Andy Richardson: Panto princess Beverley is still sparkling
She’s dwarfed by her dress. Beverley Knight – or, as we refer to her in this parish, The First Lady of Wolverhampton – is sitting upright in a chair dressed as the Fairy Godmother.
A bejewelled wand is laid gently across her lap, as though the Swarovski fairy has descended from on high and granted The First Lady her every wish.
It’s press day for the Birmingham Hippodrome’s pantomime and Beverley is here to talk about her forthcoming debut in Cinderella. She’s pressing the flesh with the region’s media – and doing it with consummate skill.
Beverley is charm itself. Polished, polite and perfectly formed, she’s all of those things and more.
The First Lady is a phenomenon; a one-women blitzkrieg who’s forged a remarkable career on a solid foundation of talent and hard work. She’s personable and accessible, her Wulverhamptun accent hasn’t been washed out by years of international travel and mixing with rock’s hoi polloi.
Being in the presence of Prince, Kevin Spacey and Lord Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber hasn’t given her ideas above her station. She still talks enthusiastically about her mum, Deloris, about her old school, Highfields, and about the city that she still thinks of as being ‘home’.
She is deliciously self-deprecating, remarkably humble and assuredly down-to-earth. And before the tape starts rolling, Beverley talks happily about TV, her mum and things that she’s been up to. Her demeanour doesn’t change once we start to record. She’s the same Bev, the same person – there’s no artifice or putting on a show.
Beverley might easily have bitten the dust by now. Few solo singing careers last into their third decade. New talent emerges and, to steal from Dionne Warwick, Beverley has long passed the point where: And all the stars that never were, Are parking cars and pumping gas. Her star is still shining. It grows bigger by the year.
In many ways, she’s into her second career. And that began when she was asked by West End impresario Michael Harrison to take the role of Rachel Marron in The Bodyguard. Beverley made the show her own, stepping into the almost-unfillable shoes of Whitney Houston and somehow managing to match up to the icon of American soul. It was impressive stuff for a bespectacled, pony-tailed kid from Highfields. She’s a class apart.
One of the few celebrities who is as pleasant and polite as The First Lady of Wolverhampton is shimmering Aussie sex bomb Kylie Minogue. The First Lady of Melbourne, Victoria, is similarly hard-working, similarly professional and has been similarly creative as she’s evolved over the years.
I worked alongside the Goddess of Pop only once – in a field in Scotland during the height of BritPop. Back then, Ms Minogue was hanging out with Michael Hutchence and James D Bradfield, from INXS and Manic Street Preachers respectively, and shedding her teeny bop image.
She’d been due to attend an autograph signing session organised by the NME and a line was out of the marquee as more than 500 people formed an orderly queue to meet the pint-sized glamorous girl. The only trouble was, nobody had told her. And so as we, the organisers, frantically searched for Kylie, she was blissfully unaware of the crowds or our momentary meltdown.
When we found her, it emerged that ‘her people’ had messed up and not filled out the diary correctly, or some such nonsense. And while some celebrities would have thrown a strop, cast their flunkies to the wolves and refused to step foot into a signing tent to meet 500 fans, Kylie took the opposite view.
Unhurried, unflustered and unphased, she realised the best thing to do was be nice, give up a spare 30 minutes, sign a few record sleeves and make everyone happy. Which is precisely what she did.
No flunkies were thrown to the wolves, our blood pressure returned to normal levels, a marquee full of fans raised her up another level in their esteem and everyone went home happy.
What might have been a PR disaster or an opportunity for a diva-fit because an exercise in doing the right thing, keeping the show on the road and being cooler than liquid nitrogen.
The First Lady of Wolverhampton is much the same. Quite apart from her colossal talent – Bev will still be selling out shows 20 years from now – she’s the sort of performer about whom people never have a bad word. She still has the same manners, the same values and the same sense of decency that her mother and father drummed into her.
It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it, and the likes of Kylie and Bev do it in style.
So as the festive season approaches, expect Wolverhampton’s finest to make it a truly magical Christmas in this year’s panto.