Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Table tales... when Christmas and family collide

Feathers, leather or a second helping of Sunday roast? Now THAT is the question

The Erotica 2005 festival made a sexy appearance in London over the weekend and despite a shy determination to go (all in the name of a juicy column), I missed out. While the rest of you got whipped, licked and pleasantly tortured, I boarded an overcrowded train and headed towards the English Countryside. I was met there by a sensory overload of an altogether different kind - Christmas dinner with the potential in-laws.

Attire was an ordeal. Instead of kitten heels and a cheeky grin, I donned an all black modest number. Teamed with a 'butter wouldn't melt in my microwave, let alone my mouth’ smile, I couldn’t lose.

You may think I'm mad... chances are you're spot on (they just haven't committed me yet). Honestly, what could be more amusing than a weekend of watching other people get their bits out and prance about waving various elongated electronic members? Easy, a mass family gathering. It’s as simple as that.

To their credit, the family in question performed to perfection. All the essential ingredients were thrown into the mix:

1. Two young females intent on holding up the entire family with their pre-dinner grooming.

2. A daughter who couldn't get into the car due to a leg restricting pencil skirt. All in the name of fashion daaaahling!

3. An extra (lower) car to transport the aforementioned fashionista.

4. A house full of tasty nibbles and quick fingered sons. (hint number one: learn to love olives and you'll never go hungry). Most people won't touch the little taste explosions.

5. The gallant Uncle who fills your glass when you ask him to... and when you don't.

6. The wishful Aunty who desperately tries to offer her sons’ water to delay the onset of intoxication.

7. The dad in the corner fighting sleep with yet another glass of red.

8. A host rattling pans in an attempt to sound productive… before emerging with a picture perfect meal courtesy of Marks and Spenser’s.

9. Four competitive sons, all in various levels of inebriation.

10. The interloper (that's me!) who politely accepts everything placed before her. The result? A mad dash smuggle of smoked salmon to my neighbour's plate and more wine than this lightweight should encounter in a week, let alone an evening.

11. Various 'family stories, bad jokes and inevitable... the family photo album.

12. A few tears (no one remembers why), a small domestic and a kiss and make-up.

13. An impromptu dance routine.

14. A father to son deep and meaningful.

15. An impatient taxi driver with nerves of steel and the driving intent of an F1 contender.

16. Hot coffee, warm bed, aching head and a resounding vow of “never again”.

The next morning the call came... "What a fab night... simply MUST do it all again!"Can't wait. We’ll be back in a fortnight.

The pre Christmas celebrations came early this year because I'll be in Australia in two weeks time, introducing my Knight in shining Gucci to my own manic family members. In this case, it'll be held on the farm, surrounded by dozens of Aussie children, nanas and pets. Count them - 2 dogs, a possum, guinea pigs and 2,500 cows. At least we won't run out of milk.
I don't know what my poor lad is more scared by... the snakes, spiders and blowflies or meeting my Dad.

No matter where we are in the world, Christmas will involve the good, the bad, the ugly and the downright hilarious family gatherings. It may be just you and your goldfish, or half a township that just happen to share your last name. Whether it's beneath falling snow in the UK, amongst beer swilling Bavarians in Germany or under the blaring Australian sun - we'll all have our moments of Christmas lovin'.

Love it or hate it... it's coming near! Stock those cupboards, stuff that feathered beast, knit that hideous woollen jumper and prepare your cheeks for a healthy slathering of Nana slobber. Bring it on - I can't wait!

Fight it no longer - the stores are decked with holly and enticing SALE signs. Fa-la-la-la-la your way through the end of November because like it or not, Christmas is here and it doesn’t look set to go anywhere.

On the upside, the Christmas Parties are approaching and bosses all over the country will be palming out hangover funds. I'll miss mine, but perhaps that's fate. I'll be spending the night at the Versace Hotel on the Gold Coast (yes, the I'm a Celebrity crowd will still be there!). Soon after I'll be heading towards the open arms of my delightfully imperfect, over-enthusiastic family members.

You know what... for once, that's exactly where I want to be.

I have a date with Darius again this week... on stage, in Chicago - the Musical. Keep your eye on the http://www.020.com/ site for details.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Glamour? Anything but...

After writing out the day's entry in the first half of my lunch break, I then managed to lose it all - 'Kapow!' Gone, never to be seen again. And so I sit, ploughing through it again, grumpy and increasing the chances of an onset of RSI within the next 12 months. If I sound narky, that's why.

I went to a charity fashion glamour party last night at Tantra - it was played up to be MASSIVE but was pretty average to tell you the truth. A few of the Big Brother 'stars' (or should I say 'mon-stars') were flitting about trying to appear aloof in their new found 'fame'. I think their time in the spotlight is drawing to a near. After all, the next instalment starts soon. Gawd help us. There was also a smattering of singers (Javine) etc. but honestly, you couldn't see anything through the photographers! I got stuck behind a photographer the size of 3 houses (mansions with extensions more like it) and had to stand a further foot back to escape the pong! The "free cocktails" turned out to be a splash of vodka with a haphazard dash of cheap juice thrown in by a bored barman. This brings me to the biggest let down of the night - the bar and security staff. Talk about a bar full of incompetent tossers - more interested in chatting amongst themselves than earning their wages.

