The Edinburgh Festival, Victoria Wood & Me

Yesterday it was announced that the Edinburgh Festival 2020, will not go ahead due to the Corona Virus Pandemic. I was five months in to a very in-depth plan to take a brand-new show celebrating the life & work of the late, great Victoria Wood to the city this August, as part of the PBH Free Fringe, with an ambitious – but much anticipated – ten previews in London, Birmingham, Cambridge and Hastings of the show beforehand.

In the past three weeks, I have seen each of those preview opportunities and now the big 23 dates in Edinburgh  – at the Ballroom in the much-loved Voodoo Rooms; arguably the best Free Fringe venue in the city, which I lobbied HARD for – all taken away from me by COVID-19.

Like countless other performers, producers and promoters, this pandemic has robbed me of thousands of pounds worth of income as a self-employed creative, and there was a very scary week or so there when we didn’t even know if any support or relief was coming from our government; what has since been put in to place has still seen certain people fall through the cracks, eligible for nothing or very little.

I have had very dark days, asking why I would ever want to rebuild if a society treats its self-employed thus – as an afterthought, as secondary to the employed. Ignoring the enormous contribution we make to keeping the economy moving with the resources we employ, staff we enlist, venues we book etc etc.

At time of publishing, OUT OF HAND, the outdoor advertising company that holds the monopoly on advertising outdoors in Edinburgh during the festival, is retaining 10% of my full fees paid to them for my poster distribution for a festival that cannot happen, having done nothing more than process a payment. This payment was made only in response to their loud, insistent countdown to the opening day of their sales for the festival, insisting that there were only a limited amount of places available and to get in quick. Hours after their reaction to the festival being cancelled, it feels very much like a kick in the teeth to all their clients, past and future.

I do not know what the future holds for my show LOOKING FOR ME FRIEND: THE MUSIC OF VICTORIA WOOD. Until such time as people can congregate again, it will be an online community – one that is growing fast, such is the love and adoration for our friend, Victoria. In just four month our Facebook group of the same name has grown to over 1K members, all sharing quotes, favourite YouTube links, silly pics and memories of laughter. If that is what I am to do with my days until further notice, I can think of not much better, given the circumstances.

As for Edinburgh, maybe I will be there next Summer and maybe I will be touring around the country with the show, and maybe I’ll be in the poor house. Time will tell.

Discovering Victoria Wood

I’m always intrigued at what age a person discovered Victoria Wood, and where she was at in her career during that same time. I’ve come to realise that, for the most part, people can be split into four different categories;

Category 1: Victoria Wood As Seen On TV
First airing on Monday nights in January in 1985 on BBC2 at 9pm, VWASOTV was my first experience of Vic, and I enjoyed her with my sister and my Mum. It is a rare thing to find a television programme that you can watch with your children – especially when they are 8 years apart in age – and each of you stay engaged and find it funny; but with VWASOTV that is exactly what Vic achieved – at least in our house.

Category 2: An Audience With Victoria Wood
If VWASOTV did not penetrate your psyche, then there was a chance for viewers of ‘the other channel’ to join the club with this 1988 production from LWT, which Victoria recorded in front of a celebrity studio audience whilst six months pregnant with her first child (she kept this secret from all but her nearest and dearest, and her clever choice of outfit for the show helped to hide the secret). A one-off special, this saw us first meet Kimberley’s beret-wearing mate and brought the mammoth hit Freda & Barry (known to most of us as ‘Let’s Do It’) to our attention.

Category 3: dinnerladies
Victoria Wood’s sitcom set in the canteen of a busy factory in the North of England was dogged by contrast competition from fellow northern lass Caroline Aherne’s The Royle Family for both ratings and awards, when they both appeared on the BBC at the turn of the century. However, in the following 20 years, dinnerladies has proven itself to be a slow burn with the British public, not least of all due to constant replays on UK Gold, Yesterday and other channels dedicated to repeating classics. Crucially, there are many lovers of dinnerladies who are too young to remember any of her other significant output or indeed Victoria herself when she was alive.

Category 4: The Early Adopters
There is a final category of people – and I am not included amongst them – who have been championing Vic and her work for much further back; whether that be 1982’s Granada sketch show Wood & Walters, her plays Talent, Good Fun, Happy Since I Met You & Nearly A Happy Ending; her appearances on That’s Life or even her competing on New Faces in the Seventies. To these die-hard fans, I can only bow – and let them through to the front of the cue for extra custard.

