The very first and last moments of my interview with Becky O’Brien probably tell you all you need to know about this powerhouse performer and mum.
While I wait to get us a drink in a busy café, she comes to the rescue of a mum struggling with a double buggy and clearly unsure how to tackle the lengthy queue herself – not wanting to leave her children alone.
As a mum-of-five, including twins, Becky’s clearly familiar with the conundrum and offers to watch the young mum’s children, unfazed too when she’s recognised.
Becky came to attention earlier this year when she appeared in TV’s Britain’s Got Talent, singing an emotional and powerful rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow in her audition, and rather shockingly not making it through to the final.
That’s not held her back, mind you, as within weeks she was appearing in The Judy Garland Songbook – a dream come true, appearing alongside Lorna Luft, Judy’s daughter.
And this summer, Becky’s been wowing audiences at Blackpool Grand Theatre in Puttin On The Ritz, as the production’s guest singer.
While her vocal performance on BGT was without doubt impressive, viewers took her to their hearts when she revealed her experience of domestic violence.
Her ex beat her on a hospital bed, just hours after she gave birth to their twins, Chloe and Toby, now five.
She left him, and a couple of years later took the decision to move right away from Northampton where they’d lived to make a fresh start with her two elder sons Jack and Charlie, now 11 and eight, the twins and then baby, now four.
Since then, in the past three years, she’s trained in beauty therapy to assessor level as well as completing a teaching degree, and prior to BGT she was teaching performing arts to toddlers and English and beauty therapy at colleges.
So having made that break away and a fresh start, why did she take the risk of opening herself up to being tracked down by her ex in appearing on one of the UK’s most popular TV shows?
“I could have done the opposite all along, sat in a corner and shrunk into the negative,” she said.
“But that’s not me.
“I was determined. I had gotten out by the skin of my teeth, but it was just a moment in time which made me more determined to grow a stable life for the children.
“My passion and love was always theatre. Getting a chance to go on BGT, if he was going to be a reason to stop me then he was still in control of my life – and he’s not.
“People said ‘What if he sees you?’, but I’ve just not acknowledged it.”
It’s been a ‘whirlwind’ few months, but it’s clear Becky’s loving every minute. Her children have joined her in Blackpool for the run and she’s getting more ‘quality time’ with them now than when she was teaching – they also understand what her work is now, compared with when she was teaching.
Her work ethic is impressive, and in teaching she tries to drill it into her students that no job is a waste of time.
“At uni I worked on the door of a nightclub - I know at my size [she’s just 4ft 9ins] - but I learned people skills,” she said. “I see younger teenagers now, and my partner who trains apprentices, they just don’t want to learn – they want to be at the top straight away.
“They say they want to run a beauty salon in a year’s time, but have no idea how to achieve that.”
Which is funny, I point out, as it’s a criticism often levied at the likes of BGT and The X Factor, in breeding the generation of teenagers who want to be famous.
But Becky, 35, who now lives in Essex, has bided her time, she trained in dance but realised she’d ‘never be a six foot show girl’ and discovered she could sing, so pursued that – with a particular passion for the classic stars like Garland.
So Puttin On The Ritz has been a perfect outlet, and something of a familiar territory for Becky, and her parents who’ve helped with the children during their stay here.
Becky’s mum was a dancer and choreographer and appeared in the Pleasure Beach ice show in the 1970s, and her dad was in a variety double act as part of the Val Doonican show to play the Opera House back in the time of the five-month summer seasons.
“Ritz is like the old school shows I used to watch them in from the wings,” Becky said, of the stage celebration of the American Songbook composers Gershwin, Porter and Berlin.
“The Grand Theatre is beautiful and the audiences have been so welcoming and warm.”
Family is clearly everything to her, the pride at each child’s achievements is wonderful and Becky shows off photos of them each on her phone.
And she’s lucky to have a strong network around her, her eldest sons’ dads even have a circus skills company together having met through Becky, and they’re all close still, as well as her partner’s two children being regular additions to the brood – swelling children numbers to seven between the two of them.
That said, she admits she’s looking forward to September, when Rosie starts school, making it the first time in 12 years there’s not been a baby or toddler to care for.
Home life is an army operation, Christmas shopping often starts in the January sales, and the children are lined up in shoe shops and given a choice of two styles available in each of their sizes, so they can get through these mammoth kinds of tasks.
Being a mum of five is no mean feat. Being a formerly single mum of five is even more impressive, never mind the family’s battle back from violence.
Becky’s fighting spirit must make her a dream poster girl for anti-abuse campaigners, and she’s probably proudest of the work she’s now able to do supporting Women’s Aid, the domestic abuse charity.
“People were shocked when I spoke on TV about being in an abusive marriage,” she said.
“I didn’t go into a relationship expecting that, but there’s a taboo about domestic violence that doesn’t go away.
“But it’s far more common that people are aware of, and they need to know there’s no stereotype of what an abuser or the abused is like.”
Becky’s spoken at Women’s Aid’s annual conference, promoting the catchline ‘Change That Lasts’ and the campaign work to bring the various organisations which support abuse victims together to share their expertise across the different forms of help that are needed.
Her own experiences have formed the basis for her passion on the subject, understanding the need for financial help, for re-housing, and for fighting the social services system which relies too heavily on a box ticking basis so cannot always provide the specific support an individual family needs.
When Becky broke away, she was staying in her mum’s two-bed flat with the three babies and two older children. Despite the overcrowding, she was told she’d have to live in that area for two years before she could even be added to the housing list – which could then take another five years to find a home for them.
“The other option was going into a refuge, but then I couldn’t tell anyone where we were and I would have to be there a year before getting any other accommodation,” she added.
“You find you just don’t fit into the boxes they have to tick.”
Another area of passion is the need for support for the children involved in abusive relationships.
Becky has been amazed that her children have never been offered counselling – an issue being tackled by Women’s Aid’s Children Matter campaign.
“I was saying my boys need support, and we’re now three and a half years down the line and they’ve had nothing,” she said, going on to talk about another Women’s Aid ambassador’s experience.
Rachel Williams was shot by her husband in the hairdressers where she worked, he then killed himself. Rachel survived, but her son killed himself when she came out of hospital.
“You often hear ‘they’re too young to know’,” Becky added. “But at three, four or five, they see behaviours and are re-enacting them somewhere along the line, so you have to break that cycle.
“I went through the Freedom Programme, but there needs to be something like it for children either in schools or through the social services.”
Becky recognises the position she is now in to help others, and how her own strength can make a difference.
“BGT has given me a platform,” she said. “People say ‘Why did you say that on TV?’,” questioning why she was so honest about her past on the talent show.
“They asked why I was divorced, so I told them. People think you should be embarrassed because it makes them embarrassed.
“But for me, it’s just a fact of something that happened.
“If I can turn that negative into a positive for someone else then it feels like everything I went through wasn’t for nothing.”
And as we reach the end of our chat, Becky shares her motto for life: “Lift as you climb.”
See what I meant now?
* Puttin’ On The Ritz, Grand Theatre, Blackpool, until Saturday. Call (01253) 290190 for tickets.