The security looked like stunned mullets and only perked up briefly when Jodie Marsh pranced out in a Gwen Steffani-inspired costume. Pity it wasn't pulled off in the way dear Gwen manages to. Maybe it was the over-zealous pig tails (can they even be over-zealous?!) These bunches were so big they'd make Dumbo's lobes look small.

We left before the fashion parade even started - when my boy won't even eat the canapés you know it's a bad event! Little glistening sausages just don't cut it. When you're used to events with prawns and little vodka shot deserts, dry prehistoric chicken strips just don't go down well. (Not to be picky but honestly, they should know better!!) If budget was a problem they should offer carrot sticks and hummus. Cheap, cheerful and at least the ladies would eat them.

At least my £10 went to charity. I would have donated more but the unpleasant staff left me with a firmly closed purse.

Luckily we didn't run into the arrogant Elvis-wanna be of a doorman. What a walking microcosm for all that is bad in this city. Leery, patronising and so far up his own behind I doubt he's ever seen the light of day. Perhaps that's why he felt the need to wear a pair of sunglasses in the pitch dark. It seemed to be the look of the night. Honestly, I think it's a fashion embraced by the old, the ugly and the drug addicted. I guess it's cheaper than a nip and tuck.

We finally ended up in the 'Slug and Lettuce'. After such a let down at Tantra, the standard mock leather searing was welcome (That's a first). We drank a bottle of wine to heal the hurt of dodgy nibbles (lucky I don't do sausages!!) and got merry far too quickly. The typical erratic driving of a London bus driver kept us awake just long enough to get us home. Seriously, if the formula one industry is on the lookout for new talent they know where to look. The bus drivers here are either maniacs or racing car drivers in denial.

At least the city looks fab at the moment... the Christmas lights are all out along Regent Street. They have the theme of Ice Age... old in itself and slightly tacky when placed smack bang on the lights. I may be a hardened little drama queen but Christmas lights are one thing that melts me every time. Prehistoric animals or not, I love them. I think the light bulbs smattered all over inner London are just so spectacular! Now there's an issue for you - could the money that goes into them be put towards poverty?
If nothing else, they make my little heart skip a beat and remind us that Christmas is COMING!!! Wooohooo!!! It's bloody FREEZING here - winter is coming too. :( Thank gawd I'll be in Oz to get some sun.

Tonight we are off to the Swede's for a home cooked dinner. She won't tell us what's on the menu - just demanded we bring nothing but wine. My guess is something Scandinavian - which will mean gorgeous to look at, even better to scoff, but hard on the hips. I'd say 5 kilos worth of hard. When I stayed with her family on Gotland, her mum cooked up a storm - ALL with some form of cream. Actually, since we're both on hard-core diets tonight may involve more fresh veg than anything! Carrot sticks-a-la carrot sticks. :)

Tomorrow is another dinner party (2 in a row!) at a friend's place. We're going to wine and dine and watch her wedding video. Awwww... visions in white. Last time we were there we got told off for putting our fingers too close to the photos so I'm going to sit tight in the corner! Ha, not a chance! Videos can't be marked with fingerprints so I'm in the clear.

Saturday is sleep in day - I'm under STRICT orders not to get out of bed ‘til 11:00. NO problem there - I need a good night's rest. We've been to shows every night for the last few weeks and it's taking its toll. We left at interval during the play 'You Never Can Tell' on Tuesday because the lad kept falling asleep.

We'll probably go shopping for housey stuff on sat too but then again, I'm broke and dreading going home to Australia with nothing but my passport so maybe not.

I'm LOVING the new flat... we've got it decked out really comfy and funky. I'm loving every second and it's nice to have a 'home'. I've had more baths than I'm sure is recommended by the health and bath department and predict that I'll turn into a prune by Sunday.

On Sunday we're off to the countryside to see 'family' - can't wait! Rambling through the fields reminds me of home. I don't have rubber boots here though so I always end up looking like a grot ball on legs. Mud to my neck this weekend methinks. It’ll save on facemasks I guess! I'll be ratty and hung-over after a mate's housewarming the night before though. Some things never change.

Tomorrow morning I'm interviewing Mark Burton and Pete Sinclair - the writers of a new musical here called 'The Next Big Thing'... they sound like a right pair of larrikins so it should be a good one. Hopefully they don't recognise me as the drunk and very animated journo from last week's press night. I may have some explaining to do...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Moving House and Battling Evil Stair Cases

Is the number of calories burnt whilst moving house, worth the number of muscles pulled?

You know you've had a shocker of a weekend when this is your first thought on a Monday morning. Yes, it’s official… moving house is traumatic, laborious and downright dangerous. Packing had me in tears – I blame the thought of parting with my 'precious memories' i.e. old letters, ticket stubs and paper napkins (yes, I keep it ALL!). I am a self-confessed hoarder... as a writer, my life is a journal and every scrap of paper is a potential masterpiece. I give the bag ladies in Victoria Street a run for their money!

Paper aside, there is also the wardrobe to conquer. How one is supposed to part with clothes is beyond me. Loved ones repeatedly give me the following ever-patronising advice;

"If you haven't worn it for a year, chuck it!"

Haven't they read Vogue?! Today's fashion mistake could be next year's one-off collector’s item. Don't blame me if I blow a fuse down Portobello Road next year. If I see my beloved faux snake skin clompers on sale for the price of a small tropical island, I may well deck someone. Gracefully of course!

In most cases, moving the entire contents of your home usually involves roping in unsuspecting car owners who used to call themselves your friends. In our case, we battled the tube. Never again.

