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Lesley Joseph on a north coast pub crawl, working with May McFettridge and why she loves Eamonn Holmes

Famous for playing TV's Birds of a Feather man-eater Dorien Green, Lesley Joseph will take to the stage in Londonderry's Millennium Forum next Tuesday in the musical Annie. Una Brankin finds out more.

Published 17/02/2016

Long living: Lesley Joseph is 70 and her mother will celebrate her 104th birthday later this year
Long living: Lesley Joseph is 70 and her mother will celebrate her 104th birthday later this year
TV gold: from left, Lesley with her Birds of a Feather co-stars Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke
On stage: Lesley as Miss Hannigan in Annie
On stage: Lesley as the Wicked Queen in Snow White & The Seven Dwarves, at the Grand Opera House with John Linehan (centre)

Watching Lesley Joseph dancing on stage in a clip from the stage musical Annie, it's hard to believe she is 70 years old. But the London-born actress has good genes - her mother, Rebecca Mundy (nee Maccoby) turns 104 in May.

Rebecca, who was born a month after the sinking of the Titanic, in May 1912, has a birthday party every year, and had her daughter's Bird of a Feather co-stars Linda Robson and Pauline Quirke in attendance at her big bash last year.

"My mother is 104 in May and she is an inspiration," says Lesley. "She is a fighter and has a heart of gold. She is surrounded by love and I think that gives her a will to live. I think the phrase 'They broke the mould when they made you' was meant for her."

Lesley's hitting these shores next week for her role as the tyrannical orphanage owner Miss Hannigan in Annie, for a one week run at the Millennium Theatre in Londonderry.

She has been receiving good reviews for the tour, with critics praising her accomplished singing and dancing skills, as well as her sparky stage presence.

"Oh thank you, although I don't read reviews," she replies to my congratulations on the notices. "I don't know if I've had good or bad ones. I did ballet when I was a child and didn't really have singing classes, though I could probably do with them … I've done a lot of musicals and I love them."

One fussier critic did mention Lesley's wavering New Yorker accent on stage, which sometimes lapses into her native Hackney, but raved about her charismatic acting skills.

"I didn't study any accents," she admits. "I did Annie many years ago and have done many American plays since, so I hope it's all right.

"I've seen most of the film versions of Annie but, to be honest, I much prefer the stage show to the film. I like Kathy Bates and Carol Burnett, but they are so different. I always prefer live theatre anyway, as I think it is so wonderful to have that magic created in front of you.

"I also find it hard watching other people interpret a role you are about to do as it can influence your performance."

Back on our screens with the much loved Birds Of A Feather sitcom, mother-of-two Lesley also finds the time to review the newspapers on GMTV - she loves our Eamonn Holmes - and has hosted a Sunday morning radio show on BBC London 94.9. She also stands in for Vanessa Feltz on her weekday morning talk show when Feltz is on holiday.

And on top of all that, there's the Annie tour. Doesn't she find it exhausting?

"I am so used to this life touring that I find it invigorating rather than tiring," she says. "I do, however, make sure I always have enough sleep and I drink a lot of water and I love walking, so I often go exploring round whichever town I am in. It's great because I see some places I may not otherwise have seen."

A keen Spurs fan, the Jewish actress now lives in Hampstead. She has two children - Andrew (33) and Elizabeth (31) - from her four-year relationship with businessman Carl Littlejohn, nine years her junior.

In Annie, she dons a red wig for her role as Miss Hannigan, and it has to be said, the colour is rather more flattering than the soot-black bouffant she sports as the man-eating Dorien Green.

The wig and lurid make-up make her look like rocker Alice Cooper. In real life, Lesley prefers a softer image, and she's not a fan of Botox or fillers.

"I make sure I cleanse my skin and I use Liz Earle products and always moisturise at night," she explains. "Also drinking lots of water helps keep your skin looking good. If you are wearing a lot of make-up for a show, you have to cleanse every night, so you get into a routine of cleanse and moisturise. I also have occasional facials to deep cleanse and to help the skin."

