January, 2011

Jan 11

Sharon Marshall, This Morning and the National Television Awards

Last Thursday saw me don my high heels and lippy and head off to catch an early flight to London. My destination – the London Studios where I’d arranged to interview the fabulous Sharon Marshall.  So after hours of planes, trains and automobiles, a hair disaster and a close call
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with two security guards (long story!) I was more than delighted to be warmly welcomed by the This Morning team. 


Sarah Hitching, the lovely PR manager, brought me up to the studio where I met Sharon and was delighted to find she’s just as bubbly and friendly in real life

as she is on telly.  I couldn’t wait to have a chat with her but as

she was just about to go live with her soapbox slot, I left her to get ready.  Following my nose, I found myself watching the very talented Silvena Rowe, as she cooked up a delicious feast of Moroccan-inspired fish tagine.  When she was finished her slot, Silvena came over to say hi and even brought me back to the kitchen for a taste.  Well it may have been one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted and I had to resist the urge to stick my fork in again and again! 


Having watched This Morning so many times from my living room sofa, it was a thrill to see it from the other side.  It gave me goose-bumps to stand so close to the lovely Holly Willoughby and the silver fox himself, Phillip Schofield.  Relaxed and comfortable in their roles, they present the show with professionalism and flair.  There were many laughs both on and off camera and I could sense the good vibes rippling through the studio.  I was only sorry my visit didn’t stretch to two days when I’d get to see the fabulous Ruth Langsford and Eamonn Holmes in action.   


I was very taken with the whole This Morning family and loved the positive energy I felt
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from the moment I set foot in the place.  It’s no wonder they’re nominated for a National Television Award.  They’ve been short-listed for the Topical Magazine category and I’m asking you to please, please vote for them here.  And I can promise there’ll be a big surprise in store for viewers if they win!! But more about that later!


After filming was finished and I’d managed to get photos of myself on the sofa… in the kitchen… in the hub… (It would be rude to go all that way and not to!) it was time to put my interview hat on.  Sharon Marshall has been the show’s resident soap expert since September 2003 although she was only meant to be on for one episode!  “I was lucky,” she said.  “I had so much good material to talk about when I came on for that episode that Fern Britton, who then presented the show with Philip, asked me to come back again.  Initially, I juggled the This Morning slot with my other job as a journalist at The News of the World but eventually left the newspaper to work full time here.”


Although I already knew the answer, I asked her if she enjoys her job.  “Are you kidding me?” she laughed.  “I’m paid to watch telly!  How cool is that?  But seriously, I feel very lucky to be part of such a fabulous show and to work with amazing people.  We’re like a little family and we all work so hard to give the viewers what they want.  The introduction of the hub last year was a great move because we’re constantly taking viewers’ calls and keeping up to date with what they want.  I think my own soapbox slot goes down well with the public because no matter how bad things are, a little bit of soap gossip cheers us up!”


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                           Hub presenters, Coleen Nolan, Matt Johnson & Samanthi


I wanted to know about the soaps she loves so much.  Does she have a favourite?  “Honestly, I’m not trying to dodge the question,” she laughed, “but it genuinely changes from week to week.  I love them all for different reasons.  At the moment I’m glued to Emmerdale.  It’s just an amazing storyline and I’m loving it.  Eastenders is compelling and is the only soap that can make me cry.  But without a doubt, my heart lies with Coronation Street.”


So is there a particular interview that stands out in her mind – one that she enjoyed more than the others?  “I’ve interviewed so many lovely people,” she said.  “But there were a few very special ones during Corrie‘s 50th anniversary this year.  I think my favourite would have to be the Bill Tarmey one. Bill, who played Jack Duckworth in the soap for thirty-one years, was a joy to interview.  His heart and soul belong to Corrie and he burst into tears at the end of our chat.  It was the only time I’ve ever cried during an interview.  It was all very moving.”


Sharon‘s love of soaps as well as her genuine compassion shines through and it’s not surprising the stars are only too willing to be interviewed by her.  But is there anyone she’d like to interview who she hasn’t managed to nab yet?  She didn’t hesitate for a moment.  “Betty Driver who plays barmaid, Betty in Corrie - I’d really love to interview her.  Oh and also Eileen Derbyshire who plays Emily – she’s another one.  They’re both quite publicity shy but I’m not giving up hope.  I’d also love to do an interview with Pat St Clement who plays Pat Evans in Eastenders.  I did have a quick chat with her once when I was reporting from the red carpet but I’d love to get my teeth into a proper interview with her.  I think we’d have great fun.”


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   Sharon and me on the famous This Morning sofa


As my meeting with Sharon was set up through our tweets, I asked her what she thinks about Twitter.  “I love it,” she said.  “I can find out who’s in town, who’s misbehaving, who’s drunk and who’s pregnant – all in 140 characters!  Seriously though, it’s a great way for me to make sure I give viewers what they want in my soapbox slot.  My followers tweet me questions about the soaps – they ask me what’s going to happen with certain plots and characters so I know what clips to show.  Besides all that, it’s pretty good fun and a way to keep in touch with people.”