In a bid to save our already slipping disks, we called in the relatives. I can safely say I now owe them my life. Full-blown domestics were avoided (though how, I'll never know). It took them 5 hours to get to London in what should have been a one-hour journey. Damn that M1.

For the record:
Why is there always less cupboard space in the new place?
Why does it always rain in London on the weekend, only to return to blue skies on Monday mornings?
How the hell are you supposed to program a new television?
So I threw away the instruction manual? How was I supposed to know they were important?!
Where on earth did we pack that damn bottle opener?

In a bid to break up the monotony of packing, a number of social outings were planned. The press night for 'The Next Big Thing' took me on a journey through drugs, sex and rock'n'roll. This musical covers the British Music scene with refreshing and hilarious honesty. I just happened to sit next to the mother of lead actress Melissa Lloyd. A warm love for all proud mums washed over me when she turned across to me in the opening scene and whispered "that's my daughter!" Her husband, ex-captain of the West Indies Cricket team grunted in what I'm sure was pride. Or maybe surprise at his daughter’s tight fitted red dress. Sex on legs, though I didn’t tell him that. I wonder if their memories of the 70's are as vividly corrupt as the scenes played out on stage before us. A cracking show if you're a music lover - it covers “everything from the Beatles to Brit pop... and all the b**ll**ks in between”.

The free champagne was a show stealer too. It also seemed to make off with my memory. If you happen to find it, please get in touch.

A somewhat more sober and sombre theatrical experience met us at the National Theatre where Coram Boy is showing until February 4th 2006. It was one of those cases where you head out knowing nothing about the play you're about to see, and get your socks knocked off. A tale of two orphans at the 18th Century Coram Hospital for Deserted Children in the may not sound overly inspiring (and for two tired house movers it almost wasn't). By interval however, we'd witnessed deceit, child trafficking, and infantile genocide - all in disturbingly graphic detail. Baby corpses are not something you see on your average Saturday night out... and not something I want to see again. But, I'm glad I have. It gave me an insight into the nasty side of British history and was better than any Eastenders episode I've ever seen. Did I mention the second half features shootings, drowning, love, lies and revenge? There are also some amazing choral pieces thrown into the mix.

To jar my nervous system even further, it also happens to be fireworks season. I hate the damn things. Why anyone want to risk life and limb by setting light to explosives is beyond me. You're all mad. To every one of you that lit a firecracker, shame! Every dog, cat and Katie Spain in the country is suffering from the after shock. Thank you very much.

Seriously, over the weekend children were hurt, a dog was blown up and a horse was killed. Don't even get me started on what a waste of money the nasty little time bombs are. New shoes will get you further and won't give you burn marks.

Blister marks however, are another matter. I knew I shouldn't have lugged those boxes wearing heels. They just don't make staircases like they used to!

This week better be a good one – my sanity depends on it.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Interview with Darius

Here it is, in article form... transcribed in full... what a tedious job! They day that computers do it automatically, I'll be set. Bring it on...
Interview with Darius Danesh

Beware - there’s a phenomenon sweeping across the television screens of Britain – musical talent searches. Like them or hate them, programmes such as Pop Stars, Pop Idol and The X-Factor blast into our living rooms and bring us the good, the bad and the downright abysmal musical wannabes that the UK has to offer.

Most contestants leave the public limelight (and our memories) as quickly as they arrive – but one seems to have struck a chord, and a good one at that. Darius Danesh came third in the 2002 Pop Idol competition and five top chart hits have since proved that he is no loser. The girls (and guys) love him and now he’s about to begin a new chapter - The West End. From November 21 he’ll spend eight weeks playing the scheming Billy Flynn in the hit musical Chicago.
As a baby, Darius hummed himself to sleep. His first performance was as a four year old Peter Pan, the musical, and now, his talent, borne in childhood is obviously making a comeback. Katie Spain caught up with the gentle Scottish giant to find out whether he’s up to the task.

1. What made you decide to give theatrical life a go?

I was in the middle of recording my third album and I’d written a song on my second album called ‘The Devil in You’ and it’s a throw back to ‘Cole Porter’ and the great jazz standards from the Sinatra era. One of the producers heard the song and they liked it – they saw a photograph of me and it was an American producer who puts on the show on Broadway. He said “that kids from Scotland… we’ll get a good tall Scottish boy to play in the West End”.

It literally sprung from there – a phone call later (I was in the middle of recording in LA). They asked me to come in to audition – which I did. It’s coming up to the eighth birthday of one of the most successful musicals in the West End and on Broadway and they’ve asked me to be the youngest ever person to play Billy Flynn ever to take to the stage. I’m absolutely over the moon.

2. Believe it or not, some people don’t know a lot about the musical. Can you sum up the kiss and tell storyline for me quickly?

Chicago is a wonderful story set in the 1920’s in the era of jazz and cabaret and liquor. It’s a jazz inspired score that tells the story, I suppose of an obsession with fame and celebrity of a character called Roxie who will do anything – beg, borrow, steal and even murder to make her way to the top.

Billy Flynn is the hotshot, smooth talking crook of a lawyer who’s only ever in it for the money. He manages to wheel and deal her through the various twists and turns of the story. There’s a rivalry between Roxie and the established jazz singer and fellow cell mate Velma Kelly (who in the film was played by Catherine Zeta Jones). Overall, it’s a wonderful story of death, sex and corruption.

