Ruthie Part 2: The big break

WEST End star Ruthie Henshall lives in America with actor husband Tim Howar and daughters Dolly and Lily. In part two of this definitive series, JAMES MARSTON asked Ruthie about her big break, which included prime time tv bringing her to a whole new audience, and the pressures of being in the public eye.

WEST End star Ruthie Henshall lives in America with actor husband Tim Howar and daughters Dolly and Lily. In part two of this definitive series, JAMES MARSTON asked Ruthie about her big break, which included prime time tv bringing her to a whole new audience, and the pressures of being in the public eye.

FAME has been a “slow burn” for Ruthie who is now one of the leading musical actresses of her generation after a glittering career that has kept her in the public eye for nearly 20 years.

Her life has been well documented, her achievements are well known, and she is grateful for what chances life has offered her.

Ruthie is happy with her lot. As she sits and chats to me in her New York apartment, Ruthie is like any other young mum-she just happens to have a high profile career.


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The 39-year-old, said: “A bit like Charlotte Church, I have done a lot of my growing up in the public eye. Life has its ups and downs but I am very fortunate.

“I am married to an extraordinary man and I have two extraordinary children. If these are all the cards I get dealt, then life has already been amazing.”

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Drinking a morning coffee and looking after her children at the same time, Ruthie reflected on her recent television appearances which have once again added to her fame.

Hit BBC TV series The Sound of Musicals, which aired in January and February this year, propelled Ruthie into a prime time slot.

She said: “In one night I worked out I played to more people than I played to in six or seven years of my career.

“It was about five million people which really shows you the power of television.”

TV is an experience Ruthie clearly enjoys.

The Sound of Musicals was a four part series starring several musical theatre actors and professional singers , who performed songs from different musicals. Each week the cast was joined by a celebrity guest host who also performed their favorite numbers.

The show also featured interviews with people involved in the world of musical theatre, like Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Cameron Mackintosh.

Ruthie said: “I hope I can infect people with a love of musical theatre. There is great energy in musical theatre.”

With a number of awards under her belt and critical acclaim, Ruthie Henshall has enjoyed success that many actors can only dream of. Although never out of work she remembers well her biggest breaks in show business.

It was in the early 1990s as Fantine in Les Miserables at London's Palace Theatre, that Ruthie made her mark. In October 1995 she recreated her role for the 10th anniversary of the show at the Royal Albert Hall.

She said: “Performing keeps your profile up. I knew Fantine was big for me because I was so nervous. It was the tenth anniversary show of Les Mis and I was very nervous about it.

“They videoed the performance and it is amazing how many people still talk to me about that video and that performance.”

Her second big break also came in the 1990s, when she was nominated for her first Olivier Award as Polly in Crazy For You in 1993.

She said: “That Les Mis concert, and Crazy For You were my big breaks in my career.”

She added: “Fame is not something you look for, but when you get it, it does afford you an awful lot more in this business. You get better wages and better choices. Fame for me has been a slow burn.

“Crazy For You propelled me into the limelight, but not everyone cares about musicals, so it has been 20 years of various shows, press, publicity and television. For me, that has been a much nicer way of becoming famous.

“It is for what I do, as opposed for just being famous - and I'm glad about that.”

Though famous enough to be stopped in the street, Ruthie isn't yet a household name but she has seen what that can be like.

She said: “I dated a soap star for a while who was on television. I was shocked how people treated him in the street. It was as if they owned him.

“If someone can see you on the stage and meet you afterwards they do not feel they own you in the same way. Mine is a different type of fame.”

But success in showbusiness brings with it inevitable media interest. Ruthie said: “I don't find the press intrusive, and I have generally found them to be very kind towards me. I've never had anyone be nasty to me but I do know what sells papers.

“I think that people believe everything they read in a newspaper, and sometimes you can feel a bit misrepresented, but that is part of being in the spotlight. Perhaps it is interesting that people don't see you in the way you see yourself.”

Ruthie's past troubles have been well documented.

Stories have appeared in the media about her highs and lows including suicidal thoughts, past abuse as a child, her parents' volatile relationship, her workaholic nature, her emotional problems.

But today, as she reflects on her obvious happiness, that part of her life is well and truly behind her.

She said: “Whatever happened in my past I am so over it. I am contented woman. I no longer feel the need to discuss my personal life with people.”

Famously linked to Prince Edward in the early 1990s, Ruthie has never dished the dirt about her two-year relationship with the Queen's youngest son and it is clear she isn't going to now. Her relationship with the prince who went on to marry Sophie Rhys-Jones, is not a subject on which she volunteers information-and why should she?

She said: “I can understand this fascination with the Royals and that it is news, but I have never said anything more about them and I am not going to say anything new.”

She famously split from fiancée John Gordon Sinclair in 2000.

Now though, she said: “My life is in such a good place at the moment. I've been given an extraordinary career and I am trying to be the best mother I can.”

Her last role was as Marian in Andrew Lloyd Webber's A Woman in White, at the Palace Theatre, London.

She finished her run on February 4, before moving to New York and it was a hectic time.

She said: “Right now I have just done A Woman in White and I am not missing eight performances a week. You think it is just eight performances and it will be fine and you'll get to spend time with your family but there is all the press and publicity that goes with it and that is continual.

“There are also the rehearsals. I was commuting from our home in Manningtree and staying in London on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

“I didn't get to see my children. I was trying to breastfeed and be a mum, and play this mammoth role and make it my own.

“Doing a show like that, takes a lot of energy and you have to put in 150 per cent.”

Things have calmed down since then and, now in New York with the pressure off, Ruthie is enjoying time with her children before her next project.

See tomorrow's star to find out more about Ruthie's family life in New York and her views on motherhood.

In 2001 Ruthie released her third solo album entitled Pilgrim.

Chicago Velma 2003

Cats five roles in Cats 2002

Peggy Sue Got Married Peggy Sue 2001

Chicago Velma 1999

Chicago Roxie 1997

Ruthie Henshall in Concert 1997

Oliver Nancy 199

Les Mis - 10th Anniversary Concert Fantine 1995

She Loves Me Amalia 1994

Crazy for You Polly 199

Miss Saigon Ellen 1991

DESPITE her petite size and diminutive form, Ruthie is well known for belting out the numbers.

Officially a mezzo-soprano, Ruthie's voice has a range of two and a half octaves.

She said: “People are always saying to me you look so much taller on stage. I've always had a loud voice. The voice is a muscle and it will do what you tell it to do.

“I've never read music. To me notes are just gobbledegook. It's not that unusual in the business. I can tell where it's going, but I work by ear.”

Name: Valentine Ruth Henshall

Born: March 7 , 1967 in Bromley , Kent.

Ruthie wanted to be a ballet dancer originally.

In 1998, she headed to America to establish a career on Broadway. She won a leading role on Ziegfeld Follies of 1936, then starred as Velma Kelly in Chicago, and later in Miss Saigon and Putting It Together.

She returned to the UK in 2001 to return to the West End stage starring as Peggy Sue, in Peggy Sue Got Married, gaining her a fourth Olivier nomination.

She married actor Tim Howar in September 2004 , and they have two children.

Until moving to New York this year, the family lived in Manningtree.

James Marston's visit was in association with Thomson.

Thomson America & Canada offers short breaks to the four-star art-deco Millennium Broadway in New York. Prices start from £445 per person for 3 nights' room only including flights with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow. Call 0870 403 0651 or see www.thomson.co.uk

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