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Amanda Holden – The princess has got talent

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Amanda Holden tells Mark Shenton about playing Shrek’s love interest in a new stage adaptation of the film and why she identifies with the flatulent ogre

The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane may be the West End’s most prestigious musical theatre, but backstage there’s a typically scruffy jumble of corridors and corners. A cold stone staircase leads to one of the star dressing rooms, currently occupied by Amanda Holden, with a sign outside it revealing that a princess is in her tower.

And walking in, it’s true. Holden has not only steam-cleaned the carpets and disinfected the toilet (“Well, John Barrowman had this dressing room once,” she quips straight away), the room looks like it has come straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. And the TV princess that is Holden is performing in a fairy tale too – she is Princess Fiona in the stage musical version of Shrek.

Holden has had her dressing room custom-designed by a friend called Tipp, who she knows from Norfolk, where she also has a house. “I’ve got a little bit of OCD,” she admits. “I brought my own Hoover, too.” On the wall there’s a picture of Holden’s five-year-old daughter Lexi with her cat Muffy – “who she tortures regularly”. A corner of the dressing room is given over to Lexi. “She often comes on a Sunday and plays in here,” Holden explains.

Lexi played a big part in Holden’s decision to do the show. “The reason I even considered it was because of her. It’s a massive thing in our house – we have everything to do with Shrek,” she says. But Holden missed seeing the show in New York because of Lexi: “It was on but I never went to see it because I didn’t have her with me. I felt I couldn’t – it would have been like being unfaithful.”

She is clearly a devoted mum and does the school run herself every morning. “I’m always up for that – there’s no choice. I always laugh when the kids in the show here say they’re so knackered. I say, ‘Try doing the school run.’ But I wouldn’t have it any other way. She is my priority and she only ever wants me to make her breakfast. Chris gets to stay in bed.”

Music executive Chris Hughes is Amanda’s second husband and Lexi’s father. So the princess also has her own prince, too, but 2011 hasn’t been a fairy-tale year. The couple’s second child was due in March, but was stillborn a month before. It’s the only subject that is off limits in our conversation, but she alludes to it when she talks about her role in the show: “Sometimes I think I am singing about my own life in this – but I haven’t had a fairy-tale ending.”

However, the character of Princess Fiona is, she says, “quite similar to me”. In what ways? “We both have flatulence problems,” she jokes. “She’s forward-thinking, kooky, feisty and independent, and won’t take anything lying down. She’s not like other princesses in the movies. She says, ‘Carry on without me.’ She’ll pick herself up and fight for herself, which is what I’ve always been like.”

Holden was always determined to succeed, and in fact began her career in musicals after training at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in north London. “I was Liesl von Trapp in a tour of The Sound of Music, with Christopher Cazenove as her father, when I was 21,” she says. That, I ungallantly remind her, was a long time ago – this year she turned 40.

“I’m the oldest princess in town,” she quips. “But when I was at drama school I couldn’t have dreamt this would happen to me. I never doubted I would work, but I never thought of it on this scale. I always vowed, though, that if I couldn’t work properly, I would never be scrabbling about – I would just reinvent myself and do something else. I love this work and this job, but I don’t love it enough to struggle. So I was very lucky that I did make it.”

Of course, the desire to make it is what drives the contestants on Britain’s Got Talent, the TV show on which she has been one of the celebrity judges alongside Simon Cowell for the last five years. “Doing the show, I am constantly reminded of why I started in the business in the first place. You get swept along and get a nice car, nice house and nice lifestyle and all the good things that come with the job, but you forget what you actually went into it for. Then you see these people who are so hungry to succeed, and that was me. It still is.”

She had to audition three times for Shrek. “I kept thinking, ‘Why am I putting myself through this? I don’t need to do it.’ But I wanted to do it. I wanted to make myself wake up and have that nervous energy and fear again.”

There’s nowhere to hide in the theatre or on live TV. She does both, and adds that on TV there’s an added complication: “You have to be you, too. In the theatre, I am at least technically hiding behind Princess Fiona.”

That appearances, of course, can be deceptive is one of the lessons of the Shrek story, and she says: “It’s a good lesson for kids to learn – to think about the person underneath and not what’s on the surface. On Britain’s Got Talent, I’m constantly judging people if they wear terrible tracksuit tops – I think that they’re not going to be able to sing, but they can. You constantly slap your own wrists.”

I mention The Voice, the new TV talent show in which the judges have their backs to the singers. “It’s a brilliant idea – it’s like Blind Date for singing.” Holden is more familiar with Cilla Black’s famous matchmaking show man most people, because she was once a contestant on it. “I was only 19, and I didn’t get a date,” she explains.

Holden has come a long way since. Now she’s not only a TV star with her own settled family life, she also gets her man in the show, even if he’s an ogre called Shrek.

* Shrek the Musical is at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, booking until October 2012. For more information, visit www.shrekthemusical.co.uk

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