3. Your character is a smooth talking lawyer… do you find it easy enough to slip into character?

I love the character Billy Flynn – I loved the Richard Gere role in the 2002 film of the same name and I thought that it was so apt that despite the fact that critics sometimes call him a crook, he’s actually very straight. If you really listen to what he says you see that when he says to her:

“I’m not interested in sex, I’m not interested in you. You mean one thing to me; and that’s $5,000. That’s it”

She’s offering him her sexual charms to represent her and he turns her down. He’s very aware of the smoke and mirrors that are evidently very much at his disposal in the court-room. He points out that:

“Not everything is as it appears to be”

He’s very much the man that conjures up the story that manages to get her out of being hanged. The other thing I love about Billy is the fact that he’s so very astutely aware of the perils of the fame game. When she says:

“They love me, they love me – I don’t need you anymore”

He turns around and replies:

“You’re a phoney celebrity kid… in two weeks they won’t even know who you are, and that’s Chicago”

It’s so relevant to today – to this celebrity obsessed fame game of Big Brother and people wanting to be famous for the sake of being famous. They’ll do anything – more than milk a cow… they’ll even masturbate a pig on national TV. It’s unbelievable what people will do for fame.
I only ever go into this business (which is a wonderful business) for the sake I think, of writing music and writing songs. One of the reasons I’m doing Chicago is because I love Kander and Ebb, the writing team who wrote Chicago and also came up with some of the wonderful jazz standards that Frank Sinatra sang. I just love music and I got into this business for very different reasons and reasons that don’t always require fame. Sometimes my favourite thing to do is to sit in my bedroom and write songs and play my guitar.

Of course, it’s great to be on stage performing to an audience – and that’s why I’m here.

4. Terrence Maynard played the part of Billy before you – what has his advice been? Have the existing cast been welcoming?

I’ve just started rehearsals and Terrence is somewhat of a legend – he’s an ‘old school crooner’. I’d love to tell you the advice he gave me but I can’t because it’s too rude!

5. Richard Gere played the role in the film – what an act to live up to! David Hasselhoff, Marti Pellow and Sacha Distel have also played the part on stage. It must be quite challenging to replace someone. What are your tactics to make the character of Billy your own?

Coming on to an established hit musical is somewhat like jumping onto a moving train. It’s already in motion – it’s hurtling along. It reminds me of the scene in Indiana Jones where he’s galloping along on horseback and through sheer will and faith in his ability, he grabs hold of the train. That’s kind of what I have to do with Billy Flynn.

Billy is a very well rounded and interesting character full of depth. He has a smoothness and ruggedness to him and there are a couple of great songs and a third number that’s really quite a showstopper. He’s the kind of character where, you need to understand his motives and can sing his songs (I know I can do that part). it’s getting under the character’s skin and really knowing where he’s coming from.

One of the films I’ve used to help me with that is a little known but well acclaimed Coen Brothers film called ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’. It stars Billy Bob Thornton and is Billy Flynn through and through – his character, his motivations and his movements are very much Billy from Chicago. It’s a really interesting process.

6. You were lucky enough to be head hunted… was there an auditioning process nevertheless?

I auditioned and they said that my voice was old enough and deep enough to take on the role, previously only occupied by anyone over the age of 26. At 25 I’m the youngest but it’s something I really couldn’t turn down. It’s such a privilege and is a very flattering thing to be offered.

7. Is the rehearsal schedule gruelling?

The rehearsal schedule is at my mercy! Unfortunately for them, the music conductor and the dance choreographer are working EVERY night on the shows and then I have to say to them that I need to work early hours and late hours. They’ve been amazingly supportive and the cast have been great – they’re going to be performing with me soon and allowing me to fit in. It’s just a great cast and crew – it’s great to be part of something so special.

8. Have you found the jump from essentially being a pop star to a potential West End star intimidating? And honestly, are you nervous?

Honestly, I have a wonderful excitement that’s driving me through this. My first musical experience was actually performing with the Scottish Opera – which isn’t known because opera isn’t something that receives a lot of press attention. But it was perhaps, the most invigorating and awe inspiring introduction to performance.

I sang with the Scottish Opera and toured with them in the wonderful lavish production of Carmen. I was also part of the little known but fascinating operatic performance of the Trojans. That gave me a hunger for performance and for music that I haven’t ever been able to shake off. From there, I went to university and performed in amateur theatrical productions and sang with the Royal National Scottish Orchestra’s Chorus. I then moved on to do Pop Idol and perform pop songs.

My background is one of a mixture of different musical styles – from classical to jazz, to a love of rock through the Brit Pop Era and tearing away from the opera scene to actually get into a rock band and write my own songs. Although doing Pop Idol is the thing that people know me for, it was actually something that was one chapter of three or four introductions that had come before it. Now, I’m starting a new chapter because it’s such a privilege to be in the West End, at Christmas, performing a wonderful role on a hit show. I’m really looking forward to entertaining people and hope they enjoy the show.

9. Speaking of nerves… is stage fright a problem for you? I assume learning lines for a theatre performance must differ somewhat from performing your own songs?

It is very different. Knowing your own songs well enough means that you can always make the lines up if you forget them! I’ve often done it when I’ve been performing ‘Colourblind’ or any of the songs from the last couple of albums. The fans up the front sing along and often that puts me off so I deliberately change them – just to see the look on their faces.

