INTERVIEW: We caught up with Midlands-born Soul Diva Beverley Knight
Midlands-born soul diva Beverley Knight will take up her first pantomime role as The Fairy Godmother in Birmingham Hippodrome’s Christmas production of Cinderella alongside Danny Mac, Matt Slack, Suzanne Shaw, The Grumbleweeds, Ceri Dupree and Phil Randal . The much-loved recording artist, radio presenter and musical theatre actress has been a mainstay of the UK music industry for over 20 years having released 8 studio albums and stormed worldwide charts with hits including Get Up!, Shoulda Woulda Coulda, Gold and Come as You Are. Dluxe Magazine’s Jonathan Fraser caught up with Beverley to find out more.
Thanks for talking to us today, what am I interrupting you doing? I’m assuming rehearsals haven’t started just yet?
No but I am on the way to see the show’s Musical Director. I’ve got a musical meeting with him to sort out a few things like what key for what song and all the stuff connected with panto world so yes it’s getting started!
You’re originally from the West Midlands and the accent is still there which is fabulous, are you looking forward to playing to a home crowd?
I am- it’s a big part of why I said yes to doing panto because it would mean I would be very near home for the whole of the Christmas period. I just thought there was nothing better really. I’ll be able to spend Christmas Day and any other time off with the family and they can all come to me whenever they fancy as well. It couldn’t be more perfect.
Christmas Eve I’ll come off stage and be sauntering along. Just 15 minutes, Birmingham New Street to Wolverhampton and Mums House. Fabulous. Done.
Does Mum do a good Christmas dinner?
She smashes a Christmas dinner, she is so good! I have contemplated one year all going out somewhere, so Mum isn’t in the kitchen all day, but I’ve got to run it past her first because she might say aw no I want you to come to my house.
So, I suppose each performance is going to be like a family reunion- are they’re going to be queueing up at the dressing room door afterwards?
The short answer is yes. The various shows I did in the West End it was funny because there were so many members of friends and family who’d come to the stage door. It was always so busy, and they’d be paging me ‘Hey Babe the theatres got to close now can you get out your dressing room’ things like that. I imagine it’s going to be that to the power of 10 when I get to the Hippodrome, but it makes it all fun and fabulous so I’m so excited.
And of course, you’ve got Danny Mac in this show who has got a certain allure for people to come and see. Have you worked with anybody in the cast before for this show?
No, I’ve not worked with anyone yet. I know Suzanne Shaw so that’s lovely; she’s just the most gorgeous, lovely woman. I met Matt Slack at the show’s launch at the Villa ground and he is just a really funny guy, he’s just naturally fabulous. Danny wasn’t at the launch as he’s already in another production, he was doing something else but I’m really looking forward to seeing him. He was brilliant on Strictly.
I’m in great hands. Everyone is more experienced than me in the world of Panto, so I’ll be the newbie.
Your West End pedigree is fantastic. Was Panto always part of the plan for you?
No not at all, although , like most people in Britain, I’d seen pantomime as a child. What happened was one half of the production company who do The Bodyguard also do all the very big Pantos in Britain. Unknown to me whilst I was in the Bodyguard, the producers were having little chats to my management saying we quite fancy Bev for our production this coming Christmas. When my management eventually told me about it I was like Yes! Count me in. It hadn’t occurred to me but when the idea was put in my lap I was like of course, yes. This means that I actually get a very Christmassy Christmas.
And you can’t be any more Christmassy than playing the Fairy Godmother to be honest.
It will be twinkles and fairy dust all over the place.
This is it, I’m hoping that there’s going to be lots of glitter, flying, a bit of magic?
There will be. They’re working on my costume and I’ve seen some of the materials and I was like oh yes, that’s gonna work. And there are some songs for me as well. I think some are original compositions which is nice because they’ll be different, and I have a feeling because it’s me, they’ll be a couple of things they will throw in which will be covers which everybody will know. I’m open, bring it on, let’s just do it and have a good time!
Do you build up strong relationships with other cast members, especially when you’re pulling something together and you’re creating something. Is it like long lasting relationships?
