Why I shudder at the scrabble for fame

She's one of our most popular entertainers and a household name.

She's one of our most popular entertainers and a household name. Today, as Jane McDonald prepares to perform in the region, she speaks to PHIL PENFOLD.

You're always so bright and cheerful - so tell us something that you hate?

“Living out of a suitcase. I really do like having my home comforts around me, and kicking off my shoes to relax in my home surroundings. But all I ever seem to do is pack, unpack, and then get in the car to go somewhere. I always seem to be either on the motorway, in a hotel room, or in a studio or the theatre. But I'll be honest, I really don't want to change anything about my lifestyle. I am - I admit it - married to my work. I am a workaholic. So I may not be at home all that often, but when I am, I make it count. And, let's face it, I'm doing what I love, so how on earth can I complain?”

You still live in your home town of Wakefield in Yorkshire?

“Yes, and I share my bungalow home with my wonderful mother, Jean. It's a fairly big place, so we both have our own space, and we don't get on each other's nerves, it's a brilliant arrangement. We are in the same house, but we don't have to intrude on each other. I keep an eye out for my mum - and she watches over me as well, and that's a very agreeable way to play things. She's everything to me - mother, sister, best friend, the lot.”

How did you get involved with TV's Loose Women?

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“I was recruited when the production team called up and asked if I'd like to be one of the contributors. I first thought to myself 'What on earth have I got to offer them?' because after all I don't get to sing at all. I thought: 'expressing opinions, am I going to be totally out of my depth?' But as viewers will know, we really do discuss all manner of topics, and I'm rather surprised to find how old-fashioned I really am. I'm not quite Mary Whitehouse (yet) but maybe I'm going along those lines. Not prudish, exactly, but I do like good manners, politeness, and professionalism. My own view is that there's too much foul language around today, and that there are a lot of so-called sitcoms on the box that aren't remotely funny and which use far too many swear words. It's not clever, and for most of the time it's not amusing.”

You had a birthday in April 2008?

“I was 45 last April, why fib about something like that? I was born in 1963, and that's that! I'm astonished at how many people tell porkies about their age!”

What about all the reality shows on TV?

“I'm not much of a fan of shows like Big Brother. And X Factor makes me cringe, to be honest. I know that The Cruise was 'reality TV', but it was something much broader than BB - a genuine documentary about pretty ordinary people doing their jobs in less than ordinary circumstances. Not the same thing at all. I genuinely shudder when I see so many of those youngsters, most of whom have very little real talent, just scrabbling for their 15 minutes of time in the spotlight. I struggled for years to get the break I wanted, and I've worked darned hard for everything that I've achieved. All they seem to do is behave outrageously so that they cam 'achieve greatness' overnight! There's no discipline. What the attraction is really evades me. I can't work out what it is, I honestly can't. Poor things, what are they going to be doing in two years' time?”

The BBC looked back at The Cruise in 2008, with a week-long series of documentaries?

“They did! They looked at what five of us who featured in that show had achieved in the past decade, so it was very much of a 'where are they now' series, and while I didn't actually get back to the ship (The Galaxy) that we were all on, it was fun seeing footage of those days. Fun - and a bit of a shock, as well, because I kept on thinking 'Who on earth did your hair, girl?' and 'What on earth possessed you to wear that frock!' But then, when any of us looks through a picture album of yesterday, we get the giggles, don't we! Isn't hindsight wonderful? If I'd known then what I know today…well…”

You've got a tour of Britain's major venues and there was a recent new CD?

“That's right. The CD was called, simply, 'Jane' I think that you can justifiably say that you've 'made it' when only your first name appears on the sleeve of the album, don't you? I had a 65- piece orchestra playing on the CD with me, some brilliant new arrangements, and some of my own new songs that I'd written as well as classics by people like Barry Manilow. And there's an Edith Piaf number as well, If You Love Me…. It's been a huge delight to get it all together. And now I'm busy writing more new songs for the next one - I hope to record that in 2009, but where I'll find the time to get into the studio with my schedules, heaven only knows.”

You demand very high standards from the people you work with?

“I do, because when it comes to professionalism, all I can do is ask from others the standards that I set myself. I expect people to turn up on time, to pay attention to what the director is saying, and to look as if they'd paid a bit of attention to themselves. I respect the people in my team, and I ask for it in return. But…respect has to be earned.”

Any ambitions left?

