Belfast girl Rachel Tucker on top of the world as she returns to West End stage
Rachel Tucker is on her way back to the West End - this time as the world's most bankable female star of stage musicals.
The Belfast singer has signed a lucrative deal to lead the cast of Wicked for the show's 10th anniversary run at the Apollo Victoria Theatre later this year.
And the 34-year-old won't need too much rehearsal time to reprise her role as the witch Elphaba in London - as she's currently playing the same role in the Broadway version.
It's a triumphant return to Theatreland for Tucker, who initially left the UK for her first attempt at Broadway stardom as part of the ill-fated Sting project The Last Ship, which sank in January last year after only three months.
But Rachel's performance as Meg Dawson, a woman caught up in a torrid love triangle, saw her heralded as one of the top 10 New York stage performers of 2014.
And when the American producers of Wicked were casting for an Elphaba to lead their new Big Apple show at the Gerschwin Theatre they didn't have to look further than the woman who had performed it more than 900 times in London.
Now she will star in a five-month run of one of the West End's most popular musicals, starting in September.
"I'm thrilled to come back to my old turf, my dressing room and work with the crew again," said Rachel, who added that she was now well aware of the fickle nature of fame.
"There are so many highs and lows; one day you're rubbing shoulders with Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, the next it's all gone and you're looking for work," she said.
Rachel, who has been married to theatre director Guy Retallack since 2009 - the pair have a three-year-old son, Ben - told the New York Theatre Guide that, despite her success, her initial goal was just to get some stage work.
"I dreamt of doing Wicked in London, and I never dreamed that I'd be doing it on Broadway, until I got into the West End show," she explained.
"Then I thought: 'I wonder is it possible?' You have to take it step by step by step. You can't just say at 21: 'Right, I'm off to Broadway!'
"It doesn't work like that. But I did say at 22 that my total and utter dream ambition would be Broadway and now I've done it twice in the space of one year."
She added: "The stars have really aligned for me over the past year. Whether that's luck or chance or talent... or maybe all of them.
"I'm a positive person and I like to always focus on the positive and if it all ends tomorrow, at least I've done it. It's the stuff dreams are made of."
Rachel - whose father Tommy 'Tucker' Kelly was a contestant on the talent show Opportunity Knocks in the Seventies - first made waves in the entertainment business as a semi-finalist on I'd Do Anything, Andrew Lloyd Webber's television search for an actress to play Nancy in a West End revival of Oliver!
After leaving the competition Tucker joined the West End production of We Will Rock You, starring as Meat and understudying Scaramouche.