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Calendar Girl Lynda Bellingham talking to Scenesouth
11:49am Monday 8th November 2010 in Leisure
You’d have thought that after nearly a year playing Chris in Calendar Girls at Chichester, on tour and in the West End, that actress Lynda Bellingham would have had her fill of the character for the time being. Yet here she is, back on the road, finding new aspects to Chris and apparently loving every moment of it.
“I can’t believe it myself,” says Lynda. “There aren’t many plays that I would do again but Calendar Girls has a very special place in my heart. I’ve never done a play where you get such a level of positive feedback – it’s so uplifting. Everybody can relate to this show: people who come to see it all have similar stories to tell.
“And now my son Michael’s in it, playing Lawrence, the photographer. I’ve already told him that seeing his mother naked is going to send him straight into therapy!”
Is Lynda not worried about revealing all in front of her son?
“It would be very different if Michael were playing Hamlet and I was Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother. Or if we were playing a similar mother-and-son relationship in Coward’s The Vortex, with that hint of incest. At the same time, it’s very important that the ladies trust the judgement of the actor playing Lawrence and so I think my son is very well cast.”
Having worked so intensively for a year with one set of Calendar Girls, it must be strange to return to the production and explore the same territory with a completely new group of people.
“It’s very important that the actresses playing Chris and Annie have a very close relationship and since I’ve known Jan Harvey, who plays Annie in this production, for 35 years, there’s a kind of shorthand between us so that’s a great help. Although it’s hard not to remember the original cast, I’ve taken a serious pledge never to refer to how we did things first time around. That would be fatal.”
Although acting remains Lynda’s first love, she is busily venturing into other areas of creativity. She’s one of the regular pundits on ITV’s Loose Women, she’s written her autobiography Lost and Found and last year, she boldly sashayed on to the dance floor to strut her stuff on Strictly Come Dancing.
“I’m the elder statesman of Loose Women – I’ve done the smoking and the drinking to prove it,” jokes Lynda. “I love doing the live shows: it’s scary but you connect with people. We’re not Question Time but I honestly believe that we make a difference. It’s generally assumed that we all have somebody to talk to but I’d argue that there are a lot of people out there – women and students, mostly – sitting at home on their own and that Loose Women reaches such people. The show is an antidote to all the crap which we have to endure and in a way, Loose Women reassures the viewers that they are not alone. We’re often accused of being men-haters but in fact there’s an inherent love of men among us. Should we have men on the panel? Perhaps. But the point about men is that they are more competitive than women and they tend not to divulge their feelings in the same way.”
Lynda has decidedly mixed feelings about her stay on Strictly Come Dancing.
“I think you need to have a showing-off quality for that programme which, oddly enough, most actors don’t have. We’re actors rather than performers: we need characters to hide behind. I felt incredibly vulnerable, both because of the physical demands and because of worries about the dresses I’d have to wear. From day one, I felt out of control: it was as if the rug had been whipped out from under me and I never felt that I would ever find my feet. I loved the regime and I loved doing the routines and I could have danced all day but when you see how the professionals do it, you remember that you’re an actress and that there is no way you can be the best in this company. I’d also forgotten that they film you all the time and that the material is edited in a way to suit the particular role you’ve been given and that intimidated me.”
So why did Lynda put herself through an experience which she didn't enjoy?
“It’s very seductive,” she replies. “There’s a whole area of celebrity now that is the way of the world. It’s all about you maintaining your profile and much as I hate and detest it, you have to acknowledge the power of this idea. I thought that I’d be able to show people what a jolly person I am but the minute I said to Darren Bennett, my professional partner, that I was going to be the comic relief, his face fell. He pointed out that it was his job to teach me to dance. I always said that I’d never do a reality show and I went back on my word. It serves me right.”
Through her regular column in Yours magazine and now by publishing her autobiography, Lynda has discovered a hitherto hidden talent.
“I do like writing and I hope that people won’t dismiss me as yet another celebrity, trying her hand at doing a book. I have a tale to tell which a lot of people will identify with. I get to indulge myself but I also hope that I’ll be able to share something with readers through the act of writing.”
Authorship and journalism have opened up new possibilities for Lynda.
“I always used to think that by the time I’d reached 60 then all the other actresses would have fallen by the wayside but there’s just as much competition as ever. But the success of Calendar Girls has encouraged me to think that I might be able to keep a play together. I’d love to write fiction next – how dare I even say such a thing? – and I’d love to move in that direction. I like the writer’s solitary existence. I can shout to myself, for example. And unlike with the day job, I don’t have to kowtow or be nice to anyone.”
Lynda appears in Calendar Girls at The Mayflower from Monday to Saturday.
Tickets: 023 8071 1811 or visit mayflower.org.uk.