However you discovered Vic – or if I and my show LOOKING FOR ME FRIEND will becoming your ‘entry level’ – I hope you enjoy her as much as my mum, sister and I have. And thank God she left us such a legacy of laughter to get us through the tough times.


My Favourite Victoria Wood Sketch

For many fans of the late, great Victoria Wood, there is one sketch that stands – or perhaps I should say totters – above all others, and that is the one widely known as TWO SOUPS.

This unforgettable few minutes sees an infuriated Duncan Preston & Celia Imrie, who are in a rush to catch their train having to deal with Julie Walters’ ancient waitress in a old-fashioned English restaurant. In reality, Celia & Duncan are – if you look very closely – trying their best not to laugh as Julie sails towards them infinitesimally slowly, bow-legged and equipped with hearing aid, oblivious to their rush.

Legend has it that Julie was having lunch with Victoria when they both experienced the inspiration for the sketch in real life, and weeks later she was recording her interpretation of it!

But, that is not my favourite Victoria Wood sketch – possibly because it does not have Victoria in it, possibly because I am a contrary thing and have never felt the need to follow the crowd. No, my favourite Victoria Wood sketch also sees us in an old-fashioned English restaurant and also features a barmy waitress – this time played by Victoria herself – and it is entitled IS IT ON THE TROLLEY?

Victoria’s unnamed waitress seems to have been put in charge of the ‘sweet trolley’ because it’s all she can be held responsible for. She’s pretty keen on this trolley, and there’s little the two men dining can do to dissuade her from offering ‘anything on the trolley’! Maybe an excerpt will help…

Just coffee for me too, please.”
“Coffees what? Have you seen it? Have you seen it on the trolley?”
“Just two coffees, no sweet.”
“Just two coffees, no sweet?”
“That’s it.”
“Have you seen it on the trolley?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“Is it a sorbet?”
“Just two coffees, thank you.”
“Can you point at it?”

And so it goes on – Buzzfeed have created a handy little list – as they do – of their favourite 13 things from Vic to make you giggle – give it a look:

It’s no wonder she won so many awards – not least of all an MBE!

Sod’s Law

So, I’ve been married to an Italian for 12 years, and we’ve been together for 16. When the EU finally forced Italy to fall in line with everyone else and recognise same-sex marriages/civil partnerships about two years ago, we took the plunge and applied for my Italian citizenship with the threat of Brexit and its implications for travelling abroad very much in mind.

Now, this process is not a straight-forward or a cheap one. I think that to date we have spent around £600 in all the forms that we have had to get officially translated, then notarised, then signed off and the actual application alone is around the £200 mark. We dutifully collected all that was asked for and paid all our fees to the many different bodies and then – nothing. Not one word for two entire years. No way of checking whether the application had been received, processed or where we were in the system. Because that is what Italian bureaucracy is like. Why notify someone of their long-held dreams and do them the courtesy of letting them know the state of play when you can be perched on a Vespa, drinking an espresso and shouting ‘Ciao’ at pretty ladies as they pass by?

In Italy, if you want something expedited or simply DONE, you have to know someone who knows someone whose Father once did a favour for the Uncle of their Father. Otherwise, you wait. And during the 24 months of waiting, I daydreamed. Daydreamed of taking three months off work and out of my life here in London, to move to Rome and wander around the streets without purpose. Perhaps a bit of yoga here, catch a showing of Cinema Paradiso there. No socks will be worn. A crisp shirt each day and a light pullover slung over the shoulders. Breakfast each morning in the same corner cafe. Learning the language in a way the Duolingo app can never penetrate. You get the idea.

Well dear Reader, my dream finally came true and about two weeks ago I received confirmation of my interview at the Italian Consulate which – judging by the wording of the letter – sounds like it will be just a formality.

A mere fortnight on, and the whole of Italy is in lock-down. Every bar, cinema and yoga studio is shut. There are cordons in Pharmacists and Supermarkets to prevent customers standing too close to one another. A coughing Italian is more dangerous than lunch at a Pret A Manger, and everywhere people are suddenly wary of the Romans again. Just. My. Luck.

I wait two years to become welcomed into the country of love and romance, only for it to become the country of fear and pestilence the moment I’m admitted. I may have to start taking this personally.

Ciao, mi amore!


Work/Life Balance

Being a freelancer can be tough. There are a lot of great things about it; like choosing to meet an old friend for coffee in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday, or taking the whole day off because it is snowing outside and when did you last throw a snowball. But the flip side, in my experience, is one of potential enormous imbalance that needs to be kept in check.

