To many people, Dani Harmer is instantly recognisable as Tracy Beaker. She’s graced our screens as Jacqueline Wilson’s mischievous and imaginative girl who lived in a care home since she was 11.
But now Dani is 24 and is stepping away from the character that made her famous. Very far away, in fact, as the actress is starring in The Rocky Horror Show at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, from May 13-18.
It’s a deliberate choice for the young actress, and Southampton will be her first stop on the tour.
Talking excitedly, she says: ‘I can’t wait to get started. It’s one of my favourite musicals, although I’m quite nervous too.
‘I’ve never been to Southampton before, but on this tour I’m going to a lot of venues I’ve never performed at before so it’s something to look forward to.’
The production is well-known for the fans who attend and dress up as characters from the show, as well as the large amount of audience participation throughout.
Dani was offered the chance to audition for the role last year, not long after finishing Strictly Come Dancing in fourth place: ‘I still had to go and sing for them and stuff because I guess they need to know whether I can do it. But it went really well in the end.’
The actress will star alongside past EastEnders star Sam Attwater as her husband-to-be Brad (pictured on the front of The Guide). But the pair have worked together in the past, as Dani explains. ‘We worked together on a new musical last year so I know him well, and I watched him on TV while he appeared on ITV’s Dancing On Ice in 2011.’
Dani will star as Janet in the 1973 musical, a young prim and proper girl who becomes lost with her fiancé when they stumble across an old castle.
The weird and wonderful characters they meet inside, including the magnificent Rocky, change their lives forever.
Dani has only just come off the road after starring as Dorothy in the Wizard Of Oz, and she can’t wait to get back on stage: ‘I love touring so much,’ she adds.
‘I’ve played Dorothy about six times now and it’s always the same cast, and I love it. We have so much fun with it. It’s a magical role for me because I’ve always loved the musical.
‘When I do it I feel like I’m out on stage with my family. I love the songs and the ruby slippers. It’s all good.’
The child-star actress first came to public attention again towards the end of last year when she took part in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, alongside her professional dance partner Vincent Simone.
Vincent and Dani went on to take part in the final, and came fourth in the competition. But the whole experience came as a complete surprise to the actress.
‘I didn’t think we’d make it past the first week, so I didn’t even consider that we might make it to the final.
‘I really wanted Lewis (Smith, the Olympic gymnast) to win so I was so thrilled when he did. We had a great time and it was amazing really. I can’t believe how far we got.
Dani adds: ‘Before Strictly I’d never done a role where I had to dance on stage, so I feel a lot more confident about doing it now. Although I doubt I will be performing the foxtrot on stage with The Rocky Horror Show.
‘The show has definitely given me a lot of new opportunities and it was the best experience I ever took part in. Strictly took over my life, and that’s not a bad thing.’
But Dani isn’t forgetting her TV roots, or the fame that came with playing Tracy Beaker, as the actress went on to star in her own show, Dani’s House followed by Dani’s Castle, which aired in January on CBBC.
Dani, playing herself, has inherited the crumbling Bogmoor Castle from her mysterious great aunt Marjorie.
A big part of the production for Dani was that she produced the series, of which she’s very proud. And she hopes to carry on the trend.
Dani says: ‘I’ve always been interested in producing a show, so I was very lucky to be able to do it at my age because I’m only 24. It was amazing to do.
‘It’s a lot of work too, and I hope I get the chance to do a lot more. I love developing new levels in a show and being involved in the casting. I find it so fascinating.’
Playing the part came out of playing Tracy and Dani hasn’t forgotten that: ‘I played that character for 11 years of my life and obviously I’ll miss playing her, but it got to the stage where she kind of morphed into me. It was definitely the right time to move on.
‘I was only really known for playing her, which is fine, but it was a great thrill doing Strictly because it shows I could do other things too. It was the best move I could have made.’
Dani still keeps in contact with her friends from Strictly, but right now she’s looking ahead to the future.
After The Rocky Horror Show tour ends later this year, she’s hoping to finally take some holiday.
Dani says: ‘I haven’t been on holiday for a good couple of years now, so I think after this tour it will be time to take a break.’
Following that, she’s back on stage again for a pantomime in Reading, Jack And The Beanstalk.
But it’s good to be close to home, as she explains: ‘It’s only about 20 minutes away from where I live so I will get to spend Christmas at home this year.
‘I’ve never performed at the theatre before, but I did see The Rocky Horror Show there a couple of years ago believe it or not. It will be nice to get the chance to perform in my home town for a while.’
Dani Harmer appears in The Rocky Horror Show at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, from May 13-18. Tickets cost £15 to £33.50 on (023) 8071 8111 or go to mayflower.org.uk.