“Plenty. I'd love to get some straight acting work at some time in the future. To prove that I can speak as well as sing. It would be another string to my bow - a challenge. And I always rise to a challenge, that's a huge part of my nature. But for the moment, I'm over the moon that I'm working in the places that I love - theatres and concert halls, and with some marvellous musicians and singers in my backing group. The backing group even have a fan club of my own!”

Audiences adore you… what's the secret?

“No secret at all. I'm just me. What you see is what you get. I love having a heart to heart chat between the songs, and they enjoy that. And I also give value for money to the fans. I'm not on and off in 20 minutes - far from it!”

You were very open when your marriage to Henrik (the Danish cruise director she met while entertaining on board the liner Galaxy) collapsed a few years ago?

“Yes, because my fans expect me to be honest with them. But at the time, I was crushed. You cannot imagine the pain. It was perhaps inevitable that we parted - he saw my career going in one direction and I thought it should go in another. He was not only my husband, but also my manager, and we had a staff of 13 people looking after me. Thirteen! I ask you! They did everything - but half the time I didn't know what it was that they were there for. The other - far greater - strain was that Henrik was at home doing all the managing, and I was always out on the road, performing all over the place. Six hundred million people saw The Cruise when it was shown across Europe, so I got to a point where I sometimes didn't know which country I was in, let alone did I know which city! When the split came, well, all I can say is that I felt terribly guilty in a strange sort of way. I thought 'Why did this have to happen to me?' and 'This is my fault'. You feel that everyone is looking at you, pointing at you, and thinking 'She's a failure!' That takes a long time to get over, believe me.”

And today?

“Well, I'm dating a lovely man called Eddie Rothe, who is the drummer with The Searchers. We go out, we have dinner, laugh and talk and enjoy the mutual company. We have a history together because we first met when I was working as a barmaid when I was only 19. Back then it was right man, wrong point in my life. Fast forward some years, and it all seems so…together.”

But can you live with your own company?

“Oh yes. No problem. I am very, very happy with being by myself - but I don't want that to be ALL the time. I like my home, the way I do things. I think that you get to a certain age, and you can be like that. Or some people can, and I am one of them. I am often alone, because Eddie and I have a lot of heavy work schedules - but I am never lonely. There is a very distinct difference! I've got a lot of very good mates, both in and out of the business, and I can go out to dinner with them as and when I want to, or have them over to my place. I have lots of people I can call and natter to…life's been very good to me in that regard.”

Describe yourself in a few words?

“I've always thought of myself as a down to earth person - I still shop for my knickers in Marks & Spencer, and I've been going to the same butcher for more years than I care to remember - and if truth be told, I really did think that when we had all those office staff, that I was getting a bit above myself. Now I feel so much happier. Things have gone back to having a sense of proportion somehow. Oh, and I'm also determined - and tenacious.”

How do you relax?

“I play my piano, and I read a lot, mostly biographies, which I enjoy. I love finding out about people, full stop. I have been known to flop in front of the TV and just glaze over! But work is just as much a part of my relaxation. That's the way that I am!”

If you could give some advice to an up-and-coming singer today, what would it be?

“If you are blessed with a gift, use it and enjoy it. You don't have to be a star to enjoy singing. And keep on learning and trying new things out. I do - there's something new every day of your life. Appreciate it! Live life to the fullest that you can…”

The Cruise seemed to come along at precisely the right moment for you?

“I was SO lucky to be in the right place at the right time. In fact, before I was booked on to that ship, I was in a sort of semi-retirement, and wondering what I was going to do next with my life.”

If you had your way with the TV schedules, what would you change?

“I just wish now that there was a lot more entertainment on the box, that 'variety' would come back. If you are going to create young stars of tomorrow in things like Fame Academy, where are they going to show their skills off if there aren't any variety programmes on TV? It's ludicrous!”

If it all finished tomorrow?

“Well, (touch wood there doesn't seem to be any indication of that happening), I wouldn't be unhappy, or upset. No way, goodness, no. I'd just be so grateful that for a while, I was up there and that I experienced something really special. Something that was unique to me. I think that I'm pretty much a fatalist in that regard.”

Do you have a motto?

“I do. And it is 'What's for you won't pass you by'. I should know. I was destined to be on that ship when the cameras turned up…it's as simple as that.”

Life has taught you that…?

“Not everyone is going to like you, and you can't possibly like everybody. But treasure the people you like and love.”

Jane McDonald will perform at Felixstowe's Spa Pavilion on Saturday, October 24. Tickets are on sale and are available from 01394 282126.

Are you a fan of Loose Women? Do you enjoy Jane McDonald's music? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk