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'People used to think I was Pam Ayres, she was like my nemesis'

Comedian and writer Victoria Wood discusses mistaken identity, why she'll never appear on a panel show, and how she became more confident with age. By Gabrielle Fagan

As requests from fans go, Victoria Wood has grown accustomed to a particularly odd one. "'Beat me on the bottom with a Woman's Weekly.' That's what most people say to me," the comedian, actress and writer reveals. "But hey, I'll take that."

She's referring, of course, to a line from her wickedly funny song The Ballad Of Barry And Freda (Let's Do It), about an amorous wife trying to lure her reluctant husband to the bedroom.

"You get people asking you to write it down. You think, 'God, it'll take me ages to write that...'"

Then there are the times Wood, 61, has been mistaken for poet Pam Ayres - despite looking nothing like her.

"She was like my nemesis," says the softly-spoken, Lancashire-raised star.

"People used to think that I was Pam Ayres for many, many years because we were both on the telly at the same time - I was on New Faces and she was on Opportunity Knocks.

"She had brown hair, she was much taller, and she was from Oxfordshire. You'd think, 'Get a grip people, we're nothing like each other.' Jeez. Two women, they must be the same."

People have also got her confused with fellow comics Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Jo Brand, but you get the sense the Dinnerladies star is too gracious to correct them. "I just go, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah'."

After winning the talent show New Faces in 1974, Wood has gone on to land her own sketch shows and sitcoms (often appearing alongside close pal Julie Walters), sell out the Royal Albert Hall with her stand-up, and receive a CBE in 2008.

Most recently, she wrote and directed That Day We Sang, a BBC Two musical about a middle-aged man and woman (played by Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton) who meet at a Manchester Children's Choir reunion.

When penning a script, Wood isn't "one of these tortured writers".

"I'll have breakfast, sit down at my desk and start, and when I think I've done enough, I'll stop. I'll work at it every weekday until it's finished," she says. "I'll take breaks for lots of cups of tea, walk around the garden, go to the shop - it's not good to sit there all the time."

Her confidence in her output - which ranges in scope from witty ditties to her current project, writing her first feature film - has grown over the years.

"I just know now that the first thing I write will be really terrible, I don't worry about it. When I rewrite it, it won't be quite so terrible, and by the end it might be OK. So I'm not scared of it any more. I used to panic, but now I don't."

Wood has also overcome the shyness she experienced as a younger woman.

"It's just a gradual thing really. A lot of very extrovert people on stage are very introvert off it, it's a well-known phenomenon. That's why we do it, because we want to dominate a big group of people, but we don't want to do it off stage."

"I don't think (shyness) is a very attractive thing in a person who's over 60!" she adds. "I think you have to get over yourself at some point; you have to have a lot of self-belief to be able to stand on stage and tell jokes and to write things and think that they're OK. I think I'm quite good at my job, that's all I think. I've done it a long time."

Wood wasn't tempted to star in the all-singing, all-dancing That Day We Sang (because "A. Didn't want to; B. Too old; C. Didn't want to"), but music is "everything" to her.

"It's such a powerful thing," says the star, who confesses she loves singing in the car and whistling along to the theme tune of BBC Radio 4's The Archers.

"I think music evokes memories more than taste or smell really. If you hear something, you're immediately jolted back to the time that you first heard it or when it was part of your life."

Wood has passed on her passion for music to Grace and Henry, her two children with magician ex-husband Geoffrey Durham, who she separated from in 2002.

"One's training to be an opera singer (Grace) and one writes pop songs (Henry)," says Wood. "I think that it's fantastic that what they do is really different from what I do."

One of her favourite ways to unwind is watching "anything weird" on TV with Henry.

"We get crushes on things, me and my son. We did a lot of (US reality show) Dog The Bounty Hunter, which we're not doing so much now. I watched a thing called The Ladykillers (on BBC Two) the other night which is about ladies catching moths, mice and rats. That probably wasn't quite as interesting as they thought it was when they had the idea..."

Wood recently resurrected her baking skills to take part in - and win - The Great Comic Relief Bake Off.

"I used to bake a lot when my children were little, but I don't much lately. But when they said do you want to be on Bake Off, I thought, 'Yes I do, I want to get in that tent, thank you very much'," the Star Baker says with a smile.

"Once you've seen Paul Hollywood behind the tent, smoking, you're not so scared of him. Mary Berry, she's more scary - she's definitely got little laser eyes. She's disappointed that you haven't greased your foil," Wood adds, before erupting into laughter.

One thing she won't be signing up for is a comedy panel show.

"I think panel shows are just like a zoo, really. I don't think any sane woman would ever want to be on them. They're just a separate thing and they're not anything to do with comedy, they're to do with competitiveness and testosterone and I don't think they're interesting ... On (Bake Off) I was competitive, but if I hadn't won, I wouldn't have minded. That's the difference."

Besides, at this stage of her career, Wood can afford to be picky about what she takes on. "I'll always have one of my own projects on the go and if other things come in, I think, 'Will that be a laugh or not?' If I think it will be a laugh, and if I can wear a flat shoe, then I might do it. I can't wear stilettos. I've got a bunion," she explains with a chuckle, "so I have to be careful".

Work-wise, Wood is happiest when she's almost finished a script and is working out the logistics of casting and shooting it. "The organisation and the teamwork, and the energy, that's the bit I really, really enjoy."

  • That Day We Sang is available now on DVD and digital download

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