Billy Flynn has so much text, performing in a show that is so well versed and so precise is a bit like a role from ‘A Few Good Men’. In the film, Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise have a very wordy court scene and there’s something very similar in Chicago. You find that you do lose your place… you trip up over your words and invariably land flat on your face. It is a distinct possibility – but you know, it happens when you do anything, from performance to extreme sports. I love to sky dive – and don’t ever plan on using the reserve. You just go out there, brace yourself and give it your best shot.

10. What’s your favourite moment in Chicago?

I love the moment when Roxie is coming face to face with Billy. She suddenly breaks and says “I’m nervous, I’m really scared” and he says “don’t worry kid, it’s all a circus… these trails, the whole world – the whole of showbiz is a three winged circus and the trick is to get ‘em all to jump straight through your rings”

It’s amazing; he treats it almost like a game or an act. And you know, he’s absolutely right. The trick with being in show business is not to take anything too seriously and to laugh and enjoy it. Enjoy each moment even when you have criticism – take it on board. I actually use it as a positive thing. You know, you can’t improve or learn without criticism… then it’s great when you’re praised because that’s the icing on the cake.

11. Are you a theatre buff yourself? What’s your favourite musical/play?

I love the theatre. I love Shakespeare because I grew up with a love of books and studied English Literature at University. I also studied Shakespearian performance for years and learnt a great deal. It’s a great love of mine.

12. A-Listers and pop stars are sometimes given some flack for appearing in musicals… sceptics seem to argue that it’s more of a novelty to get punters in. I saw As You Desire me last week starring Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins and I have to beg to differ – it was astounding. Have you encountered any negativity?

No, I mean Bob Hoskins performing in the West End is actually kind of where he’s from. It’s really weird but people have a certain of perception of a performer... whether they be a pop star of actor and if someone wants to add another string to their bowl or to indulge in something that’s a dream for them. Or, maybe they simply want to return to something that is their natural love – if that in turn, brings a wider audience to something that is a great show then I think it’s wonderful thing.

Hugh Jackman, who everyone knows from the X-Men and Swordfish, is a great actor and a great screen idol. The reality is that his love of performance came from the stage. In fact, he won a Tony for being on Broadway in ‘The Boy from Oz’. That’s where he was discovered – on Broadway. If someone were to turn around and say “Hugh Jackman is an amazing singer” you wouldn’t necessarily associate that with him. You associate him with Wolverine and with having big metal blades coming out of his hands. It’s part of the wider scheme of show biz in that, if you can perform and if you can do it in a music video or on Top of the Pops then maybe you can do it in a different way on the West End.

13. You took time off from your singing career to care for your father who was terminally ill with cancer - 18 months after the diagnosis he is in full remission and you’ve decided to resume your career… he must be one proud man. Has it been a hard decision to make after an understandably uncertain year?

No, it’s wonderful – I am very lucky in that I have a wonderful family that are very supportive; we communicate with one another. My dad was diagnosed with a very bad cancer that had spread from his lymph glands to his bone marrow to his spine. Clinically he died… his heart stopped and thank God he came back. He got stronger and stronger and beat the cancer through a series of very heavy and full-on conventional treatments and also through complimentary medicine. Now as a doctor, he is writing a book about a doctor’s perspective on cancer recovery and I’m helping him a little bit with it.

In January we were so lucky in that a song that I had written for him ‘Live twice’ was released and went on to be a hit (my 5th top ten in the UK) and he was alive to see it and hear it and that was a dream come true. So, I’ve been working on my third album and I can’t wait for my family to come down from Scotland and see Chicago – they’re all dying to come down and see it. They’ll be there on opening night – my brothers and mum and dad. It’s a great thing to be able to share happy moments with the people you love the most.

14. Your album, Live Twice was a big hit; five top ten chart hits is no mean feat. You’re also releasing a third album next year. Not to mention performing in Chicago. Where do you hope to go from there? Is theatre the future?

Well, if you’d asked me just a month ago what would I be doing this Christmas I would have told you I was going to be in Los Angeles, with my family having turkey roast in the sun. That’s not going to be happening because I’ll be on stage, performing eight shows per week until the end of January!

As you can see, my life takes many different turns and often they are unpredictable. There are a number of opportunities that I embrace and enjoy and try to learn from as much as I can. So what I try to do is to live each day as it comes – something that was particularly underlined when my dad became ill. Now that he’s well, my aim is to spend some quality time with my family and aspire to improve as a songwriter.

I also want to work closely with charities that are close to my heart. The Lymphoma Association is a wonderful charity that raises awareness and supports those who are diagnosed with one of the fastest growing and most misunderstood cancers. The Princes Trust is another that I am an ambassador for and which I support because I think it’s one of the most inspiring charities in the UK. In terms of its support of young people who perhaps have not had the chances that they needed in life, or have been abused, hit the streets or have been in trouble with drugs. It gives the opportunity to help them so that they can help themselves and it’s something I’ll be doing for years to come.

As for performing, it’s the love, the heart and the passion of what I do and I hope to be entertaining people in different ways for many years to come.


Good luck on your debut night Darius – steal the show! The lastminute.com audience voted Chicago their favourite musical in the 2003 and 2004 Big Star Awards. Maybe with your influence we’ll see you in there next year.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Darius joins Chicago

I just met and interviewed Darius - popstar turned stage actor. Despite never having seen him before in my life I was blown away by his truly down to earth nature. I was expecting an arrogant alpha male. Not on this day anyway! He's taking to the West End to play Billy Flynn in the musical 'Chicago'. In the past, Richard Gere played the film role - big shoes to fill. Lucky his feet looked huge...

