ALEXANDRA BURKE COMPLETES 2017 STRICTLY LINE-UP 159

Alexandra Burke is the fifteenth and final celebrity contestant confirmed for the brand new series of Strictly Come Dancing. The 15th series of the BAFTA award-winning entertainment show produced by BBC Studios will return in the autumn on BBC One putting the sparkle back into Saturday and Sunday nights.

Alexandra said in a statement:

“I am so excited to be joining this year’s Strictly cast! I love this show and have followed it from the beginning, so being able to be a part of it is just a dream come true for me – I still can’t believe it! I am very nervous as I am a singer not a dancer, but I am going to give this my absolute everything and try my best to make everyone proud.”

Alexandra Burke is a singer and West End performer currently starring in Sister Act in the lead role of Doloris Van Cartier in the UK tour. In 2014, she made her West End debut playing Rachel Marron in the stage musical adaption of The Bodyguard and received a nomination for Best West End Newcomer at the West End Frame Awards.

Alexandra first shot to fame after winning ITV’s The X Factor in 2008 and her debut single “Hallellujah” sold over one million copies and became the top selling single for that year in the UK – a first for a British female solo artist. Her first single after winning the show was “Bad Boys” with Flo Rida which was a success debuting at number one in the UK singles chart and selling nearly one million copies as well becoming a platinum single. Her other hit singles include “Broken Heels”, “All Night Long” featuring Pitbull and “Start Without You.”

Alexandra Burke joins Jonnie Peacock, DebbieMcGee, Chizzy Akudolu, Charlotte Hawkins, Brian Conley, Susan Calman, Aston Merrygold, Simon Rimmer, JoeMcFadden, Reverend Richard Coles, Gemma Atkinson, Ruth Langsford, Davood Ghadami and Mollie King to make up the Strictly class of 2017.

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ALL CHANGE BEHIND THE SCENES ON CORRIE & EMMERDALE 35

ITV today confirmed Iain MacLeod had been appointed as the new Producer of Coronation Street, following Kate Oates’ decision to leave the soap and move into drama series production.

Kate is moving to work with ITV Studios owned label Tall Story Pictures, where she will produce the forthcoming second series of Bancroft, starring Sarah Parish.

ITV also announced that former ITV Drama Commissioner Jane Hudson has been appointed Emmerdale’s Executive Producer responsible for the future editorial and creative direction of the award-winning soap. Assistant Producer Kate Brooks becomes Producer alongside current Series Script Producer Laura Shaw who also becomes a Producer. Kate and Laura will produce blocks of episodes on a rotational basis and take responsibility for the day to day running of the programme. The Emmerdale appointments will take effect from the beginning of June, to coincide with Iain taking the helm at Coronation Street.

Kate and Iain leave their respective soaps in strong form, as each is up +5% year-on- year for volume, on both consolidated and overnights ratings. In 2018 to date, Emmerdale has increased its average audience in the consolidated ratings, pulling ahead to become the UK’s second most popular soap.

Coronation Street continues to be the UK’s most popular soap, with Good Friday’s 8:30pm episode scoring the highest rating in this slot in more than 4 years when 9.4m viewers tuned in to see Phelan confess his string of crimes to Eileen at the lighthouse. Across that week, Coronation Street delivered an impressive 40% share among 16-34s, the soap’s highest share for this demographic since just before the tram crash in 2010.

ITV Studios Creative Director for Coronation Street and Emmerdale, John
Whiston, said: “There’s a lot to praise here! Kate Oates has transformed Coronation Street during her tenure. This has been reflected both in the huge critical acclaim the show has been getting and in the ratings. We are now used to opening the overnights and seeing Coronation Street has delivered its highest ratings for many years, a herculean achievement in this box set era.

Kate has done this whilst putting on screen some groundbreaking and socially important stories such as the Bethany grooming story and David’s rape story. It is a testament to her brilliant editorial touch that these stories, though difficult, have been both credible and engaging.

