DCSIMG

Interview: The Krankies made me feel Fan-Dabi-Dozi, says actress Ashleigh Gray

Ashleigh Gray in Jack and the Beanstalk

Ashleigh Gray in Jack and the Beanstalk

  • by LAURA CUMMINGS
 

BATTLING typical first-night nerves, she was preparing to take to the stage with some of the biggest names in Scottish showbusiness when a note was popped into her hand that settled the butterflies and brought a huge smile to her face.

“You truly are Fan-Dabi-Dozi,” read a message scrawled on a card, given to Ashleigh Gray by none other than Wee Jimmy Krankie.

Since then, it’s been a month of non-stop laughs for the 30-year-old actress, who grew up in Newtongrange, Midlothian, while starring in panto alongside comedy legends The Krankies – aka Ian and Janette Tough – and actor/singer/dancer extraordinaire John Barrowman.

The curtain falls on Jack and the Beanstalk at the SECC in Glasgow tomorrow, leaving Ashleigh – who plays Fairy Firefly – with a string of lasting memories.

The former Newbattle Community High pupil says: “It’s a theatre tradition to send cards round on the opening night and my card from Ian and Janette had the immortal line on it. I thought, ‘my life is complete now!’

“Every day is a laugh with them. I was sitting in the wings and Janette came off from one scene and said, ‘what’s next, what’s next?’. We had done about 40 shows by now. She completely missed her entrance because we were talking about what we had for Christmas dinner . . .

“I grew up watching The Krankies on telly and when I heard about the part I thought, ‘if there’s any fun to be had over Christmas, it’s going to be with these guys’.

“Everyone in the room gravitates to them because they’re so lovely. If there’s a laugh, you turn round and The Krankies are always a part of it – they’re the life and soul of the party.”

It’s been a busy year for Ashleigh, who has just finished playing the role of Lorraine Campbell, the best friend of Susan Boyle, in the musical I Dreamed A Dream, which charts the life of the West Lothian singing sensation.

Ashleigh’s passion for singing and performing began at a young age, and she would often entertain her parents Avril, 56, and Derek, 57, and younger sister Kim, 24, at home in Newtongrange, as well as her grandparents Lily and John Gray.

She says: “I was one of those kids who was always singing around the house, I used to drive my mum and dad mental. I would have a tea towel on my head and would sing songs from The Sound of Music.

“I would put on my own little shows in the house. We had patio windows and a carpet in front and that was my stage. My gran would say, ‘All the way from Las Vegas or Broadway’, and I would get up and do my little turn.”

But Ashleigh was left heartbroken after losing Lily and John, who were hugely supportive of her career, within four months of each other. Lily passed away in October 2011 after failing to recover from the complications of a stroke, with John dying from what Ashleigh believes was a “broken heart” in February last year.

Ashleigh, who has a flat in Streatham Hill, London, was given her first real taste of performing on stage at the age of nine when she was cast as Brigitta von Trapp after spotting an advert in a newspaper for an amateur production of The Sound of Music at Brunton Hall in Musselburgh.

“That passion just stayed with me,” she says. “I just loved it – that initial buzz of having the audience right there in front of you and everyone urging you to do well.

“That’s what I love about theatre, that immediate audience reaction. From that moment, I was hooked.”

Ashleigh joined youth amateur dramatics group Musical Youth in Prestonpans, starring in concerts and shows from the age of 10 to 17, and took to the stage at Newbattle Community High to appear as Nancy in Oliver when she was in fifth year.

She achieved an HNC in Acting and Performance at Telford College after leaving school, before training at The Guildford School of Acting in Surrey, graduating with First Class BA (Hons) in Musical Theatre, the Principals Award for Musical Theatre and The Margaret Veale Award for Singing.

She was snapped up by an agent before graduating and started auditioning for West End musicals from there, landing the lead role of rock chick Kim in Taboo, which involved a nine-month UK tour.

Ashleigh, who also played the Wicked Witch in Mother Goose at The Oxford Playhouse in 2011 and performed in Grease in Monte Carlo in 2006, enjoys knitting and sewing in her free time – and watching musicals.

She says: “I still can’t believe that I get paid to do what I love to do. I have spent my whole life playing a character and singing songs, but to go out there every day and every night and be paid for it makes me a very lucky lady.”

“Every day is a laugh with them. I was sitting in the wings and Janette came off from one scene and said, ‘what’s next, what’s next?’. We had done about 40 shows by now. She completely missed her entrance because we were talking about what we had for Christmas dinner . . .

“I grew up watching The Krankies on telly and when I heard about the part I thought, ‘if there’s any fun to be had over Christmas, it’s going to be with these guys’.

“Everyone in the room gravitates to them because they’re so lovely. If there’s a laugh, you turn round and The Krankies are always a part of it – they’re the life and soul of the party.”

It’s been a busy year for Ashleigh, who has just finished playing the role of Lorraine Campbell, the best friend of Susan Boyle, in the musical I Dreamed A Dream, which charts the life of the West Lothian singing sensation.

Ashleigh’s passion for singing and performing began at a young age, and she would often entertain her parents Avril, 56, and Derek, 57, and younger sister Kim, 24, at home in Newtongrange, as well as her grandparents Lily and John Gray.

She says: “I was one of those kids who was always singing around the house, I used to drive my mum and dad mental.”

But Ashleigh was left heartbroken after losing Lily and John, who were hugely supportive of her career, within four months of each other. Lily passed away in October 2011 after failing to recover from the complications of a stroke, with John dying from what Ashleigh believes was a “broken heart” in February last year.

Ashleigh, who has a flat in Streatham Hill, London, was given her first real taste of performing on stage at the age of nine when she was cast as Brigitta von Trapp after spotting an advert in a newspaper for an amateur production of The Sound of Music at Brunton Hall in Musselburgh.

“That passion just stayed with me,” she says. “I just loved it – that initial buzz of having the audience right there in front of you and everyone urging you to do well.

“That’s what I love about theatre, that immediate audience reaction. From that moment, I was hooked.”

Ashleigh joined youth amateur dramatics group Musical Youth in Prestonpans, starring in concerts and shows from the age of ten to 17, and took to the stage at Newbattle Community High to appear as Nancy in Oliver when she was in fifth year.

She achieved an HNC in Acting and Performance at Telford College after leaving school, before training at the Guildford School of Acting in Surrey, graduating with First Class BA (Hons) in Musical Theatre, the Principals Award for Musical Theatre and The Margaret Veale Award for Singing. She was snapped up by an agent before graduating and started auditioning for West End musicals from there, landing the lead role of rock chick Kim in Taboo, which involved a nine-month UK tour.

The highlight of Ashleigh’s career came in 2007 when she made her London West End debut in the musical Wicked, appearing as Standby Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West, at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. Ashleigh, who also played the Wicked Witch in Mother Goose at The Oxford Playhouse in 2011 and performed in Grease in Monte Carlo in 2006, enjoys knitting and sewing in her free time – and watching musicals.

She says: “I still can’t believe that I get paid to do what I love to do. I have spent my whole life playing a character and singing songs, but to go out there every day and every night and be paid for it makes me a very lucky lady.”

laura.cummings@edinburghnews.com

 

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