Michelle Heaton and Peter Dean are counting down the days until start of Harpenden panto
- Credit: Archant
Whether it’s singing with Liberty X before stadium crowds or strutting out as Aladdin in panto, it all comes down to entertainment for former pop princess Michelle Heaton.
“I love singing, but for me it’s just performing - it’s entertaining people that I enjoy. I like to see people getting their money’s worth, to leave and go ‘That was great, they were brilliant, I loved this bit, I really enjoyed that bit’, rather than say ‘She’s got a great voice’, that doesn’t bother me. I don’t profess to be the best singer in the world, I just want to entertain the crowd. That’s what I always set out to do.”
Michelle, 36, is looking forward to appearing in her third pantomime in Harpenden this Christmas, joining ex-EastEnder Peter Dean at the Public Halls, despite having initial reservations about her role as the lead male.
“At first I was a little perplexed, ‘How am I going to play a man?’, but it’s not like that, it’s different in panto. It’s not like I have to scrape my hair back and dress like a man per se, people know I’m a lady! And it means I get more lines, so there’s more pressure, although Faith my four-year-old is not impressed that I’m not Princess Jasmine!
“She’s very excited, but she totally gets that it’s a panto and I’m only playing a character, that I’m not really having a sword fight with Abanazar – she doesn’t run on stage and try to bash him!”
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Perhaps surprisingly for someone who made their name as the lead singer of a Brit Award-winning pop band, Michelle’s first love was acting, so she’s happy to be treading the boards again.
“I went to Newcastle Performing Arts School and focused on drama, straight acting. That was what I wanted to do, I wanted to be on stage, I wanted to act, and singing was something I loved but wasn’t something I was necessarily setting my sights on.
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“So it’s great that I get to do the odd panto, and maybe one day I might get back into it full time. The great thing about acting is that you can be any age, you can play any role, there’s always a role for your age bracket, so it’s not something I need to jump on immediately.
“I don’t want anyone to think I’m jumping on a bandwagon because at the moment there are a lot of ex-pop stars going into soaps, and I don’t want to be put into that bracket. So if it’s something that happens it will be something I take my time over.”
Of course, coming on the back of a remarkable career with Liberty X, she can afford to be somewhat picky about what decisions she makes now: “We were very successful, we had three albums, we toured the world and we ticked every box. It was amazing, it really was amazing, but do you know what, this is just as much of a kick for me. It doesn’t matter how many people are in the audience as long as they go away happy.”
Her co-star in Aladdin is best-known for his role as Pete Beale in EastEnders, but Peter Dean’s career has also seen TV appearances in the likes of Minder, Shoestring, Doctor Who and Coronation Street, and movie roles in Murder by Decree, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle and Up Pompeii.
But it has been in panto that he has been most prolific in recent years: “This is my 25th panto, and I often play the baddie, but I don’t mind because I don’t have to sing! Children love to be frightened, but I never play them really bad, I always play them with a little bit of a weakness, so I play King Rat allergic to cats, and start sneezing when the cat comes in.
“I’ve always been told that whatever you make your name at, never change, because that’s what they expect of you. The public come to see you, they don’t come to see Aladdin, they come to see Michelle Heaton or Peter Dean or whoever, and that’s what they want.
“My catchphrase is “treacle” for example, and that’s because in EastEnders there was a long scene going round in a circle with Den and his mistress, and after about the eighth take I’d forgotten her name, so I said, ‘Alright treacle’ and from then on there were letters coming in and people would stop me in the street…”
Michelle laughs: “If he says it now I think, ‘has he forgotten my name?’”
An old pro like Peter has very set ideas about what people expect from his performance: “A lot of people who come to pantomime don’t go to the theatre the rest of the year, so it’s a treat for them. Never play it as you think you should play it, find something deeper inside you. Every night is different, if you made a mistake the night before you might have got a laugh, but don’t play it the next night because you won’t.”
Michelle reveals what we can expect from Aladdin: “It’s a traditional panto in that you know the story and you know what’s going to happen, but it’s just funnier, and there’s little bits in it for everybody. The songs are really diverse, a couple of Liberty X songs, some current chart ones, Defining Gravity from Wicked, old school songs like I’m A Believer… Great dance routines, lovely costumes, and best of all a flying carpet!
“I like the energy that it brings, the unpredictability of the crowd, you as an actor can change every evening to suit that crowd, whether it’s just schools or more adults in the evening, and good actors can tweak their performance to make that audience enjoy it more.”
Aladdin is at Harpenden Public Halls from December 11-22. To book tickets call 01582 767525 or visit www.harpendenpublichalls.co.uk