Meanwhile, Kate has unleashed on us one of the finest villains in soap history with Pat Phelan and his dastardly deeds. And the show has continued day in day out to provide the viewer with top notch Corrie humour from Liz to Moira, from Steve to Tracy, from Sally to Tim. Doing all this while taking the show from 5 episodes to 6 episodes a week is a phenomenal achievement by Kate and something of which those who work on the show and those who watch it are hugely appreciative.”

On Iain MacLeod’s time at Emmerdale, John commented: “Meanwhile, over the Pennines, Emmerdale has been going through its own golden period under Iain MacLeod’s aegis. It too has built its audience volume and share. And it has delivered some truly memorable storylines. Ashley’s dementia was notable not just for the strength of the story, but for the way it was told with some soap defining drama, such as the episode all seen through Ashley’s point of view.

Equally hard hitting, though in a different way, was the multi car pile up on Hotten bypass. Emmerdale has a reputation for delivering big stunts and this one wasthe biggest and most spectacular, as well as the most intricately plotted and it came from the perfect soap brain of the supremely talented Iain MacLeod. It is no wonder Emmerdale has won pretty much a clean sweep of the awards in the last year, a run interrupted only by Coronation Street’s RTS Award.”

On Jane Hudson’s appointment John said: “Jane Hudson was the ITV Commissioner for the soaps during their recent renaissance, leaving last summer. She is the ideal person to take on the leadership of Emmerdale as she has soap running through her veins and understands and loves the genre like no other. She is also forthright and humane, both qualities needed to lead a soap these days. She has a brilliant story mind which makes me excited to see where Emmerdale will go next.”

Iain MacLeod moves to Coronation Street following his successful tenureas Producer of Emmerdale which has seen the Yorkshire based soap tackle a range of notable storylines including the recent acid attack inflicted on Ross, the reuniting of Robron following an acrimonious break up after Rebecca gave birth to Robert’s son, Seb, the realisation
that Faith Dingle has suffered a double mastectomy and Emma Barton’s demise following the death of James.

Emmerdale has also received a remarkable string of awards during Iain’s time as Producer including a BAFTA for Best Continuing Drama in 2017, the RTS Award for Continuing Drama in 2016 and 2017 and the National Television Award for Serial Drama for consecutive years in 2017 and 2018.

Prior to Iain taking his position at Emmerdale in 2015 he was Series Producer at Hollyoaks, a role he held since 2013. A former Coronation Street researcher and Story Editor from July 2009 until 2013, Iain left the programme in 2013 to join Hollyoaks and was promoted to Series Producer shortly afterwards.

Iain MacLeod added: “Working on Emmerdale at a time when it’s enjoyed such success hasbeen a total joy and I will miss the people and the place immensely – it’s a special show full of huge talent. Only Corrie could have tempted me away. It gave me my first job in TV asan assistant researcher many years ago and to be returning as producer is the fulfilment of a longstanding dream. It’ll be like a reunion with an old friend and I look forward to continuing the amazing work already being done by everyone connected with the show.”

Jane Hudson began her television career as a storyliner for Coronation Street before progressing to Script Editor. She moved to Casualty where she worked as Series Editor and Producer from 2004-2007. Jane is also a former producer of Law & Order: UK, Hustle, Waterloo Road and Robin Hood. Most recently Jane spent four years as an ITV Drama
Commissioner overseeing Coronation Street and Emmerdale from the network’s perspective. Jane joins Emmerdale from the independent television production company, Eleven, where she has been working as Executive Producer, Drama.

Jane Hudson, on her appointment as Executive Producer of Emmerdale commented: “I’m delighted to be returning to my Yorkshire roots and becoming partof the nation’s much loved soap, Emmerdale. I can’t wait to be back around the story table working with the writers on ideas that will have our audience laughing, crying, suspecting and occasionally hiding behind a cushion. I want to continue to give our loyal audience the drama they love whilst also bringing new viewers to the Dales, because believe me, there really is no better place.”

A former Producer of Radio 4’s The Archers from 2003-2010, Kate Oates has successfully produced Coronation Street since 2015. Prior to taking up the reins at Corrie, Kate produced Emmerdale from 2013-2015. She had previously worked as Coronation Street’s Assistant Producer following a stint as Emmerdale’s Story Editor. Kate leaves Coronation Street in an exceptionally good place after seeing the iconic soap transition from five to six episodes each week in September 2017.

