Ella Gilling

Ella Gilling is playing the Princess in Sleeping Beauty at Ipswich Regent this year.  Not only is this her first ever Panto role but she hasn’t ever seen a Panto – oh no she hasn’t!  Ella took time out from rehearsals to talk to us.

I heard rumour that you’ve never seen a Panto before?

I’ve never seen a Panto before! I think that’s bad of me, but I think I went past the stage because I’ve got older sisters, and I went past the stage when they stopped so I just never went! Not out of my own choice obviously. 

Obviously not – but now you’re playing a princess!

I know! I probably should have, but I’ve done my research, and I’ve spoken to my lovely cast members, and I’ve got all the things I should have got, but who knows until that first performance. I might never really quite understand Panto!

It is a very uniquely British thing isn’t it?

It is, yeah!

Were I an actor I think I would struggle to deal with the Dame, I mean Dame’s are not exactly, well let’s face it, normal…

I don’t think Pantos are normal! 

Well, that’s true, yeah. But you’ve obviously committed to this, and you’re prepared to take it on…

One hundred percent. I did a scene earlier with Mike, and I laughed all the way through it, and I was like “don’t worry I won’t do that onstage”, both Keith and Mike were like “yeah you will”. So I think it’s a very hard challenge for me, I mean I’m used to doing screen work so I’m used to making a mistake and refilming it, but I have done theatre work at college and school so I’m just going to see what happens. If I just do the best I can, that’s the best I can do. It is going to be a challenge and I think as horrible as it sounds, I just have to think of sad things throughout the Panto so I don’t laugh at the things I find funny! But who knows, I might just crack up in one of them and embarrass myself!

But part of that whole the cast cracking up is part of what Panto is. So you’ll probably be starting in a good place because you’ll be forgiven…

Exactly! Yeah, thank you. Forgive me, because I am new to this! 

Is it performing on stage and doing Panto scarier than TV, or is it just another job?

Yeah, it’ll be a challenge and hard but I’m always up for a challenge, and I’ve done similar things before. As you said earlier, Panto is very unique. I’ve performed a Shakespeare play before, and that was hard in itself, learning the lines, and I’ve recently done that so it’s kind of like a nice little learning curve up to doing this Panto. I’m very nervous but I’m nervous about everything, and I think you have to have that. But I’m excited too!

I think if you’re nervous it means you care…

Exactly. And if you’re not nervous then why are you doing it? But I’m here to accept the challenge of Panto! 

And living in Ipswich for four weeks!

I am! I’m staying in hotels throughout the rehearsal weeks, and then my parents are coming up to stay with me during the performances so it’s a very different experience for me, but it’s another experience in my life that I can always say ‘I did that’. 

You’re probably the youngest member of the cast aren’t you?

I think so, of the main cast anyway. I’m 18, so yeah I think I’m the baby – and they’ll probably take the mick out of me a lot because I’m new to Panto and the baby so they’ll probably just rip me to shreds!

But I suspect you’ve got strong shoulders, and you carry it…

I can take it! No I will, and they’ve been lovely to me, and it’s really nice to have a cast that have done Panto and are really good with it, because they make you feel secure and they’re very nurturing. That makes it fun when we have the gags, it makes it good. 

Have you done much comedy?

Erm, I have worked with comedy. I have done things in the past that were funny, like when I did The Next Step, there were some funny things in it, and I played a lot of pranks as my character. Also when I did my production of Twelth Night, which is a bitter-sweet comedy.

So, I have worked with it but I think I’d be more nervous if I was doing what Mike is doing as the Jester. I’m a romantic character, so I can just smile and be pretty, and hopefully that’ll pass me as a princess! I think it’s easier that I’m a princess in my first go at Panto. If I was straight in a comedic character I’d probably be much more nervous, having to get the laughs.  

I know you haven’t been doing it long, but how are rehearsals going?

Yeah, this day 3, but it’s been amazing so far, but I just can’t wait to get my teeth in all the script, and start doing it with people and start getting off script and doing it properly. 

Yeah, I think a lot of the general public who come to a show and they see the performance, they don’t see the things that are going on in the lounge out there, where everyone’s wandering round in jeans and a t-shirt and singing. They don’t see that work that goes into it, or the way it’s compartmentalised.

No they don’t, and I think that’s what makes it magical in a way because it’s like when you watch a film, you don’t see all the cuts, the bloopers and the things that go on behind the scenes, which make it more magical, I think that’s why as an audience member its quite nice sometimes if you don’t really realise how it’s done because it kind of brings it to life a bit more. But a lot of hard work goes it and I think when it’s appreciated, when that applause happens at the end, that’s when you realise ‘we’ve done it, it was worth it’. 

You come off stage, have a quick drink and think ‘oh god gotta do it all again tomorrow’…

Exactly! Or do another one tonight!

Have you discovered yet who the giggler on the team is?

Well to be honest it’s probably me!

Yeah, that’s what they all say about you!

Definitely, it’s probably me. Me and Keith did a scene the other day, and he just completely lost it, he could not stop laughing and got major giggles but I will admit to it, I think it’s me. But I’m proud of that because little things really amuse me, and who knows what I’m going to be like onstage but if I get it all out now in rehearsals then hopefully I’ll be serious on stage. 

What’s the best thing about being a princess?

Best thing about being a princess… erm, I think it’s the clothes. I’ve only tried two of mine on, I may only have two in the Panto, but it just makes you feel like one. You can say your lines, have a prince, but I think the dresses and the heels you wear, and the hair and the crown make you feel like a princess. And obviously I’ve got a gorgeous prince with me, so he’s one that makes me feel great as well – so it’s a bit of both really!

Are you any good at ad libbing?

Errr, I don’t think I’ve ever had to, and I’d get quite nervous if I had to, so I think the best answer to say now is no, because if I said “yeah I’m great!” and I muck up in the Panto… So I’m just going to say no for now but who knows, in the future I might become amazing, but I doubt that very much!

Well you’ve got to start somewhere.

Definitely, I think Mike’s good because he’s done it a lot and he’s a comedian anyway, he’s done his stand up and I think he understands the ropes of it a bit more but who knows, after this I might be like ‘I’m great at ad-libing, everyone ask me something’. 

Our research shows you’re a Harry Potter fan…

Absolutely! I love Harry Potter. 

OK, what house would the sorting hat put you in?

Oh, how geeky am I? I think I’ve actually done a quiz, and I don’t remember what it said but I’m pretty sure it was Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, I think it was either of those two. Let’s just say it was Gryffindor, because that’s the best house for me anyway. 

So if someone came along and said we’ve got a part for you in the next film or play…

Oh one hundred percent Gryffindor, that would be my dream! I recently went to Harry Potter world actually, It was incredible, but I have no shame in admitting I’m a Harry Potter geek.  

Who looks after your dog’s when you’re away?

Yes, I have a dog called Daisy! My whole family lives in Cornwall, and when I’m in London at college, my mum and dad take care of Daisy. Perdy is my sisters, Franco is my other sisters, and Gandalf is my other Brothers, so they’re all taken care of with their owners at home and when I go back I help around the house and take them for walks. I get most of the loving from Daisy, whereas mum is the feeder and does the telling off, but I’m just the ‘give me some lovin’ ‘. 

You turn up as the princess then…


Ella, thank you for taking the time to talk to GrapevineLIVE.

Sleeping Beauty runs at Ipswich Regent from 17th December until 2nd January – click here to book tickets.