Jane McDonald brings tour to Blackpool

Jane McDonaldJane McDonald
Jane McDonald
I’m not suggesting the entire population are adoring fans of hers.

The music she sings isn’t what you’d call cutting edge and as McDonald herself would probably be the first to admit, she appeals mostly to fans of a more mature age.

What I mean is that she’s an infectious and hugely likeable lady.

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A few seconds into our phone conversation, and talking with that lovely broad Yorkshire accent, she has let out a big belly-laugh and put herself down with a depreciating remark.

In short, she comes across as one of the most unstarry people you could ever hope to meet.

Which considering she has been playing sell-out gigs throughout Europe for the last decade and more after being catapulted to overnight fame in a BBC reality show, as well as spending many years on the hit TV show Loose Woman, is quite something.

By rights she should be a diva, a bit up herself. Not likely.

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“A diva? I’m still living in Wakefield in a bungalow that I’ve not paid the mortgage off on,” she says with another giggle.

“I’m a realist. I know it’s a gift to be in the business that we are in and I am always grateful.

“I think that’s what it is, it is the gratitude I feel which stops me being a diva because I am so grateful that people turn up to see a show, so grateful when somebody switch on Loose Women to be with me at lunchtime and I am so grateful that people go out and buy my album.

“I think when people lose sight of that, that’s when you’ve got problems.

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“Maybe it’s because I also became famous quite late on. I was 33 and I am 50 now and I just think ‘blimey, people are still here to see me’ - and that is so humbling.”

McDonald, who turned 50 this year (“what a nightmare that was - I didn’t like it at all!”) was born in Wakefield. Her father worked as a chimney sweep, but spent most of his spare time ferrying a young Jane around the working men’s clubs of Northern England.

She was an aspiring young singer and many of the clubs she performed at were in Blackpool.

It’s one of the reasons why she refers to the resort as “my second home”.

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“I love the place because I feel as though it’s where it all began for me,” she explains.

“When I first got Blackpool Central as a club singer, that was it - I’d made it as a club artist. When you got booked to do a Blackpool club you were a big turn and to me Blackpool is still the pinnacle.

“I think that’s why I always go down particularly well in Blackpool, because of that history I’ve got with it.

“When it all happened for me and I got famous, Blackpool was the place I wanted to be because I knew that was the top.

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“London is OK, it’s fabulous in fact, but for the north it’s Blackpool - and once you can get your audience in Blackpool then you’ve made it as far as I’m concerned.

“I’m so grateful people keep coming back year after year.”

McDonald hit the big time at the end of the 90s, a case of right place at the right time, the singer on a ship which featured in BBC docusoap The Cruise. She was the star and within a couple of years had signed a deal with a major record label, released an album which shot to number one and stayed there, and published her autobiography.

She’s been a fixture on TV and stages ever since, which is why her down-to-earth persona is so refreshing. It would have been easy to have got carried away with her own importance.

She recently took the decision to quit Loose Woman (“people thought I was crazy to leave but the time was right; there’s a whole new group of girls going into it, it is still fantastic”) and is now about to embark on a mammoth year-long tour ahead of the release of her next album in April.

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The tour includes a date in Blackpool next month, at the Opera House, where she is promising the fans a special night.

“I’ve thrown everything at this tour and I haven’t enjoyed singing as much as I am now in years,” she said.

“This is a brand new show, I am playing with some phenomenal musicians and we’re doing some fabulous songs.

“You’ve got to hear God Only Knows. The arrangement we’ve done for it - it’s incredible. It starts out like a hymn and builds to a massive crescendo and the elation I get from singing it...

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“I think that’s what changed for me. For the first time in my life - and this probably sounds weird - I’m actually realising why I do it.

“In the past I’ve never really enjoyed something until I’ve come off stage and I think that’s an insecurity that all performers have, a sort of ‘oh blimey I’m doing this but there are a load of people out there, what if they don’t like it?’

“Now I am loving every minute and I think that’s because of the strength of the songs, the musicians ... it is the best show I’ve ever done.”

McDonald, though, can’t be perfect. She’s obviously earned a small fortune over the last decade so I ask her to name her biggest showbiz excess.

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“Probably my divorce,” she says with a huge laugh. “But unfortunately it wasn’t a pleasure.”

She then talks about the plaque they recently put up in her honour in her hometown of Wakefield, “just near t’bank”.

It’s little wonder she’s so popular in the north. Humble, funny and eternally grateful for the support she receives from the everyday man and woman.

It could be an act of course. Maybe she’s a horror in real life. But something tells me not and if she does have her faults, she hides them very well.

*Jane McDonald plays Blackpool’s Opera House on Friday March 28. Tickets starting at £21.45 are available from www.blackpoollive.co.uk or the box office on 0844 856 1111.