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Authors: Lisa Gee

Stage Mum

BOOK: Stage Mum
8.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


About the Book

About the Author

Title Page



Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

When the Dog Bites

Something Good

High on a Hill

A Crazy Planet Full of Crazy People

So Long, Farewell



About the Book

When Lisa Gee’s six-year-old daughter, Dora, goes to an open audition for the West End production of
The Sound of Music
, it’s just a fun way to occupy some time in the Easter holidays. But when Dora unexpectedly lands the role, Lisa soon learns that Dora’s brush with fame has less to do with paparazzi and lucrative paydays and more to do with endless rehearsals and outsize egos.

Part fairy tale, part cautionary tale, this is the hilarious, engaging account of one child’s step into the limelight. From the initial try-out with over a thousand Von Trapp hopefuls to performing on the London stage with Connie Fisher and an encounter with Julie Andrews, mother and daughter navigate the minefield of rehearsals, auditions and fame. This is a heart-warming glimpse into the sometimes not-so-glamorous world of show business and the delicate balance between being proud and being pushy.
Stage Mum
is a story for every parent who dreams big and every child who dreams bigger.

About the Author

Lisa Gee is the author of
Friends: Why Men and Women Are From the Same Planet
(Bloomsbury, 2004) and the editor of
Bricks Without Mortar: the Selected Poems of Hartley Coleridge
(Picador, 2000) and the Orange Prize for Fiction website. She lives in northwest London, with one performing child and her husband, a children’s party entertainer.

For Dora, just keep being your (wonderful) self.

For Laurie, thank you for being you.

For the 2006 first run SoM kids and their parents.

For Dad, without whom …

In fond memory of Rebecca Hawes 03/09/1987–19/10/2007


Big thanks to …

… Louise Greenberg – much more than just an agent – and her writers’ group; Caroline Gascoigne, Tess Callaway, Emma Mitchell, Rebecca Morrison and everyone at Hutchinson; all the SoM kids and their parents, especially Lynn, Helen, Jane, Wendy, Jackie, Nicky and Graham who allowed me to include information about them and their children and who read and commented on early drafts (as did Dora, Jo Hawes and Russ and his family).

…Nancy Carlsson-Paige, June Havoc and Tana Sibilio, Catherine Hindson, Liz Jensen and Raphaël Coleman, Sam Keston, Paul Kirkman, Tracy Lane and David Ian, Mark Lester, Paul Morley, Paul Petersen, Russ and Linda Russell, Boyd Tonkin, Mark Williams-Thomas, Sylvia Young and Maggie Melville-Bray who gave their time to be interviewed.

…Claire Russell who allowed her story to be told.

… everyone who discussed this book with me, offered comments, ideas and criticisms.

And, of course, to Dora, Laurie, Dad, Lilli, Auntie Ruth, Nikki and Richard (and also Millie and Freddie) who helped in so many ways.

The author would like to thank the following for the permission to use copyright material. Cover copy from
The Great American Mousical
by Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton (Puffin Books 2006). Text copyright © Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton. Illustrations copyright © Tony Walton. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.; Extracts from ‘Celebrity is the Death of Childhood’ copyright © Andrew O’Hagan. Reproduced by permission of Telegraph Media Group Limited; Extracts from
The Story of the Trapp Family Singers
by Maria Augusta Von Trapp (Fontana, 1968). Text copyright © Maria Augusta Trapp. Copyright © renewed 1980 by Trapp Family Lodge, Inc. Now published by HarperCollins Publishers (US); Extracts from
Early Havoc
by June Havoc (Hutchinson & Co. Publishers Ltd, 1960). Text copyright © June Havoc. Reproduced by kind permission of the author; Extracts from
Former Child Stars: The Story of America’s Least Wanted
by Joal Ryan (ECW Press, 2000). Text copyright © Joal Ryan. Reproduced by kind permission of the author; Extract from the A Minor Consideration website
© Paul Petersen A Minor Consideration; Extracts from
Child Star: An Autobiography
by Shirley Temple Black (Headline Book Publishing plc, 1989). Text copyright © Shirley Temple Black; Jo Hawes’ emails © Jo Hawes reproduced by kind permission of the author; Extracts from ‘To Be Or Not To Be?’ by Emily Keston © Emily Keston reproduced by kind permission of the author.


Dora might be interested?’ My father was calling from Vienna where he spends several months each year, visiting friends, absorbing culture and going for long walks in the woods. He’d been watching the news (in English) on Sky TV, when an item came on about the open kids’ auditions for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s forthcoming West End production of
The Sound of Music
. We – Dora, me, my fiancé Laurie and his mother Lilli – were sitting round the dining table in Lilli’s flat a few minutes’ walk from the Bournemouth seafront on a freezing April Fool’s Day. We were debating, heatedly, the relative merits of mushroom vol-au-vents and smoked salmon bagels as wedding fare and wondering whether to brave the wintry weather to build a token sandcastle.

‘She’d have to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”,’ my father continued, before telling me where and when she’d have to sing it. He sounded a bit excited by the idea, which means he was actually quite excited. The only time I remember him sounding really excited was when my parents’ house was struck by lightning. Even then his excitement was tinged with regret at having been elsewhere at the time. He had missed the huge bang as the roof exploded, terrifying my mother, who was hiding in a windowless bathroom, clutching the cat.

