Shopping With The Stars 2009
Dress Circle, 16 May 2009
© May 2009
Last year’s shopping with the stars event had been such tremendously good fun, I did wonder if today’s event could possibly live up to that. I very much doubted if it could.
Although Dress Circle’s website, informing us the event would start at half past ten (though the shop would be open from ten o clock), had urged us not to be late, I as it happened arrived at half past ten. When I got there a number of Theatrical Guild staff were already there, and Chairwoman Liz Robertson had just arrived. Roy Tan the event’s official photographer was already there, as were Ian Brown and others from TotallyTheatre.com, who were acting as press agents for the event, with their video camera. This time Chris has Jessica his regular Saturday Girl helping him (so fortunately he wouldn’t be needing any assistance help or hindrance from the stars). At around twenty to eleven one of the Guild’s people informed Liz that Tony Sheldon was already downstairs, so she headed downstairs to find him. Liz did not spend long downstairs, and by eleven o’clock she was back up in the shop, posing for a photograph with a young school-girl customer.
A little later, Liz was standing by the counter, somehow the conversation had come round to her having to go later, because of being in Hairspray. She mentions, to whoever brought that up that she’s playing Velma Von Tussle. another customer said “Yes you’re playing quite a nasty character aren’t you.” “Yes, and I’m loving it” replied Liz, who explains she likes playing villains.
At quarter past eleven Liz
popped out, telling Dress Circle’s
At about a quarter to twelve Liz
Robertson returns, along with a guest, with whom she promptly poses for
photographs, Roy Tan is of course on duty with his camera to fulfil this
job. By now quite a few other stars have turned up, including
At about ten past twelve Philip
Quast does a press interview, in which he carefully takes time to explain
about the event, and also about the work of The Theatrical Guild.
I don’t know how many of the Stars taking part actually bothered to explain
that sort of thing during their interviews, but Philip is thoughtful and
conscientious like that. A really useful person to have helping at an event
like this. Meanwhile, one of the Theatrical Guild staff, possibly Karen Nichols, asks Sam Kelly to
try and get the auction going. Clive
Carter turns up. Liz introduces him to DC’s
Clive Carter is busy chatting to his various fans. He’s a talented actor, who has been around a long time, and worked his way up through the business. He is currently in Pricilla Queen of The Desert. He is asked some question about his role, to which he said “Unfortunately not. But I do get the kangaroo at the end, so can’t complain.” The two fans he was talking to (actually they may have been from the TotallyTheatre entourage- if not they were very longstanding loyal supporters of the event) want his autograph, he tells them they will have to put £2 in his collecting tin. However, Philip Quast (knowing these two to be among the day’s very loyal supporters) tells him that the two people in question “have already put a lot in”, and therefore they don’t have to this once. Philip is very useful like that, seeing what needs to be done or said and getting on with the job. Some stars taking part in this event are just ‘stars’ out to promote themselves, but Philip isn’t like that, he knows how to make himself useful to the event as a whole.
More stars are turning up
At twenty-five to one Jodie Prenger, one of today’s really big stars turns up. Liz immediately grabs her, before she can be mobbed, and takes her straight towards the back of the shop to do a press interview, but just at that moment, Sam and The Guild staff decide to start the auction. So Liz (whose can produce some volume when she has to) has to help getting all the crowd to be quiet, so that Sam can make a speech about the auction. And after he’s done it Jodie can so her press interview.
Then at about twenty to one, a surprise guest puts in an appearance. A mega soap turned pop star from the late 1980s. When this gentleman was at the height of his fame in the 1980s it was a huge scoop when he was on the cover of The Radio Times because he was starring in the Children’s Royal Variety), yet now he is much less of a big name. But he is still a star, Jason Donovan. He proves to fit in to the event surprisingly well, cheerfully rattling a collecting tin and chatting to various fans. He’s quite a draw, to say the least.
Things are becoming quite crowded, so much so that Roy Tan climbs onto a stall behind the shop counter, so that he can get a better shot with his camera. At least until Chris returns to post and asks him to move. However it is becoming increasingly difficult to move anywhere in the shop.
Shortly after quarter to one, Alison Steadman leaves. Meanwhile Clive Carter, who is busy rattling his collecting tin, spots a couple of fans who had been waiting for him at the stage door the night before. He exclaims to them “You crafty wotsits!”. He evidently feels, that perhaps they should have told him they would be coming today, and got their autographs from him today (donating money to the Theatrical Guild) and not at the stage door the night before. However he is very good humoured about them, and you know he will forgive them, but perhaps he does have a point.
At about five to twelve Patricia
Hodge turns up. Jason Donovan leaves at this point, then suddenly a
portion of the crowd inside the shop decide to head outside and gather in the
street, fortunately it is not raining.