I'm not one to be impressed by celebrities - and to be honest, I'm usually wary of them. but to his credit, he charmed me right through. Lucky we did the interview sitting down though - he's a giant! (true, I am pint sized... but even the men in the theatre looked small in his shadow)

I'll publish the full interview next week - but first there's a splitting headache to deal with, Nurofen to pop and Marketing drinks to be consumed. All on the eve of the flat moving weekend. Oh my poor aching brain!

See you on the other side...

The Next Big Thing

Headlines of the Day

What?? A Norwegian youngster can be excused for regressing after a carnivorous lizard emerged from the family toilet as he used it. Geez, and I thought redback spiders were enough of a loo hazard. Yes, the little critters (and that's putting it nicely) hide under the seat - a bite from one and you're in some serious trouble!

The birds of the world look to be in an even worse position... and working yourself to death is obviously possible. I swear, I feel like I'm close to it today. But then again, that may have something to do with my thumping hangover. My head feels like someone has forcefully inserted an entire packet of cotton buds into my ear holes and I swear, they're trying to come back out of my aching eyeballs. Self inflicted torture. I ask for no sympathy but I damn well expect some!

Yesterday was an absolute mad rush. Work, then a dash to the radio station to pre-record my show (a good-un if I do say so myself). Listen to it here: The Big Smoke Wed 6-7pm
As soon as I closed my final link I switched off the mic and bolted to the South bank University for a blogging/new media convention 9all in the name of work) and spent 2 hours learning about the future of blogging - I KNEW my time wasn't being wasted!

7pm marked the spot for me to make like Cinderella and battle the pouring rain in an attempt to get to the Playhouse Theatre in Embankment. Gaz and I were there for the press night for The Next Big Thing - a musical following the British music scene - from the Beatles to Brit Pop and all the b**ll**cks in between. Two large glasses of white set the scene for me - or, more to the point, set a very hazy scene. The British gags and references passed straight over my little head - but obviously Gaz was tall and British enough and laughed at them all.

I was more than entertained by his explanations of the celebs there. I still have trouble recognising anyone! I managed to get a few interviews though - with people in the industry and a hilarious woman with more free champagne under her belt than me. Not famous but a fruitcake with a hell of a lot to say about everything. Then again, so did I. My champagne-fuelled tongue took now prisoners and I even tried to set Gaz up with a date. Or so I'm told. Listening back to my recordings will be priceless.

I ended up leaving at 2am (believing it was before 12.00) and had to wait an hour for the night bus with only the wind and a soggy Tescos egg and cress sandwich to keep me company. Again, my no carb vow of sandwich chastity was broken in an instant. I blame the bubbly!

So... tonight's catch up plans with the Sultry Swede have changed somewhat. Drinks at the Londonist party are cancelled - my blood needs time to return to 0.00 on the blood alcohol-o-meter and my head just won't cope. A refined dinner at Mantra Vegetarian is plan B. To be honest, plan B-E-D suits me better right now. BUT girly catch-ups need to happen... it's for the good of my stress levels. Just not so good for my baggy eye dilemma!

Even a lunchtime shuffle through The House of Fraser was enough to perk me up - even with a 25% off sale thrown in to the equation. I did manage to buy 2 Xmsas pressies to take home though. Honestly - they'll call me Mrs Claus when I show up on the tarmac laden down with gifts.

Right, time to plug my latest X-in the City column, and then head to the coffee machine. My hit awaits!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Return - Review

It's raw, it's gripping, it's overflowing with aussie accents and it's full of beautiful people. No, it's not the latest episode of Lost - it's 'The Return' . I chat to lead actress Natasha Beaumont.

It's not often that you attend a theatre performance in London then get to mingle with the stars in the bar. It's also uncommon to sit in a venue so intimate you can hear the breathing of the actors on the stage before you. What's more, it's not often that you go out, expecting to see a show, and end up being transported to another time and place - in this case, my homeland - Australia.

The award winning Birmingham Stage Company presents the British premiere of 'The Return'. The charisma-filled venue doing it justice is The Old Red Lion in Islington, and if the opening night was anything to go by, this little gem is going to do extremely well.

Set on the last train to Fremantle, The Return is Australian writer Reg Cribb's dark comedy following the train journey of two ex-convicts passing time by harassing fellow passengers. Utterly convincing in their performances, Alistair Scott-Young and Will Irvine send a chill down the spine of every young man and female ever bullied at any time during their life. If you do manage that drink after the show, take note; they are also gorgeous. Line up ladies!

When a young girl boards the train, she becomes the target of their attention. Natasha Beaumont envelopes her character's discomfort, fear and undogged determination to stand her ground. Meanwhile, fellow passengers sit quietly, doing nothing. Elizabeth Elvin must receive a special mention for her sharp portrayal or Maureen. The laughter she evokes is a much-needed tension-breaker. Neal Foster, Artistic Director of Birmingham Stage Company plays the role of 'The writer' - silent for the most part but a key character nonetheless.

Director, John-Paul Cherrington obviously has faith in the ability of his cast to hold their own. And that they do… and more. The simple set enhances their on-stage chemistry and adds to the character's isolation - and the audience's discomfort.

