Beauty and the beat

Jo Birchall - former Miss Blackpoolreleases debut album
Jo Birchall - former Miss Blackpoolreleases debut album
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Jo Birchall admits there have been changes in her life since being crowned Miss Blackpool at the third time of asking almost exactly 10 years ago.

Now settled in London – and married – Jo is being tipped as a name to watch with her debut album picking up good reviews and advance airplays despite not being released until September.

Something To Say is a far cry from her Blackpool debut as a member of the all singing, all dancing Jonathan and The Space Girls at The Star on Blackpool Pleasure Beach back in 1999.

“It all seems like a different world and a lifetime ago,” says Jo. “But it was all great experience and all part of parcel of where I’m getting to now.”

But she’s still friends with Jonathan, aka Jonathan Wilkes, a close friend of Robbie Williams and currently starring in the hit musical Chicago.

She also keeps in touch with Miss Blackpool organisers Karen Jean Cookson and Sue Knight from Angels Elite who encouraged her to strut her stuff on the catwalk for three years until she was crowned Miss Blackpool.

“It was my dance teacher originally who said go in for things like that because it’s an other important part of learning how to walk and talk on stage.”

And she still communicates via Facebook with Amanda Thompson and Antony Johns from the Pleasure Beach – who encouraged her at Blackpool-based Stageworks Worldwide Productions.

“My time in Blackpool as very important to me and it’s good to still keep in touch with as many people as possible there,” says Jo, whose Liverpool accent is still distinct despite moving from the north down to London full time five years ago.

She admits her debut album has been a long time coming but fate kept stepping in the way.

An earlier one for Decca went pear shaped after mergers at the record company and mentoring by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy (whose production company she was signed to) dried up when Barlow’s commitments to the re-formed Take That took priority.

More tragically both her parents were diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. Her mother went on to recover but her father died.

And then there was her engagement to former Blackpool FC player Gary Brabin.

“Long gone I’m afraid,” she says. “So much in our lives changed and we just drifted apart. But everything has worked out fine for us both.”

Her new record deal is the stuff that it musicals are made of. A chance meeting with Craig David’s manager (“he asked directions to a recording studio”) led to an appointment with “two of his friends.”

Despite her initial suspicion about people promising deals and a natural worry about meeting strangers they turned out to be Adam Hollywood and Nick Phillips, former general manager of Warner Music and former chairman of Warner and Universal Music, who had just formed Smile Entertainment.

“It sounds like I’ve made it up but it really was as random as that,” says Jo.

Musically Something To Say has a country feel and an Olivia Newton John sound.

“I’ve always loved country and grew up listening to it at home and I’ve always liked Olivia – but I haven’t set out to sound like her,” she says. “I spent some time in Nashville and that’s helped – but I don’t want that to sound too pretentious.”

The next few weeks are filled with showcases and radio and television promotions but Jo says she is really looking forward to them.

“After all this time it’s hard to believe it’s all starting to happen,” she says. “It’s great to notch things up like first radio airplay, first good review, first TV slot – stuff like that.”

So what advice would she give future Space Girls and any future Miss Blackpool?

“If you love it stick with it,” she says. “Follow your dreams and one day they may come true.”