At twenty five past one, Elaine C Smith a jolly middle-aged Scottish actress turns up. She is quite friendly, and it helps to keep the atmosphere going, for the short while she is there But by now, with everyone heading off to matinees things are dying down. I noticed that although Philip Quast has been gone a while, some of his fans (in particular Kat) are still around. meanwhile ther stars who had been around, but who I didn’t actually spot included: Emma Stephens, Ray Quinn, Nigel Planer, Leanne Jones, Charlotte Wakefield, Peter Benson, John McFadden, and, Kelly Price.
By ten to two we are getting into dead time. There are no stars, just the Theatre Guild staff, the press reporters from TotallyTheatre, the official photographer Roy Tan, plus quite a few customers. So it’s not as dead as this time last year, there is still quite a good atmosphere. However the yellow collecting tins (which the Theatre Guild staff have emptied) stand on the counter awaiting more stars. DC’s Melanie departs, and many of the Guild staff depart for a break. The shop is still attracting a fair few customers, some of whom are a little puzzled by the unusual atmosphere. Is it an after the ball is over atmosphere, or one of waiting for something to happen?
At around five past two
something does happen. Another star enters. It’s Gay Soper, who apparently
should have been here earlier, but got delayed by a long telephone call. In a
flash Roy Tan has grabbed his camera and drags Gay over to a convenient
corner to pose for a photograph. DC’s Chris and
At about twenty past two some of The Guild’s staff, such as Karen return. And at around half past two Rex Bunnet wanders in. At around twenty past two, I notice Gay was pondering the silent auction, there weren’t many customers around and one could tell the atmosphere was slipping. With so few customers around DC’s Chris pops outside for a smoke, and then has to hastily put his cigarette down to come in and attend to a solitary customer, before returning outside to resume his fag.
At about ten to three Gay
takes her leave, but promised to try and return later if she can manage it.
Just then some more of the Guild’s Staff return, and Chris busies himself
putting more stock out. At three o’clock Roy Tan returns with his lunch
(a Chinese takeaway), which he thoughtfully takes down to the staff area in the
basement to eat (where it won’t get in anyone’s way). The DC staff helpfully
Things are pretty quiet. It’s
still evident something had taken place today, but would things pick up? around
five to four,
The next hour passes very
slowly. It’s gone so quiet now even the atmosphere has gone. Is it going to be
worth staying? Chris takes another fag break, leaving Jessica by the counter.
There are few customers. Sian Phillips, drops in looking for her scarf,
but does not appear to have left it here
At about ten past five Patricia Hodge pops back in. But things
are so quiet, with too few customers, that lacking the power or inclination to
raise the atmosphere she departs within ten minutes. Is it even worth staying
to the bitter end? It is said that the darkest hour is just before dawn. And
that proved to be the case today. Just before five thirty we got the first rays
of the day’s Grand finale, as Julius D’Silva dropped in to deliver a
message, to The Guild’s Staff, the message being that Louise Gold
would be coming back later. He just delivered his message and promptly
left. A few minutes later as at just after five thirty Louise Gold
herself turned up, wandering straight into the shop while in the middle of
eating a chow main takeaway! Of all the daft things to wander into a shop
doing. Only Louise would do that! She is just such a muppet. It is potentially
messy, and even if it wasn’t, it did rather reek the place out with the smell
of it. The Dress Circle staff (Chris
Chris decides to step out,
possibly for another fag-break. And here’s a surprising bit. He asks Louise to
mind the till! “But I don’t know what I’m doing” says Louise, recovering
her good humour, and adding “I can sing songs from Oliver, but I don’t know
how to work the till”. So Chris then gets DC’s Jessica to stand close to
Louise, to keep an eye on her, just to make sure she doesn’t do anything too
crazy, while he’s away. In fact Louise simply entertains all the potential
customers with a loud joking tirade, about how if they want to buy something
now’s a good chance, especially as she hasn’t got a clue what she’s doing, and
is therefore easy to fool. Of course all the customers are actually much to
entranced by her commentary to actually buy anything. I’m sure Chris knew that
when he let Louise mind the till. But even so, it says something for the level
of trust Chris and
Louise Gold gets plenty of attention. She might not be a big star
(in the way that
A customer actually comes to the counter to buy something. Prompting Louise to exclaim, loudly. that this is an amazing occurrence “Someone is ACTUALLY buying something.” Well she’s got a point there hasn’t been much buying activity lately.