Work/Life Balance is a hackneyed old phrase. Perhaps one that has lost all meaning by the simple fact of its overuse. I remember constant discussions around it when my friends who worked in traditional 9-5 office jobs first got handed their shiny new BlackBerry’s, back in the day. We were all very excited by the snazzy gadgetry at the time, but it wasn’t long before I witnessed it as the conduit for work encroaching on people’s evenings and weekends in a way our generation had not felt before.

When you work for yourself and your home is your office, the potential peril of never quite stopping working is even greater.

I first joined the ranks of ‘creatives who don’t have a day job’ over a decade ago now, and it’s a big deal when it happens, mostly because it is a privileged position to find yourself in – one that most of one’s peers can only dream of. I did not take to it like a duck to water. There were weeks, months even when I just could not get my act together, and the lack of discipline that a boss with an insistence that you clock in and out afforded me culminated in, for the most part, lying on the sofa watching daytime TV and dipping blocks of cheese into jars of mayonnaise for sustenance. Talk about not having a purpose!

After what seemed like an eternity I finally managed to find a routine – small things like taking a shower helped – and now I find myself more than 10 years on struggling with the problem of the work never really ending. Friday evening in with one’s significant other will be interrupted by an enquiry via Facebook Messenger from a potential new student. And this is not something I can ignore and leave until Monday. Perhaps I should. Perhaps there would be no repercussions if I did. But, part of my work ethic is that inboxes get emptied and stay emptied. Things are not allowed to linger. This has its pluses and minuses. Especially as others one would like to collaborate with work in different ways – my own quasi-obsessive approach to work these days is not shared with all my creative playmates. And long may that be the case.

So, I embark upon another weekend whilst I shall try my best to curb the desire to reply to Instagram comments or check my YouTube analytics, and instead go for a walk with the husband and leave the phone at home. I’ve just broken out in a cold sweat typing that last sentence. This is never going to work. INTERVENTION.

See you on the other side – if we’re saved!




Perfection Is Stagnation

When I was judging singers on BBC1’s award-winning format television programme, All Together Now, I became well-known for looking for a kind of ‘perfection’ in the brave talented contestants that I was in the privileged position to be passing verdict on.

Though I was always honest and, I believe, fair in my approach to the task I had been given by Endemol Shine, the snappy sound bites that the viewer at home is privy to are only a tiny fraction of my approach to working with creatives, and the final edit of the programme has always been rather at odds with the work I do – and have done for twenty years now – as a Mentor, Facilitator and Teacher (check out my workshops and 1-2-1s here).

The other thing that was limiting about my experience on the programme was that we judging panel had not had the benefit of seeing any of the singers progress, change, grow or overcome challenges. We were simply presented with a ‘finished’ article and asked which of them was worth £50,000 in prize money. Rather a daft thing to do, in retrospect. Because when it comes to growing as an artist, the only competition should be with yourself; one the day before, the week before, the month before – you get the idea. An artist who spends any time at all comparing themselves to their peers and lamenting what they’ve achieved and the output of work they’ve delivered, is an artist that is not spending that time growing and improving.

So, the show, for me was a bit of a poison chalice. On the one hand, it exposed me to millions of people who didn’t know me before, but on the other it gave a very limited view of what I do and how I approach working with creatives, as these Testimonials from my students will hopefully illustrate.

I’m still an artist myself. I still create. I want to be better than yesterday, and I have high standards for myself. I also still have a heck of a lot to learn. As a mentor, I am hard to impress, I want my students to be the best that they can be. I want their audiences to not be short-changed. I want us to both be proud of the creative growth. Sadly, a shiny-floor TV show is not the platform on which to adequately demonstrate this.

Perfection is stagnation.

Imagine yourself on the blocks at the start of a running track. Look to your left. Who’s there? Look to your right. Who’s there? Look all the way down the line. Who are you competing with?

F**k Cancer

Greetings from Tel Aviv, where I am currently wide awake at 2am trying to digest a very rich meal from earlier this evening. Ironically, the original plan was to be up until about 2am in bars, drinking with boys but I realised at 9pm that I am 44 and have never been that much of a party animal, so retired with my husband to our hotel room to read an Agatha Christie.