Sharon appeared on the 2006 Celebrity Fit Club, a reality TV series that followed a number of overweight celebrities in their quest to lose weight.  Was it something she enjoyed?  “I loved it,” she said.  “I’d even go so far as to say that Fit Club saved my life.  At the time, I smoked, drank and partied way too much.  The show helped me form healthy eating and lifestyle habits I’ll have for the rest of my life.  I haven’t smoked one cigarette since that show.  I’ve also become such good friends with the other contestants, especially lovely Russell Grant, and we still meet up regularly.”


For ten years, Sharon worked as both an undercover journalist and a showbiz reporter for the News of the World and the Sun.  I asked her about her time with the newspapers.  “I really enjoyed my time there,” she said.  “But it’s very easy to burn yourself out in such a high pressure environment.  The job is pretty much twenty-four hours.  You’re always on call when a story breaks – everyone wants to be the one to get the scoop.  On the plus side, nothing compares to the high you feel when your story appears on the front page.  It’s amazing – the best buzz ever!”


Her time with the tabloids is well documented in her book, Tabloid Girl, released in July of last year.  Her honest account of the darker side of tabloid journalism, complete with break-ins, kidnappings and more – was well received.  “I expected there’d be backlash from fellow journalists,” she said, “but I was pleasantly surprised.  I think a lot of them were glad somebody had written so openly about what happens in that world.  It’s now on the third reprint and it even got to number one on Amazon!  I was pretty delighted about that.”


On 21st September last year, Sharon married Bruce Davidson in a fairytale wedding.  She arrived in a horse-drawn carriage and looked stunning in a gorgeous dress by Gwen Russell.  “I love being married,” she said.  “It’s certainly a big change from my single life but it’s a change for the better.” 


So apart from the wedding, what were her other highlights of the past year?  “Definitely a highlight for me was when I took part in a Christmas Day special of Family Fortunes,” she said.  “I was on the This Morning team with Ruth Langsford, Alison Hammond, Jason Gardner and Paul Ross and we were up against an Emmerdale team.  It was the best fun ever and we were so excited when we won £30,000 for Alzheimers and Help for Heroes.”


Back to This Morning and the nomination for a National Television Award.  What would it mean to Sharon to win this year?  “Oh gosh, it would mean so much to all of us to win,” she said.  “We’re such a great team and we really do everything we can to give the viewers what they want.  It would be the ultimate prize to know that they picked us – it would be an acknowledgement that they love what we do.  And this will be the first year for me to be on the other side of the rope!  I’ve always been reporting on the awards in the past but this year I’ll be there as a nominee.  It’s very exciting.”


One of the show’s resident chefs, Gino D’Acampo is offering viewers an extra incentive to vote for This Morning.  Hold on to your hats ladies, because Gino has promised to cook
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naked if they win!  But surely he won’t be completely naked.  Maybe the cameras will just make it look that way and he’ll really be wearing a little something to cover his… em… bits.  “Apparently, it’ll be the full monty,” laughed Sharon.  “Yep, he’s even roped in Jason Gardiner and Matt Johnson to join him.  The three boys are just going to let it all hang out and it will be up to the poor camera men to work around it!  Our bosses are already in a sweat about it.  They’ll have their work cut out making sure it all runs smoothly!”  Well let’s just hope nothing unexpected crops up!


Unfortunately, it was time to say goodbye.  Sharon had been such brilliant company; I felt I’d made a true friend, even in that short time.  I was sad too to leave the studios but On behalf of women everywhere, I’ve generously offered to go back to cover the story of the three naked men.  It’s the least I can do…!


And if you haven’t done it already, you can vote here for Gino to get naked… er… I mean for This Morning to win a National Television Award! 

Jan 11

It’s Jedward – Oh yes it is!


Photographs by Glen Mc Namara Photography


Usually our family car journeys consist of grumbles, bickering and discontent, but not on Thursday evening.  Thursday saw us become the Von Trapp family as we merrily sang our way to Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.  The reason for this gaiety was because we were going to see the much anticipated panto.  But we weren’t going to see just any old panto – oh no we weren’t!  We were going to see Cinderella - the season’s most talked about panto, starring none other than the one and only, Jedward.


From the moment the curtain rose, we were treated to a riot of colour – most of which was worn by the fabulous and hilariously funny ugly sisters, Alan Kavanagh and David Doyle.  The script, by the very talented Fiona Looney (@fionalooney) was written as much for adults as for children, with topical jokes and references throughout.  Although it was clear who the audience was waiting for because throughout the opening minutes of the show, we were teased with the first few beats of Under Pressure which caused the crowd to squeal and clap in anticipation.




When the boys eventually arrived, they owned the stage.  When I got over my initial disappointment of them not being cast as the ugly sisters, I realised they were perfectly cast as the Fairy Godmother’s helpers.  They embraced their roles with gusto – bounding around the stage, waving their magic wands and generally buzzing with the Jedward energy we’ve all grown to love.  Much to the delight of the crowd, we were treated to a number of their hit songs during the show, including All the Small Things and Ghost Busters.