The auditions were due to take place at the London Palladium in a few days’ time. It was the Easter holidays and there was nothing else in the diary. ‘Would you like to go?’ I asked Dora. Silly question. Dora, aged six and a bit, already had an impressive track record of volunteering enthusiastically. Naturally she wanted to go.

It would probably have been more sensible to think about whether
wanted to go before raising the possibility with her. But I didn’t. I was, however, very good about nixing any unrealistic expectations she might have. ‘There’s no way you’ll get a part,’ I told her. ‘We’ll have to queue for hours, you’ll get to sing for one minute and then they’ll say “thank you” and “goodbye”.’

She still wanted to go, and as we didn’t have any better offers for that day, I Googled the song lyrics, printed them out for her, downloaded the Judy Garland version from iTunes and copied it seven times on to a CD. I sang it to Dora. She put her hands over her ears and cried. I stopped singing and let her practise along with Judy. I told her again and again that there was no way she’d get a part. Was she really,
sure she wanted to go? Yes. Did she understand what I was saying? Yes. But she wanted to have a go and thought it might be fun. I thought it probably wouldn’t be fun. I thought it would be a lot of very boring standing about, followed by her singing two lines while I got to do more boring standing about. Then I would have to comfort a humiliated, fed-up and frustrated child who’d been treated appallingly and dismissed carelessly by a panel of thoughtless Simon Cowell types. But, like many people, I was curious about what it would be like. How would Dora get on? What kinds of children (and parents) would turn out? What would the directors be looking for? Would we get to meet anyone interesting? My curiosity triumphed over my concerns. There is, after all, such a thing as being overprotective, and a day standing in line outside the London Palladium didn’t seem

‘The other parents will be awful,’ advised my sister Nikki, who, having done some performing herself as a child, had taken her very pretty daughter to a couple of modeling castings and hadn’t enjoyed
experience. ‘They’ll all be from
.’ I wasn’t convinced that coming from Essex was, of itself, reprehensible, but without entirely buying into her stereotyping (she does, after all, live in
West Hendon
), I thought I understood what she was getting at.

A couple of days before the audition, I went online to see if I could find out any more about what would be happening. What time would we have to be there to make sure Dora wouldn’t miss out? How many children would turn up? Would they have to sing in a particular key? What should she wear? After some serious surfing, I came across the online ad on the Really Useful Group’s website. At the bottom was an email address for someone called Jo Hawes, the Children’s Administrator – whatever that meant. So, just after 11 p.m., having nothing better to do, I emailed her:

Hi there

Am planning on bringing my 6-year-old daughter along on Thursday – it will be a first audition for both of us.

Please would you let me know

a) will the children sing accompanied or unaccompanied – does it matter what key she sings in? and – you may not be able to advise on this!!!

b) the time you expect people to start queuing on Thursday morning

Thanks very much

Probably won’t reply, I thought, but worth a go.

Fifteen minutes later she replied.

She will be accompanied and the key may vary. She should just know the tune.

All I can tell you is that every single child will be seen but not necessarily on Thursday. It will depend where you are in the queue but on an open audition it is impossible to say how long
queue will be or what time it will start building up. Experience tells me they will start queuing at 6 or before and I am expecting 1000+ children.

Further info attached.

No way was I going to get up

Thanks so much for getting back to me so rapidly and for the extra information!

A bit cheeky to ask this, but if we’re not going to be superhumanly keen and start queuing at daybreak, is 9 a.m. the cutoff point, or might it be more sensible to turn up a little later, knowing that she might not be seen for a day or so?

It was, Jo replied immediately, entirely up to me.

On Thursday, 6 April 2006 we left home at a very civilised 8.30 a.m., arriving in front of the London Palladium about an hour later. The multipley-braided, be-ribboned and even, in places, dirndled queue snaked around the theatre and off into the distance. Girls outnumbered boys massively, and the majority looked between nine and thirteen years old: there weren’t so many, it seemed, of Dora’s size and age. A couple of crews were filming groups of over-excited children, who were thrilled that they might be on telly. A few adults – those who had phoned in sick to bring their kids along – were hiding under their coats, worried that they might be on telly. Meanwhile, a smiley man with grey hair was joking with the children and brandishing a measuring stick to check that they didn’t exceed the five-foot height limit. It took us at least five minutes to reach the end of the queue.

A thousand hopefuls were waiting (although the media reported that there were three thousand), the keenest, I later discovered, having shown up before five that morning. There was, obviously, no chance that Dora would be seen that day, and about twenty minutes
we arrived, I was handed a form to complete with name, address, height and weight details, and told that I would be contacted with the venue, date and time of her audition. Despite her insistence at having her growth regularly marked in biro on the kitchen doorpost, I didn’t have a clue how tall or heavy she was. Unless I’m baking a cake – a rare occurrence – I don’t do measuring. This has led to some entertaining (for me) situations involving doorways, sofas, badly scratched paintwork and cross men. Feeling slightly smug at having avoided the mind-numbingly dull queuing bit, I tracked down the nice man with the stick to determine Dora’s height and took a random guess at her weight.

BOOK: Stage Mum
8.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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