The Aussie slang plays a large role in the authenticity of the play - the English may find a few phrases unfamiliar (nonetheless amusing) but for the Australians amongst you, it will make it all the more convincing.

Now, I'm the first to admit that it's difficult to locate a taste of Australia here in London. The sun and surf aren't even worth contemplating and the Aussie bars and pubs are the epitome of a messy and forgettable night out. For the record, country pubs are not like like 'The Walkabout' - and Fosters is not 'the done thing'. I avoid both like the plague and welcome any theatrical performance that showcases the sheer talent emerging from the land 'down under'. For Australians and English alike, this is not one to miss. If you leave with fifteen quid in your back pocket you'll even have enough cash left over for a pint - of anything but Fosters!

Testosterone aside, the female star of the show is Natasha Beaumont. She may cower in feigned terror on stage but this blonde is one feisty piece of work. You have to be to tackle the acting world full on. Back in Australia, she's somewhat of a household name. Notches on the film board include 'Dark Love Story' and the upcoming 'Little Fish' with Kate Blanchett and Sam Neil.

The couch potatoes of the world may recognise her from 'Farscape', 'The Lost World', 'All Saints' and 'Water Rats'. Theatre buffs may have seen her in 'Amigos', 'Chicks Will Dig You', 'Six Hot Shots' and 'Crazy Brave' - just to name a few.

Natasha is testament to the success achievable by following your dreams and a self-confessed tarot junkie (mind the pun!). She's also a down to earth Aussie girl who's up for a chat and a good old gin and tonic to boot. I had a chat to her recently about life in London, stealing the stage and the eye candy involved. The perks of the job hey?!

Q: what can we expect from the show?

A: A really gripping, modern play. Makes you think about a few things and is loaded with tension, black humour and surprising twists. Definitely a good night out.

Q: It's a dark comedy... do you find it challenging in terms of content?

A: It does have some quite dark moments sitting next to some good laughs but each seems to serve the other. There have been some definite challenges in rehearsing the material, just maintaining that intensity all day can be hard work!

Q: You've featured in a number of television shows in Australia, has taking to the stage been refreshing?

A: Yes! The stage rocks! It's such a different energy to television work where everyone is kind of overtired and overworked and stressed out a lot of the time. Television deadlines are intense.

Theatre is a lot more playful and as an actor you are involved at such a different level. You use your whole body to communicate on stage, a bit like dancing, and the audience is right there in the room with you. Whereas on camera it's so often from the neck up and it's all about the damn camera!

Q: Even for such an established and talented actress, is stage fright ever a problem?

A: Not so much stage fright but opening night nerves can be awful. Performing in my first big show opening at the Sydney Opera House was totally petrifying. I don't think I'll ever be that freaked out again! But after opening night nerves it then just becomes more of an adrenaline rush.

Q: You grew up in a very creative environment - both your mother and father were extremely creative. Your mother used to mother used to direct nightclub shows, and I hear you were entranced by the costumes. Do you think this influenced your creative streak? (My father used to be a DJ at the Blue Light Discos and I used to sit atop the speakers watching the 'big kids' dance and flirt away. I'm sure that lead to my current dream of being a professional (and paid) radio presenter!

A: Absolutely. It's definitely true that saying being bitten by the bug. When you're around people putting on shows from a young age nothing else in life seems as exciting!

Q: After growing up in Kuala Lumpur, moving to Sydney at 20, where you attended uni... and then trained at the Charles Stuart University. Did you always want to be an actress and was it a hard path to follow?

A: I went to uni to study set and costume design but I always secretly wanted to act! I chose the course ‘cos I knew I'd get to do lots of performing if I wanted (plus there were lots of cute boys in the course...he he he) By the time I graduated I knew I had to give acting a shot or I'd always regret it. Although I've been pretty lucky with getting work, life as an actor breaks your heart. Repeatedly.

The competition is just so fierce and there are so many talented people out there. There's no justice, rhyme or reason to who gets work and who doesn't in the end. But having said that, it's a damn great job when you're working!

Q: What do you miss about Australia?

A: Mates!!!!! Family, sunshine, Newtown and Bondi. And having an already established career...

Q: I hear you are into astrology and are particularly addicted to Tarot cards ... my housemate recently gave me a training set to get me started. Any tips? As of yet, I am too nervous to give it a go!

A: Yes I'm a tarot junkie! But don't worry, there's nothing googledy-boogledy about them. They're just a reflection of your own sub-conscience really. It's uncanny how the same card will keep turning up at certain times of your life. I think it's healthy to be sceptical, but if you're naturally drawn to these things they're so worth exploring. Just be sensible and don't keep asking the same question in slightly different wording ‘cos you don't like the answer you're getting! I know, I know, I'm a sad case...

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring creative superstars?

A: Persistence really is the key. Time separates the wheat from the chaff. A lot of people pursue creative careers when they're young but as the reality of life as an artist sets in they turn elsewhere, God knows I nearly did! But just hang in there. Talent is always eventually discovered and honoured. And being able to wake up everyday knowing you're doing what you really want is a fantastic feeling. So many people don't in life... It takes guts man!

Congratulations on your success so far Tash and best wishes for the show. We'll see you on stage!