You do. This is a shorter run but we’re seeing each other twice a day, every day. Literally from morning to evening every day you’re gonna be in and out of each other’s pockets so I imagine it will be very much like the West End where you build up relationships very quickly. That camaraderie, t doesn’t just disappear once the shows done, I’ve seen a ton of my Bodyguard family, I see a lot of my Memphis family and I’m still in touch with my Cats family and that was a short run; only three months over the Christmas period two years ago. These relationships really do continue which is a really lovely thing, so I imagine it will be just the same in Panto.
Obviously with the singing career, you’ve collaborated with some absolutely amazing performers, such as Prince, Chaka Khan. Is there anybody in the world of musicals that you’d really like to collaborate with.
I’d love to work with Cynthia Erivo, who I know really well. She is currently killing it on Broadway doing the Colour Purple. She’s just the loveliest woman, I just love her, she’s great and you know one hell of a talent.
In terms of legendary status, I would want to work with Bette Midler, she’s on Broadway right now doing Hello Dolly.
You’re just about to release an album with Amber Riley and Cassidy Janson. How did that come about?
Since all of the West End success my label had mentioned that they’d love me to do something with the West End scene in mind. I thought Bev does Musicals, hmmm, I’m not sure that’s the kind of album I want to do. So, I kinda parked the idea and then I saw CJ in Beautiful and I thought wow, there is something of the Streisand about this woman. I was just so drawn to her voice and I just thought she’d be someone great to sing with -that was before I got to know her as a person! Not long after that I saw Amber Riley on Graham Norton doing promo for Dreamgirls, obviously singing And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going and thought she’s fantastic, wouldn’t it be great if the three of us got together and something? It would be much stronger than me just doing some kind of musicals album on my own as it would be unprecedented and really exciting. So, I went back to label and said what do you and they were all over it. Which was great, so they did all the leg work in terms of getting me in front of these girls and seeing if they’d be up for it and Thank God, they were.
I’ve only heard one track from the album so far Seasons of Love from Rent which was sounded divine!
With me hitting that blinking top C.
That’s the one- good work! What’s your favourite song on the album?
For us to do all together it’s got to be Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow from Beautiful, the old Shirelles hit because we sing it from start to finish in three-part harmony. It’s that close warm harmony and we do it as a ballad with all the poignancy, all the feeling, all the heartbreak of the Jerry Goffin original. It’s there but stripped away. It’s brilliant and we’re all singing together which is the whole premise of the record.
Are there any songs on there that have given you a thirst to perform more shows? Like I really want to do this one on stage?
To be honest, all the songs on the record I’m looking forward to one day, fingers crossed, being able to perform with Amber and with CJ. We’d love to go on a tour and if the record does really well, I’m pretty sure we’ll have that chance.
I would 100% be buying tickets. What would be your dream musical role be?
Probably Anita in West Side Story but I’d need to learn how to dance first. I can’t dance. I see both Amber and CJ are trained dancers and then there’s me. I can move, and I can dance, obviously I had to dance for Bodyguard and for Cats, but I’m not trained, and I have to work at it. It’s just one of the disciplines I never trained for, well I never trained for anything never trained vocally. But dance is a very specific skill and the kind of dancing required in West Side Story is top draw. It’s the top of the top of the top so I’d have my work cut out for me but just as a fantasy I’d love to be Anita. It’s my favourite musical of all time.
What is it about West Side Story that captures your heart?
It’s the story, the story of how destructive hate can be but how powerful love can be. It’s a story of innocence, it’s a story of a few hard lessons in life. It’s got this fabulous funny undercurrent but there’s a whole bunch of satire and biting truth all the way through it and I love that. And the song and the score oh my god. If I had one musical score to listen to for the rest of my days and that was the only thing I could listen to it would be West Side Story.
What’s next for you?
Well I’m hoping that the next thing I’m going to be able to say is that Leading Ladies is going on tour- that would be lovely. I will be of course working on a new record because that’s my blood, it’s what I do. And who knows there might be a show somewhere on the horizon, we’ll see. At the moment, I don’t know, but ever since theatre came into my world my life has been so unpredictable! Things just seem to pop up. We’ll see. I’m ready and I’m open.
See Beverley as The Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at Birmingham Hippodrome from 19th December – 28th January. To book your tickets visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com or call the box office on 0844 338 5000