Kate has also recently overseen an array of significantly memorable storylines including Eva and Maria’s infamous catfight following Aidan’s admission on his wedding day that he’d been in love with both women, Bethany’s grooming story, the realisation Zeedan’s wife Rana was in love with Kate, the return of Carla Conner to Coronation Street and Phelan’s reign of terror on the Weatherfield community.

Kate has also been responsible for the powerfully compelling story of David Platt’s rape, which has recently won huge praise for the soap from the audience and critics alike for tackling such difficult subject matter and raising awareness of such a devastating sexual assault. During Kate’s time as Producer Coronation Street also achieved theprestigious BAFTA Best Soap and Continuing Drama Award in 2015 and the RTS Award for Continuing Drama earlier this year.

Speaking today, Kate explained: “Being a part of Coronation Street has quite simply been one of the best experiences of my life. I am proud of the stories we have told and the impact they have had – and I’ve had a ball working with one of the best and most talented teams in television. I’ll be forever grateful for this opportunity and all it has given me; but I’m also excited to try something new. I can’t wait to make a start on Bancroft, working with the brilliant Sarah Parish and Tall Story Pictures – and I’ll continue to love watching both ITV soaps from the comfort of my sofa.

Catherine Oldfield, Creative Director at Tall Story Pictures says: “Kate Brooke and I are delighted that Kate has chosen Bancroft 2 as her first production after her fantastic run at Corrie. Kate has shown how brilliantly she delivers stories that thrill and surprise ITV audiences. We can’t wait to work with her.”

On Kate Brooks and Laura Shaw’s appointments as Emmerdale Producers John Whiston said: “Kate Brooks and Laura Shaw are both exceptional at what they do. Whilst they’ve worked on Emmerdale the show has been its best ever. They are both really good people who foster a supportive working atmosphere in which people who work for them thrive. Their appointments are a tribute to them and to the show for being the sort of place where good people do good and prosper. All in all, a top new team for Britain’s top soaps.”

DAWN FRENCH TALKS LITTLE BIG SHOTS 57

Dawn French hosts the second series of Little Big Shots, the entertainment show that shines the spotlight on some of the most talented children from around the world.

With no prizes at stake and no winners or losers, the programme simply allows three to 13 year olds to take to the stage to showcase their talents and prove they are star performers!

In each of the six hour-long shows, Dawn meets each act and gets to know them before they take to the performance area on the revolving stage, and show the audience and viewers what makes them special.

Pint-sized acts from all over the UK and the world will show off their singing, dancing and acrobatic skills alongside other amazing acts including a dog handler, a Eurovision expert, a champion hen-racer, a juggling strongman and stand-up comedian!

You’re back for a second series. What do you love so much about making Little Big Shots?
There are lots of things about it that are lovely. Never mind the practical stuff, which is go to London for two weeks, where I’ve got lots of mates, and have fun during the day doing this. The team that make it are very good fun. It suits my life very well, but never mind all of that, it’s a great show. I was a bit trepidatious about it at the beginning when they asked me to do it, because it’s a show that’s come from America and it’s presented by Steve Harvey who is a very different person to me. And I was thinking, maybe this needs a kind of grown up presenter – somebody who does a lot of thinking on their feet, which was not my skill or experience at all. I didn’t want to let the kids down, or be that awful person who tries to grab all the focus all the time. But then I asked to see the American show and it was just joyful. And a big attraction for me was that you are not promising these kids are going to be big stars, there’s no prizing or judging or horrible critiques or anything like that. Everybody understands that, for that one little moment, they get to shine, doing the thing that they love doing.

What was the reaction to the first series?
Fantastic. My in-laws love it. What I really like about it is that it’s old-fashioned family viewing. It’s got kids in it, but it’s not a kids-only show. It’s for everyone. Quite a lot of what I do divides people. Some like it, some don’t. That’s fine, but this – everyone seems to love it.