Being annual panto goers, I’d have to say that this was by far the best one we’ve ever seen.  It had a real contemporary feel to it while still remaining true to what panto is all about.  On top of that, we adults felt we were treating our kids to a Jedward concert, without it actually costing us a small fortune.


Although unprepared, I knew I’d have to seize the opportunity and try to grab a few minutes with the twins.  So thanks to Stuart O’Connor of Spotlight Productions and the lovely PR people, I was brought backstage after the show.  Bizarrely, I was introduced to the boys while they balanced on top of a giant Cinderella shoe.  “Hiya,” they shouted in unison, waving frantically as they pulled all sorts of faces for the very patient photographer.  “This is so much fun – you should try it!”   Em… no!  Oh God, I could see they were still buzzing from the show and they put me in mind of my seven year old after he’s had a belly full of sweets.


When they were safely back on the ground, I knew my time was limited with them so I began by confirming which was John and which was Edward.  “You got it right!” said John.  “Hardly anyone knows us apart.  That’s amazing.”  I smiled smugly as I slipped the piece of paper into my pocket that told me John always stands to Edward’s right!


Now that I’d impressed them with my powers of perception, I got on to asking them about the panto.  “We love it,” enthused Edward.  “It’s so cool to be part of such a brilliant cast.  I mean, Linda Martin (who plays the Fairy Godmother) – she’s a legend.”


“And it’s great that we have a chance to speak too rather than just singing,” adds John.  “The script is so funny – we love being able to make the audience laugh.”


I wanted to know what it meant to them to be performing in their home city every night and do they get nervous.  “It’s the best feeling in the world,” said John.  “And we don’t really get nervous at all.  Our fans are so amazing and they just spur us on.  It’s great to be performing in Dublin but it’s not just a Dublin crowd – our fans are coming from all over to see us.”


“And to be in the Olympia is amazing,” says Edward.  We often came here as children to watch shows and now people are coming to see us.  It’s crazy.  All 34 shows have been sold out since, like, forever.  And did you know that tickets are already selling for next year’s panto?  It’s called Jedward and the Beanstalk.  It’s going to be so cool because we’ve just enjoyed this so much and now we know we’re going to be doing it again next year and it’s just like… wow!”


I felt as though I was trying to catch a runaway train.  Before John took over where Edward left off, I asked them about Twitter.  Considering Jedward (@planetjedward) have over 145,000 followers and so little time, I wondered if somebody else operated it for them.  “Are you serious?” they asked, at the same time, in the same tone!  “Of course we operate our own Twitter,” said John.  “We love it.  It’s such a close contact with fans.  Our fans are the best and they send us so many messages and good vibes.  It’s cool that we can talk directly back to them.”


The unstoppable force of Jedmania has seen the twins regularly appear on tv since their X Factor days.  Their ITV2 documentary Jedward Let Loose and advertisements for products such as Rowntrees Randoms and Nintendo DS game Beast Quest IX has ensured they’ve remained firmly in the public eye.  I asked them if they enjoy doing stuff like that or if they’d prefer to stick to performing to their adoring fans.  “We actually enjoy everything,” said Edward, enthusiastically.  “We’ve just done another tv ad for Travelsupermarket.com and we had the best fun doing it.  We filmed it in South Africa – it was such a cool experience.”




So with the panto finishing this weekend, what can we expect to see from Jedward over the coming months.  “Oh my God, we’ve so much planned,” said John.  We have a new album coming out in March so we’re really excited about that.  We have such a cool name for it too.”  As I wrote the album name down, Edward suggested I don’t say what it is because it’s just a name they’ve dreamed up – not an official name!  Eeeek!


“We’re also going to be touring Ireland in April and the UK in May,” said Edward.  Our concerts are going to be bigger and better than ever with twenty-six songs every night.”  Gulp! Twenty-six Jedward songs?  That’s a whole heap of bouncing for one night!  Don’t they ever burn themselves out?  “Never,” said John, firmly.  “We’re known for our energy so that’s what we like to give.  Jedward wouldn’t be Jedward without full-on, electric energy.”


And speaking of energy, I wondered how Edward’s leg was holding up after last year’s horrible injury.  “It’s good,” he said, pointing to the offending knee.  “I have regular physio so that seems to help a lot.  In fact, I just had a session today so I’m feeling pretty well at the moment.”


At this stage, I could see the boys were needed elsewhere and I was going to have to let them go.  But not before I had a feel of the famous hair!  “Go ahead, push it right down,” said John, obligingly.  “It’ll just bounce right back up again.”  And it did!


And so our interview had come to an end.  It was pretty bizarre but strangely enjoyable.  John and Edward Grimes are two lovely lads; totally appreciative for all the good things that are happening in their lives and determined to give back as much as they can to their fans.  Their energy and zest for life is infectious and I have to say, I came away with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.


As I’d managed to whip John away from his brother for a moment to meet my four children, I was crowned Mammy Magnificent in the car on the way home.  There was much excitement and many comments such as “You’re such a cool Mammy” and “We’re so lucky to have a Mammy like you”.  So I basked in my well deserved glory until my nine year old asked: “So next week, can you interview Justin Bieber?”  Em…!

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