proved to be friendly and complimentary. My blog was praised, and I was told that some time had been spent trying to track me down in order to appear on the show. This was a great boost to my ego, but rather than saying something sensible, I just grinned like a moron. And then I was taken through into the studio…

It was a small and cosy room, rather than a large busy place that I had imagined. Jo Malin is exactly how she sounds on the radio, friendly and chatty, like a new best friend. She immediately put me at ease and complimented my outfit (a Jaeger vintage dress from charity shop and pink m&s mac) and then played the new Take That song to lead into the news. I was on after the news…so this was it?

Radio is really funny. I was there to talk about my blog, and blogging in general, but you just sort of start talking. I chatted about Christmas shopping, internet safety, the recession, basically everything. The first time I had to speak I was so nervous that my eyes were darting everywhere. Jo noticed this and asked if I was nervous. I said yes, I felt a bit like a cornered animal and was searching for the escape route, but Jo said that I was fine – a natural, and was going to keep me on longer. She wasn’t joking either, I was still there at the end of the show, rabbiting on about god knows what!

I really enjoyed the experience and would love to be on the show again if the opportunity arises. I could talk about Christmas shopping in the Mailbox or bullring, or on a budget during the recession. Maybe I could chat about vintage shopping or charity shop shopping….who knows, we’ll have to wait and see!