I Feel So Lucky To Live Here, says Janet Ellis
Former Blue Peter Presenter in sell- out show at Tabard
Janet Ellis hasn't worked in the theatre for about fifteen years, but that doesn't mean she hasn't been busy. Radio and television work, projects with primary schools, her involvement on the Board of the Lyric Theatre, and her charity work have left her with little time for the stage.
But besides being a well-known actress (and former Blue Peter presenter), she also relishes the role of grandmother. Her daughter, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, has two children and lives in Chiswick. Sophie who has just returned from a tour in Russia and Eastern Europe is also expecting her third child. And lucky for her, Janet and her husband John Leach live very close, near Ravenscourt Park .
I feel so lucky to live here in this area ", says Janet, who is appearing next week at the Tabard's production of the Alan Bennett play ' Green Forms'. The play will raise money for the Maggie's Cancer Caring Charity of which she is patron and which is based in Charing Cross Hospital. Staging the play was Janet’s idea as a novel way of fundraising for the charity which offers practical, emotional, and psychological support to anyone affected by cancer. And she is delighted to be staging the play by Alan Bennett-one of her favourite playwrights- in Chiswick, a place that is close to her heart.
" I grew up in an Army family and went to seven schools. When I got married and had my three children, I knew I wanted to live in a place where they could walk to their day-schools.
"Having first lived in St. Margaret’s, we knew when we came to this area, it was right for us, and now it's a joy see my grandchildren play in the house and garden where my own three grew up. That's lovely".
Sophie and Martha (who is studying History of Art at Oxford) were educated at Godolphin and Latymer school while son Jack, a session drummer who also plays in his sister's band, went to Arts Educational in Chiswick.
" I love this area to a quite ridiculous degree and have no desire to move to the country. " says Janet .
“ I'm happy to walk the dog in Ravenscourt Park, Richmond Park or along the river towards Barnes. Obviously Chiswick and Hammersmith have changed in the past 21 years, but I think for the better. And not changed to the extent that I don't bump into someone I know when I walk along the street or if I go somewhere for a coffee. It's still got that village atmosphere. I know I sound a bit Pollyanna about it, but it's true ".
Janet has wanted to be an actress since she was a little girl. After drama school she worked in a variety of jobs, including as a receptionist at the Richmond and Twickenham Times newspaper and later at the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond .She got her big break in the early 1980s on BBC Children’s television show, Jigsaw, and became a household name as presenter on Blue Peter for four years from 1983-87.
Her television career has been varied and she is not afraid of a challenge. In recent years, she has been seen in Hotel Babylon (2009), Come Dine With Me Celebrity Christmas Special (2010), the Wright Stuff, Loose Ends, presenter of The Great Garden Challenge (Channel 4), and even a singing contest, The Two of Us, partnered with Alexander O Neal.
But despite all her radio and television work, theatre has always been at the back of her mind.
" I've never lost my taste for the theatre and although I've taken a detour along the way doing other things, like radio and television work, I've always thought of myself as an actress.
I've never had what you might call a career path, and doing this play again has brought back all those feelings- there's the great feeling of being on the stage but of course all the insecurities of acting come back too "
The first Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre, was opened in Edinburgh in 1996, inspired by artist Maggie Keswick whose experience with cancer prompted her to lobby for centres which would give people and their families a relaxed place to get information and meet others in similar circumstances. There are now 14 centres in the UK, and the charity counts HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, and Sarah Brown amongst its patrons.
" It's not a charity for a specific cancer like breast cancer, it's not a charity focusing on women. It's for everyone. If you need help to deal with finances when you are ill, if you have survived cancer and feel worried it will come back despite the check-ups and need someone to talk to, a therapist, a chat, a hug, Maggie's do all that and it's amazing".
Janet has lost family members and close friends to cancer and has seen at first hand the challenges faced by those coping with the illness.
When she looked for a play to perform, Janet wanted something that would be popular, engaging, and thought-provoking. Alan Bennet’s one-act play’ Green Forms’, which centres around two women working together in an office, seemed the ideal vehicle. The playwright has granted a special licence for the play to be performed. Teaming up with old friend Jan Ravens (Dead Ringers), with Paul Clayton as Director , and Richard Howle as producer, it quickly sold out. The amount of interest has surprised Janet.
“ I am so thrilled to get such brilliant local support and sorry to disappoint anyone who didn’t get a ticket in time. I feel it’s a play everyone can identify with, we’ll all had that experience of office life and even though it is set in the 1970s, it still has issues which are relevant today, the threat of redundancy, the advent of new technology, for example”.
“ We have a team of fifteen people working on this, with original music composed, and it’s just amazing the way people have come together.”
And has it given her a taste for returning to the stage?
" Yes, absolutely. I’m loving it. I’ve done lots of different things in life, and I don't do regrets, though obviously there are sadnesses in life, but I feel I have been very lucky".
January 20, 2012