The kids you have on the show are incredibly diverse, aren’t they?
They’re so different because they’re all different ages, all different sizes, colours, creeds, countries, and talents. The talent is so varied. Some of them sing and dance and they are lovely. But some of them are just kids who’ve done something silly and funny on YouTube – we had a little boy called Marshall who is four years old. He got a guardsman’s outfit at Christmas and he loved to march in it so his family took him to Windsor Castle and filmed him meeting a proper guardsman. The guardsman stood still at first, like he’s supposed to, then he went indoors and got permission from his senior to go out and march with Marshall. Marshall’s day, his week, his year was made by doing that. So we replicated that on stage. And it’s joyous because we’ve all loved dressing up.

There is a very funny scene in the first episode in which you get on your hands and knees and crawl through a dog agility tunnel. You don’t mind getting stuck in, do you?!
Honestly, I saw them setting up the agility course and I thought, ‘I see. I see. I know what’s going to happen here’. In theory, I’d rather not be that undignified. On the other hand, I knew I was just not going to be able to resist it.

Which other acts stand out to you?
The Russian aerialists were absolutely extraordinary. Tiny, tiny, little perfect little creatures. They were strapped in so I knew they couldn’t fall, but nevertheless, the courage it takes to do that. You know, there’s no feeling around any of these kids that anyone has been forced, or does anything against their will, or doesn’t enjoy what they’re doing. These kids were just beaming, absolutely beaming. One thing I actually really love is the interpreters. We have these amazing kids with their talents from Russia, the Philippines, Romania, Germany, America, you name it. And a lot of them can’t speak the language, so then you meet other remarkable kids who translate. It’s crucial to have them there, but they’re massively clever. The little boy, Kai, who is a Russian translator, has now featured in series one and series two, and he’s very funny in his own right. He will explain things of course but he will also have his own take on it. So I asked this Russian kid if they are going to buy a football team while he’s here, which is just a little joke for the audience really, but Kai is rolling his eyes at me and it’s hilarious. He gives me a kind of, ‘I know what you’re up to and this is ridiculous’, type look.

What’s it like back stage before the kids come on?
The producers are very good. They are very kid friendly, and they’re very aware that especially for kids who come from abroad or other parts of the country, they’re in a hotel and it’s a big old deal. They’re given a few little tips and, more importantly, lots of time to rehearse. When they come to the studio, they don’t meet me, and that’s on purpose , it’s best for our show if they are meeting me for the first time in front of the audience. They see a picture of me but all they need to know beforehand is that I’m this lady who’s going to talk to them. It makes it much more natural.

Is there anything new this series?
Yes, we’ve got some collaboration. I was a bit wary of it to begin with. I thought, ‘Oh, hang on. Don’t just put people together for the sake of having a new thing’. But actually, we only do it three or four times in the whole series and it’s great when it happens because you get a second bite of some of the most remarkable kids. The producers sit and think, ‘Right. Here we have this beautiful singer. What would go well with her? I know, I remember that lovely boy, the ballet dancer from the last series. Let’s get him back and he can dance in the back’. So there’s a kind of little relationship with the show going on, a bit of history. There’s a harpist who works with a singer. There’s a lovely American trio, a cello and two violins, all brothers and sisters – and we put them together with a lovely Welsh singer and they do a Disney classic. It’s delightful. Then we’ve got this gorgeous boy who plays the piano, who happens to have been blind since he was born, and there’s a Romanian singer that we put him with. It’s an extra wonderful treat.

Some of these kids must spend hours upon hours training and rehearsing. Do you have any concerns about being that dedicated at such a young age?
I’m okay with that, as long as the kid really wants to and it’s a kind of passion. And I can honestly say that all the kids that we saw, their parents are right behind them and they are encouraged, they’re not forced. They’re encouraged to do something that is their skill. Now, I’ll tell you something I really have learned with the series, is that without a doubt, if you can identify a skill that your kid has or a passion, or a love that they have for a particular thing, and if you can devote some of your time as the parent to giving them space to do it, they will get better at it. So in other words, there’s a reason why the Williams sisters are brilliant at tennis. It’s because they decided to do tennis rather than watch loads of telly! Not that I have a judgement about that particularly – I love telly, and I certainly watched lots of it with my daughter – but I didn’t, somewhere along the line, think, “Oh, now, what could I focus on that she loves, that we do that and only that?” These parents have done that, they have sacrificed quite a lot actually, to make sure these kids have access to the one thing they love, and to support them and encourage them. Most of us just go, ‘Let’s do a bit of judo and a bit of piano’, and open lots of doors for your kids. But if you concentrate on one thing, you get really good at it. Like these wonderful two brothers we had on who are the best at mixed martial arts in Ireland and they travel the world doing it, getting better and better. Max is 11 and World Champion. That reminds me, there’s another wonderful thing about this show….