The Old Red Lion Theatre
418 St John Street
Islington EC1

25 October ­ 26 November
Tuesdays ­- Sundays 8pm
0200 7837 7816Tickets £12 (£10 concs)

Directions: A one minute walk from Angel tube

Udder strikers

Headlines of the Day
Courtesy of The Independent

Quote of the day

"I don't drink... I was born looking like an alcoholic" - David Randall

I met David Randall last night... Assistant Editor of The Independent. He's a man that obviously has a lot of journalsistic experience under his belt and he wasn't afraid to share it with us. He presented a Q & A at CSV Media and spent the evening firing off advice on hor to become a top reporter. inspiring stuff. I know he's a journalist so feigning interest is his forte but we chatted afterwards and for 5 minutes David Randall was interested in my story. Where I've come from and where I want to end up. He's apparently off to Australia soon - to a wine region above Sydney. Hence the "I don't drink comment" - (after I suggested he should bring back half a vineyard).

I came out totally inspired... as I do after talking to anyone who's made it big time. He told us of a comment made by a marathon runner after winning a race in which he was tipped as third favourite.

"My heart wanted it more than their legs"
Well, as far as my writing and art is concerned - my heart wants it more than their fingers... And as for radio - I want to rule that microphone til the day that I die. This little voice wants to be heard!!As for the headlines, the dairyfarmes issue seems to be a big one. Even Chris Moyles pondered over it on BBC1 this morning. I almost screamed with frustration at their total naivety when it comes to all things rural. Their ground breaking question was:

If the farmers go on strike and don't milk the cows, will the cows fill up and explode?

As a dairy girl at heart I guess I should understand the confusion of city folk. The thought of my dad's 2,500 cows filling up and exploding at random as they go about their bovine days cracks me up. It just doesn't happen that way - cows 'dry up' if they're not milked. Usually, a cow would only produce milk when she's given birth... to feed her calf. As long as the calf suckles she keeps producing... so, essentially, farmers milking the cows is a way to trick the cow's body into producing more milk. The more you milk them, the more they produce (within reason!). It's exactly why dad has to make sure each cow in the herd calves down each year. to keep 'em pumping that milk out.

And that's your agricultural lesson for the day. Is anyone listening? And that's your agricultural lesson for the day. Is anyone listening? You never know when your udder knowledge is going to be called upon.

I can't believe I remember all this from my farm days. The joys of teet pulling!! It's all coming back to me now... I can't wait to go home and ride a motorbike along the beach.

As for terrorism in Austalia - if anyone touches paradise there'll be hell to pay... it honestly makes my skin crawl.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What's a Geordie?

Headlines of the day
(courtesy of the METRO)

OFFICIAL: You're British if...
You know where Geordies come from
You know what a TV Licence covers
You know a bit about divorce

Ha, well - I'm not British then - but I never said I want to be.I have no idea where a Geordie comes from though maybe it's the same as a Brummie?I don't think I even have a TV licence though I don't have a TV myself so I guess I'll learn when I get one in the new flat this weekend. As for divorce, i'm not married and don't plan to be this week so I'll postpone any research into that one for now. I don't plan to divorce the person I marry either - though who does?

After a mad rush to the radio station last night I managed to record an interview with the organisers and dancers in the Taste of Africa event which is being held to celebrate the end of Black History Month. Hopefully I can go along to this one - I couldn't attend the pamper day because I'm white. VERY white after being here in the UK for 2 years with no sun rays.

Ooooh, my stomach hurts!! Too much salad and rice cakes for me today. You eat healthy and STILL feel like exploding. I guess it's the killer notion that 'it's healthy so I can have twice as much'. I've reverted to coffee today too... it's that or sleeping on the keyboard and I have to go out later so don't want the sexy indentation of the 'Esc' key on my forehead.

I've been exploring the world of blogging lately and can't understand how people find the time to do it with the obsessive regularity of a serial blogster. What do you people do all day? Are you skipping meals in order to keep your finger on the blogosphere? Are your teeth, children and hygene being neglected? I work online, in the blogging field and still I barely have time to search through the sea of blogs out there. I've got a list of 'favourites' waiting for me to give them thier undivided attention - but finding time to breathe is more of a priority at the moment.
Right now, I steal half an hour of my lunch break to type my rambling thoughts and upload it when I've finished work. That is, when I remember!

NEWSFLASH - The Swedish Seducer has just emailed her latest dilemma (honestly, the trivial questions that spout from that woman are the highlight of my day).
Todays' question is pulling at my medical strings - "do you know what to do with terrible back pains? quickly? I need to go to dinner tonight and my back is killing me. It's not a normal PMS thing, its just a really annoying thing"

The prognosis: Go to Boots and ask! If in doubt pop Nurofen... and then tell me who on earth this mystery date is with? probably the same Karma sutra practising sod that gave you the back ache.

Am I not a good friend?

I bought a new pair of shoes today - I was stressed after being too stingy to pay the £20 to transfer our bond to a new account. THEN had to totter my way through Lodnon in search of another bank - with £750 burning a hole in my purse. I had images of armed bandits and cowboys and indians springing from the alleyways. Never again.

Anyway, the shoes fixed the grey hairs that were threatening to sprout. Close one.

Right, back to exploring blog world. I have to admit, the presence of a regular comment maker has me intrigued... bless you commentor! ("bless you???" how English does that sound! I'll have to ditch that one before I hit home soil or they'll send me packing.

What else is new for modern day London... the new Madonna song is out - can't say I'm overly impressed. It contains ABBA though so I'm sure the afore mentioned Swedish bombshell will love it. Anything even remotely related to Eurovision and she's a goner. Don't even get me started!!

Gawd I need a cocktail...