Tomorrow we leave for home after a week here and come this morning had still not experienced the famous Israeli dish Shakshuka – eggs in rich tomato sauce – for breakfast, and so we tracked down a well recommended place on Tripadvisor called Bucke and headed over for brunch – it turned out to be their 5th birthday and so we could hardly refuse their generous offer of wine whilst we waited and thus the 11am drinking began.

At some point over our brunch, whilst nestled in a sun kissed corner surrounded by the funky young laptop owners of The White City, the husband and I checked our respective emails, social media etc and that is when I learned that the actress Julie Walters had spoken on the Victoria Derbyshire programme in the past few days about overcoming bowel cancer. My mum had a second operation for bowel cancer last week and is still in the hospital recovering, and my husband’s aunt – his closest living relative – died of the same thing less than two weeks ago. After five years of watching my mother battle her own illness, and losing my beloved Victoria Wood to cancer just four years ago, along with these most recent struggles, I was surprised to find that it was this news of Julie Walters’ that had been holding back the urge to sob violently and finally succumb to the devastating pointlessness of it all.

But being British, I did swallow down my feelings and carried on regardless. Ms Walters has, after all, beaten her own battle with this relentless disease – as has Ms Derbyshire – and she is not a family member of mine, or even the person I’m creating a show in honour of. Still, I had been struck by the news, there was no doubt about that. And curiously, the suggestion in the article that Julie’s forthcoming film The Secret Garden, may be her last was one of the most upsetting parts. Julie and Victoria – like my Mum and my aunt-in-law – are/were strong, feisty women with very particularly formidable characters, and each in their own way have helped shape me.

The conversation over brunch was already well within the realms of how to change our lives for the better on our return home to London – get rid of the TV, do yoga every day, etc. – as you might expect from the penultimate day of a week away somewhere exotic, and this news only furthered my resolve to try and make some lasting changes in order to live as best I can before something prevents that, cancer or otherwise. We shall see.

For now, I am going to reach out to my dear friends from the cabaret scene, Rose Thorne, Benjamin Louche and Dusty Limits who founded a charity called CABARET VS CANCER a number of years back. I’d like to ask how I might be able to support them more, or get involved. Perhaps you might like to check them out too? I believe Dusty is doing a Fire Walk in mid-March along with some other artistes in order to raise funds.

Benjamin Louche, Dusty Limits & Rose Thorne of Cabaret vs Cancer.

Right, I think I’ve digested finally – foie gras, veal AND steak tartare in one evening; is it too late to sign up to Veganuary?!?

See you next time, if we’re saved.


Good News!

Well dear friends, after beavering away for months on my project to create, write and perform a tribute to Victoria Wood at the Edinburgh Festival this August, yesterday brought a torrent of good news which has made me feel newly energised for the whole project!

On Tuesday evening, my director Sarah-Louise Young, musical director Michael Roulston and I presented the first preview of LOOKING FOR ME FRIEND: THE MUSIC OF VICTORIA WOOD to a packed Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club, full of smiling happy people ready to celebrate the late, great comedienne with me.  After 9 rewrites of the script, a tricky early ‘sharing’ back in November, and more than a bit of personal family trauma to deal with, the evening was exactly what I needed, and although I cannot honestly tell you I made no mistakes, I am confident that the overall show was filled with love, integrity and humour.

The next morning (yesterday) I was contacted about doing three more previews in different venues across the country on the strength of the night before and the buzz that is already surrounding the project on social media etc.

And then, later that day I was finally able to accept the offer from PBH Free Fringe of my first choice of venue for the festival, The Voodoo Rooms Ballroom – a much sought-after space for free-fringers, which I have been offered to perform in at 4.40pm from 8-30 August. This is exactly what Sarah and I have hoped and planned for for months, so huzzah! And our sincere thanks to Luke Meredith and all at the PBH Free Fringe for having faith in us.

I’m jetting off to Israel now for some Winter sun before the next leg of the journey begins, but I will still be doing my Daily Vlog (today is Day 91) on YouTube, holiday or no holiday!

Have a great week, traycloths!

Much Cove,

Paulus X

Road to Edinburgh

So, you may have heard that I am going to be taking a show ‘Looking For Me Friend‘ about the late, great Victoria Wood to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this August. And because creating, writing, producing and performing in a one-hour musical tribute isn’t enough of a task, I’ve decided to document the entire journey in my daily vlog ‘The Road to Edinburgh’ as a cautionary tale for anyone wishing to be so insane as to do such a thing. Honestly, just stop indoors. Learn to crotchet. ANYTHING but this. I hope you enjoy the ride!