What’s that?
I get loads of presents! It’s heaven. These kids come from all over the world and all over the country with all kinds of wonderful things. I get everything from little Tupperware boxes of cookies to Russian matryoshka dolls. And the judo brothers gave me a black belt. So now I’m a black belt and I didn’t even have to earn it. I’ve got a great ukulele as well, some drumsticks from this amazing little girl. As it happens, my stepson is a drummer, and he saw them immediately and said, “Oh, I like these. May I borrow them?” And I haven’t seen them since.

What would your secret talent be if you were to go on the show as a child, or as an adult?
I didn’t really ever have a proper, well honed talent! I did a bit of dancing. I certainly couldn’t sing, but thought I could, so perhaps that. What would I do now? Hmm. I haven’t actually got a tangible skill, it’s a bit shocking. Well, I can move my eyes independently. It is a bit of an odd thing and I’ve been able to do it ever since I was very little. I think for a while my parents might have thought I was possessed. But I can do it. I’m not sure it would have got me on to Little Big Shots, mind you. I might wear a silly costume or something, or do a silly dance, or something like that. I could try and amuse the audience one way or another.

You dress up for a living, of course, when you act or especially when you film French and Saunders.
Most definitely. But I’m not so good at dressing up for fancy dress parties, weirdly. I’ve got it very wrong in real life. Elton John used to throw amazing, huge great big parties and I waslucky enough to go to a couple of those. Len and I once went as Michael Jackson and Bubbles. He was Michael Jackson and I was Bubbles. Hilarious for about five minutes, and then hot, and then I could smell my own body rotting from the inside of the costume. It was a full chimpanzee outfit, I could hardly see anything! When I eventually took the head off, and just mucked about sweating a lot, at the very glamorous party, I looked around and there were all these people in very glamorous versions of fancy dress. There were all these sexy jailbirds or flappers or whatever is cool and comfortable, and glam. And I was not. I’ve done that many, many times. I will go for the gag, and the joke wears off very, very quickly. But I can still remember the joy of doing the dressing up. Of laughing a lot, you know, getting ready for the party. And we don’t do that often enough as adults. Kids do it all the time.

On a completely different note – French and Saunders was very well received at Christmas time. Does that mean there will be more?
We never close the door on French and Saunders. We can’t bear the thought to close the door on it. There are no immediate plans, I would say. That’s because Fatty and I both are very booked up this year, and even into next year, so I can’t see the window of opportunity, but the minute there is one, we’ll be in there thinking of something. Fatty has been doing Lady Windermere’s Fan, which is brilliant. Fatty’s the best thing about it, of course, but the whole thing is wonderful.

Did you love being reunited for French and Saunders?
Yes, it was very good fun. We had very little time and it was a clip show at first, that turned into more than a clip show. I think what they really wanted us to do was just to narrate between some old clips, but we couldn’t face the thought of doing that, so we did sketches, and then we ran out of time. So it was chaotic, the same old chaos, but it was very doable. One of the great joys, and something I miss, is having accurate make-up and wardrobe. On the Christmas show, I used a makeup artist called Naomi Donne who I’ve worked with since I was 22 on French and Saunders, Vicar of Dibley. And now she’s the chief on all the Bond films. But we still get together and when she’s putting the wig on me to play Giles in Gogglebox, it’s the best giggle you could have. It’s just being in the dressing up box with your best mate. Collaborating on the costume before you even hit the studio floor is half the fun.