Lesley Joseph speaks to Jasmine Storm about Strictly, playing a wicked queen and Masterchef
Jasmine: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I really appreciate it.
Lesley: Are you good at doing shorthand?
Jasmine: No not at all. Sometimes I go home and I can’t read what I have written.
Jasmine: You’ve gone from Mother Superior in Sister Act to a wicked queen in this year’s panto.
Lesley: Oh yes, that’s right.
Jasmine: I’ve seen the interview for Sister Act on BBC breakfast.
Lesley: Yes. I’m doing Mother Superior and then coming here for panto.
Jasmine: How hard is it to go from good to evil and which role is more fun to play?
Lesley: Oh, it’s as easy as pie as they are just characters that you get into and you do what that character does and what that character says. And going from good to evil is … I’m sure I will find some evil in mother superior you see, so its not all goodness. You have a script and you do what that character says or does. If one of them is evil and the other is very funny then that’s how you do it. It’s quite easy to chop and change between them.
Jasmine: Are you looking forward to people booing you?
Lesley: I don’t think they do boo her. They don’t so much boo; they do if I encourage them, and sometimes I do like to encourage them
Jasmine: Rob told me he is going to encourage them to boo you
Lesley: Oh, did he? I’ll have a word with him. I thought when Rob did it last year, it would be great as Rob could be my wicked queen lawyer. But then he goes down the stage of being the lawyer for Snow White, because he doesn’t like me. I’ll have to have a word with him. That’s fine if they boo as its lovely as you just talk back to them. You manipulate an audience really. You let them know when they can boo and when they can’t. And they don’t normally misbehave. They normally follow the guidelines you put them through.
Jasmine: What do you love about panto?
Lesley: What don’t I? I love panto because it’s a time the whole family can come to the theatre, its based on a fairy tale which means it’s got magic in it. Which means it’s not like a play or a musical even that has to follow a story. It has complete magic. So, you can fly. You can turn into a strange creature. You can dance. You can go under the sea. You can do all these things which create magical theatre. And when you work for Crossroads, which we do, they are wonderful at creating magic on the stage. The mirror turns, all sorts of things - when the dragon goes out over the audience, its unlike any other form of theatre. But It’s taken seriously as any other form of theatre so that it follows the story. It follows what happens but creates magic within it. Somebody like me, not the best singer in the world; not the best dancer in the world etc, pretty good at comedy even if I say it myself.
Lesley: You get a chance to do everything. You work with an audience and it’s the one time of the year that you can come with a granny, or a child, yes, they can come to musicals, but with this you’re talking very specifically to them and they can all get involved. Kids love it and it sets them hopefully on a path to spending the rest of their lives going to theatres, so for me it’s a magical time. I love two shows a day. If you have a matinée off you think oh that’s odd, I should be doing something because you get into the rhythm of it. I’m so used to it. I’ve done it for so many years; yeah, I love it.
Jasmine: It’s in your blood
Lesley: It is I’m afraid.
Jasmine: The legacy of Dorian will never leave you. Why do you think the country took Dorian to their hearts and do people still call you Dorian?
Lesley: They don’t so much call me Dorian, but I think they took her to their hearts because we made her a very rounded character. Number one, it was the first series, going back to 1989, where we used to go out to over 20 million people. It was the first series which starred three women in the main leads. In the very first episode, Pauline said ‘bloody’ and we got about 300 complaints.
Jasmine: How times have changed.
Lesley: Can’t even imagine now, can you? And it was funny. It was well written. And they were characters that you could identify with. The thing about Dorian was, she was glamourous. She was getting older but pretending to be younger. She was funny. She could be quite moving and we tried to base her on reality and not just a cardboard cut-out character. The most important thing to me, was to make sure she was real not just a joke who came in every time. She was flirtatious, she looked good. Trying to keep my weight down to wear all those short skirts was quite hard sometimes. It was fun. It was a fun series. It was the right place at the right time and people just adored it and still do and I got some very spicy letters.
Lesley: A couple of which I kept as they were so off the wall. You get a little bit nervous in case it goes to far and you just say right, I’d just like you to read that so you can keep your distance. But it was just one of those things that took off and you can’t sometimes identify why some series fly and some don’t. As I say, in those days, it was not as many channels as there are now. Over 20 million people.
Jasmine: I don’t think we will ever have that again.
Lesley: Well, they have but for things like World Cup. Stuff like that. But for Corrie or EastEnders, 10 million is huge. It used to be extraordinary.
Jasmine: And when you think about subscription TV like Netflix or Amazon Prime now. And younger generations, for example my children, never watch regular TV. They only watch what they can get on YouTube.
Lesley: The world has changed in that respect. We were lucky we did it for as long as we did it. I loved the character, Dorian. She was fantastic.
Jasmine: This is my guilty pleasure, as its one of my life goals. What was it like to dance with Anton Du Beke?
Lesley: Ha ha ha. He was wonderful except he was very tall.
Jasmine: Is he?