As for her enviably good figure, she puts her shape down to yoga.

"I am a bit obsessed with it at the moment - I try to have several classes a week when I can. I'm much more supple than I was and it is great for calming the mind and for relaxation," she says.

"When we brought Birds back in 2014, I had a personal trainer for several months to retrain my body and I've tried to keep that up, though I have a weakness for cake, so it can be hard. I try to eat well and not too much, and never late at night."

A natural comedienne, Lesley also appeared in serious stage drama in her younger days, including Chekov. As she has matured, she has steered toward comedy roles, however, such as the stage version of Calendar Girls in the West End. And from December 4, 2010 to January 22, 2011, she made a compelling Wicked Queen in Snow White & The Seven Dwarves over here, at the Grand Opera House, Belfast. "We went on a trip to the Giant's Causeway, via nearly every pub in the area - that was great," she recalls.

"I did the panto with John Linehan and I loved every minute of it. He is very, very funny onstage, though sometimes he thickened his accent and I couldn't understand a word.

"I really loved my time at the Opera House with John and would love to go back."

Long before Snow White, the ever-popular actress also performed in an earlier run of Annie in the Opera House in Belfast.

"I have done several shows in Belfast - I have always loved being there, as I have always found the people to be such fun and so generous. I'm really looking forward to coming to Derry."

As good as she is as a newspaper reviewer, Lesley's heart is in acting.

"I enjoy working with Eamonn Holmes - he's very witty, clever, kind; a very natural broadcaster," she says. "But I only ever wanted to be an actress, so being a journalist would never have crossed my mind. I did love having a talk show on BBC London. I did that for three years and really enjoyed it, but I don't think anything would ever take the place of performing - as long as I can get a good long holiday afterwards."

You don't need anything but Annie

Annie, the world's favourite family musical, comes to Londonderry's Millennium Theatre from next Tuesday for one week only.

Set in Thirties New York during The Great Depression, brave young Annie is forced to live a life of misery and torment at Miss Hannigan's orphanage.

Determined to find her real parents, her luck changes when she is chosen to spend Christmas at the residence of famous billionaire Oliver Warbucks. But spiteful Miss Hannigan has other ideas and hatches a plan to spoil Annie's search…

With its award-winning book and score, this stunning new production includes the unforgettable songs Hard Knock Life, Easy Street, I Don't Need Anything But You, and Tomorrow.

Dates: Tuesday, February 23 to Saturday, February 27

Times: evening, Tuesday-Saturday 7.30pm; matinee: Wednesday 1pm, Saturday 2.30pm

Tickets from £19-£41. Tel: 028 7137 2492 or visit www.millenniumforum.co.uk

Actresses who have played role over the years ...

  • Five actresses played the redheaded orphan during the nearly six-year run of the original Broadway show (1977-83), including Andrea McArdle - the first Annie - and Sarah Jessica Parker. Hollywood stars like Molly Ringwald and Alyssa Milano also got their start as supporting orphans in various productions
  • Actress Andrea McArdle was the original Broadway Annie. Back in 1977, McArdle was pulled from the chorus of orphans to replace Kristin Vigard, who producers reportedly felt was not tough enough to play the street-smart orphan. McArdle became the youngest performer to be nominated for a Tony Award in the Best Lead Actress category. Since then, she has spent most of her career performing in musical theatre and cabarets, including Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast and Annie Get Your Gun
  • Sarah Jessica Parker may be best known for her role as Carrie Bradshaw in the Sex and the City TV show and films, but back in 1979, SJP took over for Bruce as the title role of Annie. Shortly afterward, she was cast in the CBS sitcom Square Pegs. The rest, as they say, is history
  • Actress Allison Smith was the longest-running and youngest Annie star, playing the role for nearly three years, performing in the show more than 1,000 times. She later starred in the sitcom Kate & Allie and had a recurring role in the popular drama The West Wing as Mallory O'Brien.

Belfast Telegraph

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