It’s the best job I’ve ever had so I think I’ll keep it this colour

Kate Somerset How, pictured at The Rainbow Centre, Fareham, dressed as Rizzo, the character she is playing in Grease at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
Kate Somerset How, pictured at The Rainbow Centre, Fareham, dressed as Rizzo, the character she is playing in Grease at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton
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Beneath this curly black wig is a flaming crop of red hair.

Kate Somerset How is a natural blonde. Last year she went red. She says it was the best move of her life.

Within weeks of the image change she landed the role which has given her the platform to reach for possible stardom.

For the past week-and-a-half the former Fareham schoolgirl has been playing one of the leading roles in the musical Grease at the Mayflower in Southampton.

Every night she has transformed herself into Rizzo, the sassy, girl-with-a-reputation you see in the main picture here. She’s treading the boards on the stage on which she dreamed of appearing since she was first taken to that theatre as a child.

‘I’d been blonde all my life and then last year I decided it was time for a change. As soon as I dyed my hair red I got the part of Rizzo, a national tour and a year-long contract.

‘I’m quite feisty. I’m much more polite than Rizzo but the red hair must have helped give off the right impression for this role.

‘It’s the best job I’ve ever had so I think I’ll keep it this colour.’

And Kate has had plenty of jobs. Non-acting ones. At 28, she is no starry-eyed youngster straight out of drama school.

‘There’s no stability in this profession, I know that. It might all end tomorrow, but I feel that I’ve got the grounding, and that’s all down to my parents.’

Her background is hardly conventional. Her mother is Helen Somerset How, the founder of the Rainbow Centre at Fareham for children with cerebral palsy. It’s currently celebrating its 21st birthday.

Kate is a twin. Her brother Tom was born severely disabled with the condition and as a result Kate spent much of her early years travelling across Europe to Budapest to the Peto Institute where he was being treated. The institute was the inspiration for the Rainbow Centre.

‘We were a bit of a shuttle family. I used to go to kindergarten in Budapest. I used to listen more than I would speak but I understood everything and to be exposed to a different language when you’re six or seven was fantastic.’

But throughout all the upheaval of those years, Kate knew her ambition was to perform.

‘It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I always wanted to perform. It was a childhood ambition.

‘My dad used to say he always knew I’d have something to do with music because at my christening I was tapping the hymn rhythm on his shoulder.

‘I loved performing in school carol concerts and singing solos and I appeared every year in the school plays.

‘I first played Nancy in Oliver! when I was nine and that cemented everything. From then on I knew I wanted to make musical theatre my life and trips to shows at Ferneham Hall in Fareham and the Mayflower made me all the more determined to succeed.’

Kate went to school at West Hill Park prep school at Titchfield before going away to the Royal Hospital School, near Ipswich, when she was 13 – a moment which she said had defined her life.

Her father was in the Royal Navy and it is still a school with strong naval traditions.

‘When I went there we marched up to the mess and we used to do divisions every Sunday in full naval uniform. It gave me a huge appreciation for the forces and also for discipline which gave me a great grounding for my career.’

But was it not difficult for a 13-year-old from a very close family, to pack her bags and move 130 miles from home?

‘The first term, yes. I grew up in the Fareham area, had been to prep school at Titchfield and suddenly I was five hours away. It was very difficult and in the winter Suffolk can be very bleak and very cold.

‘But my mum has since told me she found it very hard when I would ring every day crying down the phone. She wondered then if she had made the wrong decision.

‘She hadn’t. That school gave me the kind of opportunities I would never have got anywhere else. The sport was fantastic. I did English Schools’ Athletics to a very high level – 200m, 400m, long jump and triple jump and then there were the choirs. There you were not a geek if you were in the choir. It was something you were held in very high esteem for.

‘We sang at the opening of a new wing at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, we sang every year at St Paul’s Cathedral’s seafarers’ service and at the Royal Albert Hall for the service of remembrance, all fantastic experiences.’

Kate adds: ‘Boarding school set me up perfectly for university [Eng Lit at Brunel in London]. I remember, during freshers’ week, being astounded at 19-year-olds who were crying because they were away from their parents for the first time.’

She had wanted to go straight from school to a three-year course at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

‘I sat down with my dad when I was about 16 or 17 when we were choosing universities. I wanted to go straight to drama school but my dad’s very traditional and said he supported my career choice but wanted me to do an academic career so I had a back-up.

‘I’m so pleased I took his advice. I feel much more grounded for following that path.’