Sheila Ferguson is playing the wicked fairy this year in Sleeping Beauty at Ipswich Regent. Grapevine had the pleasure of talking to her just as rehearsals started.
I was reading your twitter feed this morning and I have to ask: is that Shelia Ferguson on the keyboard or do you have people that do that for you?
Oh no, I do it and everybody knows that they’re talking to me, I make it very clear. Nobody can put words in my mouth, I’m an African-American living here and Majorca and it wouldn’t sound the same if it came officiously from someone else. They know they’re talking to the “diva”!
Now you mentioned Majorca, why would anybody who has a house there, spend their winter in Ipswich?
Well, firstly England has demand to be here. Secondly, there’s not much happening in Majorca in the winter, it’s like pretty much a ghost town until after Easter when the children break-up from school – then you can’t park anywhere, there’s all this traffic and all the tourists. But it’s very much like my own island now; I park where I want, I go to green grocers and there’s nobody there. The reason I’m moving back is because my partner died eight years ago, and I’ve been alone all that time and I’m starting to feel the need to be more sociable now. I don’t go out much there, my social circle has never really left England, and I come here for my hair, my doctors, for one of my daughters (the other is in Dubai), so there really is no need to be living in Majorca any longer – which you’ll see more when the TV show I just filmed airs in February, Hotel Marigold series 2.
Oh, we’ll look forward to that! Panto is a peculiarly British thing… and Americans don’t generally get Panto do they?
No they don’t, and this is my 10th! But the European fans who come every year to wherever I am, from Holland, Belgium and I’ve even got some New Yorkers coming; they love it because they understand the genre. They also like the fact that I Americanise my part, so rather than doing it like Mary Poppins, well this time I’m evil, but I kind of give it more street cred, therefore kids identify with the part I’m playing because it’s what they see on TV, and that also makes it mine.
Is it more fun to play the evil and wicked part?
This is only my second time playing a baddie, and I’m struggling because I’m used to being the good fairy, making people happy and you know it’s Christmas time! And now I’ve got to be evil, and make them boo and hiss and jeer. And everyone’s going “yeah but that’s the best part!” and I say “yeah but I’m gonna cry!” because I’m not used to being booed, I’m used to being adored! It’s a different departure for me to be evil and wicked, but I’m gonna have to learn.
Oh I’m sure you’ll do it very well…
Oh I’m sure; in the mood I am today, having been up since 3am, I can be very wicked today!
I guess you are staying somewhere local during the run, do you ever get fed up living out of a suitcase?
Yes! That’s another reason why I’m coming back here, so I can go home! I’ve been on the road since before I finished high school, so I’m pretty much fed up of packing. It used to be fun to pack; now you’ve got to pack and weigh, pack and weigh, add more kilograms. It’s no fun anymore; it used to be fun when you could just walk through the airport, buying everything you wanted. Not now, you can’t do it. Also security is so much different now too.
You’re here what, four weeks is the run?
Yeah, we close on the matinee January 2nd, and I’ll be staying in England until February, because I’m doing a charity event for Joe Allen’s and I’ll be serving tables and singing, along with my celebrity friends, and it’s for a very good cause for children’s cancer. I also have all the press to do for Hotel Marigold and I’m meeting about my autobiography. I’ve just got so many meetings, that rather than flying back and forth, sometimes in Majorca this time of year, there’s only two flights a week, and I can’t live like that! So I’ve decided to stay in England until February, save me a whole lot of air flights!
I was going to ask what the next big project is, but I think you’ve covered them in that answer!
Yeah, Hotel Marigold in February. I’ll be doing the Cadogan room with a 44 piece orchestra on May 12th, then I’ve got the indigO2 on October 6th and Belfast on March 25th. I mean, the year is filling up like mad, and I’m not even on Hotel Marigold yet!
Shouldn’t you be considering retiring?!
I am! I wanna! Every time I want to retire, something else happens! I would like to retire at the end of 2017 because I’ll be back here then, I’ll have sold up and then I can put my feet up a little and maybe just work for PPL, PRS and the equity, and all the things I like to do when I’m bored.
I don’t think you’re going to rest…
No. Everybody says that! Everybody says “you’ll never retire!” I mean, I’ll come out and do the odd gig here and there, and some TV shows. There’s a lot of demand to come onto loose women and to do those shows, but I’m always in Majorca. If something happens, the first thing they want to know is: what do you think of Trump? or what do you think of Obama? and it’s difficult being abroad. My life is in England, I’ve lived here since ’83 and I miss it. Can you believe I’m saying I miss the weather?!
Your career has spanned acting, singing and lots of other things; do you have a favourite type of entertainment that you enjoy doing more than another?
I’m going to be perfectly honest with you; I want to say performing for audiences, which is where my heart is. The disconcerting thing I find now is you come on stage and you see a sea of phones, and people videoing you. I don’t feel the connection I used to feel with the audiences. And that is awful, because I like to look at a person’s eyes and see if I’m going over properly, and all you see is people on their phones videoing you. It’s not the same thing, so I’m not enjoying it as much as I used to because of the nature of social media. That’s also telling me to start winding down, if you know what I mean. Then when I do performances that are big enough, like with the 44-piece orchestra and things like that, I can demand that the phones are left with the hatcheck – but then they’ll sneak them out of their pockets!
I was at a Panto on Saturday, where the ushers were extremely hot on getting people to put their phones away.
Really? That’s good. But I know, now everyone is tweeting! That’s one of the things I like about going to West End shows, at least you don’t see people doing that, they’re watching the stage – 8 shows a week is a toughie though, well so is Panto, but I do love the West End.
Panto is not is easy, is it? It looks fun but it’s a lot of hard work.
No, it’s not easy, and also one of the things I’ve missed over the last 10 years is I do a wonderful Christmas, and I haven’t been able to do that for my daughters, and I’d like to do a big family Christmas next year so that would be an aim as well, so I can put up a tree, and cook. I love to cook.
What’s the best part of rehearsal?
When you know it! The best part is also seeing the evolution of things, seeing how it grows, and hearing the other actor’s voices. Reading a script is one thing, but hearing how it’s brought to you and how you’re going to respond to it, that’s when it comes alive.
Then of course you go into dress rehearsal, then you get first night… Do you get stage fright at all?
Why does that not surprise me?
I’ve been doing this too long! I don’t know why I don’t. I think because I’ve made all the mistakes you could possibly make, and when you’ve done that in front of 50,000 people; what else can you do? You just get on with it. I’m very critical of myself, so I come off and I say right what could I have said better? What could I have done better? What could I have sung better? I do all that after each show so I can then put it away and get ready for the next one.
You’re such a busy person; I’ve got to ask this… What does Shelia Ferguson do to relax?
See, that’s the one question I can never answer! I was asked that years ago, and I actually had no answer. But I watch films; I’m into black and white film noir, and classic films. I mean, there’s not a line and a few good men that I don’t know. The Great Escape is one film I love, and West Wing – I love that kind of stuff. I also enjoy any Mel Brooks film or any comedy. It just depends on my mood, I’ll take out what I want to watch for the weekend, and I’ll go into my film mode and get my popcorn!
But I’m sure you’re thinking of some other project along the way…
I am indeed! Yeah there are things in the wind that are very doable, but I’m also very superstitious and I don’t talk about it until it’s signed, sealed, delivered.
Shelia it’s been a pleasure talking to you, thank you for your time today.
Sleeping Beauty runs at Ipswich Regent from 17th December until 2nd January – click here to book tickets.
Pop back tomorrow for our chat with Ella!