Lesley: I’m five foot one and a half and I had to go up like this, (demonstrates) so I could never really reach. It was quite difficult. He was a great character and he is a wonderful ballroom character. That’s his strength. One of the highlights of that for me was doing the quickstep to We’re a couple of swells, it was my idea to do it. And of course, Anton is now coming into a world of Panto. I think he is doing Bromley this year. And the public love him. They absolutely adore him. He is one of those characters but I think he stands up more than almost anybody when he was a dancer. Because he is that much older than other people, he came from a ballroom world, when Len Goodman was in it. It was very much Len’s world. Now it’s moved on slightly, and I don’t know if he is going to be a judge this year or if he is going to dance…
Jasmine: I think he is going to be a judge
Lesley: Is he? So, Bruno’s not coming back?
Jasmine: I think he is too nice as a judge. Because he has worked with the professional dancers, its hard to judge them.
Lesley: I think also the thing about Anton is he is very fair. He doesn’t become too judgemental. Strictly is an interesting programme, it only works really if you look at it as an entertainment programme. So, you need some good dancers and some terrible dancers. I mean when I did it with Rob, we had Ed Balls who is a terrible dancer.
Jasmine: You must think ‘well that keeps me in another week’.
Lesley: Honestly, it’s like Oh my god you know when he and Katya, it was so funny and people loved it. At the same time, you get someone like Danny Mac who trained as a dancer. So, you have to balance it and people can’t get too upset if they go out early. You have to acknowledge, that if you go in and you trained at Arts Ed, yeah you might get a long way through cause you’re a good dancer and people love to see good dancing. But at the same time, its got to be a comedy programme as well. So, you can’t go in feeling too sensitive.
Jasmine: Was it lovely to be strictly-fied?
Lesley: Oh my god it was! I don’t know who you’re writing for but if you ever need a strictly picture, I’ll send you some and I’ve got about four of those costumes as well at home.
Jasmine: You kept the costumes?
Lesley: Yeah, they let me. Because some of them…it’s like my quickstep. Yeah. If you need a strictly one, my quickstep one was Lesley starts singing ‘we’re a couple of swells. We dine at the best hotels...’ That was my idea – Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.
Jasmine: That’s Easter Parade, isn’t it?
Lesley: Yeah, it was. So, I’ve got that costume which is standing on a model in the sitting room.
Jasmine: That’s fantastic
Lesley: That’s my favourite. That’s my absolute favourite. I’ve got a Charleston costume. And I was 71 I was. Lesley sings won’t you Charleston with me? And I absolutely loved it. I don’t know how I got through it but I did. I’m fit as a flea.
Jasmine: You’re amazing. That leads me onto my next question. Which is to say – you look amazing. What’s your secret to life?
Lesley: Enthusiasm. Passion. Yoga. Walking every day for a few miles. Eating sensibly. And my mother lived until nearly 104. She still played tennis in her 90’s. I’m not quite there yet. So, I think loving what I do. Loving life, I think.
Jasmine: My grandad turned 100 this year. I’m hoping it’s in the genes as well.
Lesley: I think it is. I think when a lot of people retire, they go into a downward spiral because their brains aren’t working anymore. They panic about what they are going to do with their lives. I think certainly working in theatre or television, when you’re doing what I do, you have to keep alive. Your brain has to be… yeah that was something in lockdown; having to learn things again was a bit tricky because you’d got out the habit of how you did it. I’ve got a photographic memory. I think loving life, a lot of exercise and eating carefully. And yoga is amazing.
Jasmine: I might have to take up Yoga. My final question…you’ve had an amazing career; you’ve even met the pope. I was going to ask you what’s next but I see you’ve signed up for Celebrity MasterChef. Do you consider yourself a good cook?
Lesley: No. I’ve done it already but I can’t talk about it. I can’t tell you how I did
Jasmine: I’m not asking how you did; I’m asking if you consider yourself a good cook.
Lesley: I can cook. But cooking is not high on my list of achievements. What I love doing is Sunday lunch. Having people round for Sunday lunch. Put a nice leg of lamb in. And I make the best pavlova of anybody I know. My pavlovas are legendary. They have to stay in the oven overnight. They cook down in the oven overnight.
Jasmine: I have never made a pavlova
Lesley: Oh my god.
Jasmine: I am quite good at banana bread now since lockdown.
Lesley: It’s really simple. The way I do it; it has a crisp outside and a crunchy chewy inside.
Jasmine: Sounds perfect. I’m really hoping you do well. Now I did say to Paul (Chuckle), who is also on Celebrity MasterChef, I hope he wins. And he said are you going to go and tell Lesley that?
Lesley: Well, I know how Paul did and I know how I did.
Jasmine: So, he said ‘you need to go and tell her’. So, I’ve had to tell you that.
Lesley: So, you hope I come second?
Jasmine: I’m secretly going to say I think you’re probably a better cook than he is. Because he told me he is only going to do soup, soup soup.
Lesley: He wasn’t in my group. There were five of us. I can’t believe he did MasterChef.
Jasmine: Okay. That is all of my questions so thank you very much for speaking with me.
Lesley made it through to the semi-finals of MasterChef, beating Paul who made it to the quarter finals.
You can read my Paul Chuckle interview here
You can read my review of Lesley in Sister Act here.
Lesley plays the Wicked Queen in Snow White at Milton Keynes Theatre until 8 January 2023.