Beauty and The Beast panto star Nicki French gets Malevolent at Ferneham Hall in Fareham
Nicki French may relish playing the baddie when she takes to the stage as Malevolent in Beauty and The Beast in Fareham.
But her fellow cast members are more likely to be in for a treat than a trick, as there is nothing the performer loves more than to bake in her down time.
‘I think they'll all be getting lots of cakes and biscuits from Frenchy this year,’ she told The Guide with a laugh at the Ferneham Hall panto’s launch day. ‘I'm very particular about where I stay so that I can I can still do my baking. I've already got a couple of orders in place from people today.’
Nicki, who represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2000, was last seen on stage around here when she played The Ice Queen in Santa Claus The Musical at Portsmouth’s then recently reopened New Theatre Royal, back in 2014.
‘Oh, that was fantastic,’ she recalls, ‘The audiences were quite small because the theatre was reestablishing itself at the time, but it was such a fun show to do. And I loved it.
It made me very emotional every evening, every show, because it was so Christmassy. It was so beautiful to watch – all of the costumes and the dancers.
‘And my role was just this manic, mad harridan – so not typecasting at all!’
Earlier in her panto career, Nicki was usually offered the good fairy role or similar. But now she much prefers to be naughty to nice.
‘Oh, definitely. Last year, the panto I did, they said you could either do the good fairy or the wicked witch. There's no competition – I always go for the wicked ones now!
‘I love it, as I always say it's the only time I want to be booed on stage, but you know you've done your job right if they do, so that's good.’
The show also stars former EastEnder and Dancing On Ice runner-up Matt Lapinskas as The Prince, and Nicki was looking forward to getting into the rehearsals.
‘This is the first time I’ve worked with any of the others in the cast, and it's my first panto for (production company) Jordans as well. I've only ever heard good things about them. Everybody I know who has worked with them says they're super company to work with.’
And will she be sticking to the script?
‘I think my part is going to have lots of rhyming couplets, so I can't veer away too much, but I'm sure there's certain people in the cast that are going to try and make me laugh and things like that.
‘They all seem such a lovely, lovely bunch. I know I say that every year, but they really do.
‘I only met Matt and Charlotte (Christensen, Beauty) for the initial photoshoot, but we we all met up again today as though we've known each other for years.’
Nicki also has family ties to Fareham – her parents lived there, but moved away before she was born.
‘I was talking on the phone to my sister just the other day and she's already said they’re coming to see the show and wants to see where we used to live.’
‘They moved before I was born, because dad was in the navy.
Her three siblings were born here, but Nicki was born in Carlisle.
‘It's going to be interesting, and if I can get the address from someone, I will try and find the house.’
Nicki also scored a huge international hit with her 1995 version of Total Eclipse of The Heart – it made number five here in the UK, but reached number two in the US, and topped the charts in several other countries.
After Beauty and The Beast, Nicki only has a week off before heading into rehearsals for a new show – Menopause The Musical 2, a sequel to the hit show Nicki has also starred in.
‘I will drive home on January 5, and then on January 12 I will be going up north to start rehearsals for this, and I’m going to be on a six-month tour. It’s going to be really full-on – I’m very excited.’
BEAUTY & THE BEAST
Ferneham Hall, Fareham
December 13-January 5