At just gone ten to six, Alexander
Hanson, drops in, along with Hannah Waddingham, Kaisa Hammarlund,
and Jessie Buckley. Louise greets them all loudly “Here are four stars from A Little Night
Music”. Then suddenly, as if brought down to earth, recollecting the
earlier incident with her Oliver! co-star. She asks them gently “Do
you mind if I shout? You won’t run away if I do?” Hannah and the others
looked a little bemused. Louise hastily explained that she shouted at Julian Bleach,
and he ran off. Fortunately the A
Little Night Music crowd are nothing like that. Louise, Hannah and Alex
are soon in a jolly little cluster around the end of the counter, with Louise
recounting that when she arrived a short while earlier she had walked into the
shop eating her takeaway. It’s so good see Louise laughing at her own slightly
inappropriate behaviour. That’s one of the great things about Louise, she can
laugh at herself. Meanwhile Kaisa mingles easily with the customers, chatting
happily. She’s a jolly actress, who tells everyone how much she enjoys her role
At another point Chris hands
Louise some scissors, I’m not quite sure what this was all about, other than it
resulting in Louise exclaiming loudly, “This is very strange, I’ve just been
asked to murder someone....” The laughter that erupts from this, including
comments about “Publicity” and “
While all this is going on Louise Gold does her utmost to keep the atmosphere going, maintaining the high energy level, and trying to persuade the customers, to continuing buying, she periodically shouts out “Keep buying. It is a shop”. Given that this late in the day people are beginning to flag, she’s is performing a really useful job, and hopefully bringing a bit more money in for the Theatrical Guild. She is also heavily plugging the new CD of Oliver! Is she over plugging it, after all with Jodie Prenger and Rowan Atkinson starring on it it should be selling pretty well. However, since the songwriter’s Shvoger’s Plemenitza allegedly described this album as “The Best recording of Lionel Bart’s greatest musical”, perhaps it deserves the plug.
.Another of the customers
turns up with the programme from Assassins, which he wants Louise
to sign. What a lot of trips down memory lane she’s getting. One of the
customers (possibly the one with the Assassins programme),
approaches her, on the subject of Oliver! jokingly says to Louise
that he thinks she should’ve gone for
In between all these conversations Louise (is having with her fans) she is still busily exhorting people to buy things, and particularly plugging the Oliver! CD, She also gives the show quite a plug, saying how wonderful it is, and how they must go and see it “But it’s sold out, so you can’t” she adds coyly. At another moment, while plugging the CD, she takes the sleeve notes out of one and says “Oh yes, Oliver! now who’s on it.” and then in mock surprise Louise exclaims “I am”.
Perhaps partly as a result of some of Louise’s antics, or perhaps not. Some customers do buy the CD of Oliver!. Louise says to Chris “Will you ask them if they want me to sign it. Because I’m too shy to ask.” This is kind of funny, because this vivacious meshugge actress is clearly nothing of the sort. Louise, in mock-drama-queen mode adds that she’ll be offended or upset if they don’t want her to sign. Louise shouts out this last bit. The customers are clearly a bit puzzled by her, they just can’t make head or tale of her. There is something in Louise’s madcap behaviour that is akin to The Muppets on The Muppet Show. She’s very gentle, friendly, and, loveable, even if she can across as a rather weird madcap.
At about ten past six, Chris had a Jersey boys CD playing, Louise’s artistic nature seemed inspired, for she started moving very rhythmically to the music, came out from behind the counter, and wandered over to the DVD racks, improvising a little dance routine, mostly with her upper body. She is after all an Arts Ed trained dancer, and it’s lovely to watch the way she moves so gracefully really connecting with the music, she is such a genuinely artistic person, in various ways.
The A Little Night Music crowd have to go, they’ve got to get down to the Embankment to do their evening show. Things could have got dull with the departure of the A Little Night Music quartet. However, with Louise Gold still around, no fear of that happening. I can see now why all those years ago when he wrote the book Of Muppets And Men Christopher Finch described Louise as “A volatile redhead with the off-stage manner of a latter-day Tallulah Bankhead, only somewhat less restrained”. – It’s still a very accurate description. Louise is still very much the life and soul of the place, exhorting the customers to buy “It is a shop”, and of course plugging the Oliver! CD. At one point a customer made some enquiry which Chris answered, and then said, with joking sarcasm “Louise will give you the quiet version”. This is actually funny when referring to a performer who is anything but quiet. At another point Chris was showing her some album costing £20.99. Louise almost faltered for a moment, “Twenty ninety-nine” she said in a surprised tone, as if to suggest she thought it a bit expensive. And then remembering her role at today’s event, a complete turn around, exclaimed loudly “Only twenty ninety nine”. One of the customers, someone who perhaps had not been in the shop for long, but who nevertheless probably did recognise Louise (from some of her many stage appearances) asks her “And what are you in?” To which she exclaims “I’m in Oliver! did I not shout it out?” I couldn’t help laughing. After all Louise had just spent the best part of the last three quarters of an hour literally shouting it out.
Somewhere in the course of
the conversation, Louise remarked, to DC’s Chris and
That gloriously wonderful last hour was so jam packed, it went really quickly, and it’s impossible to be sure of the order in which many things were said or happened, and yet so much was said, so many laughs, and hopefully much money, was raised. It was just the high spot of the day (well in my humble opinion). Louise Gold really knows how to create an atmosphere, and she did it brilliantly. All too soon the six thirty, closing time came round. Chris was keen to pack up. “I’m going to have to throw you all out” he said, “I’m going to see a film.”. Chris shut the gates to stop any new customers coming in. Most of the customers, made to leave. Chris started cashing up. Just then, as the Guild’s Staff were starting to pack up, a customer, (one of Louise’s fans) suddenly decides that they have to buy a poster frame. Chris was a little bit annoyed, at having to deal with a cash transaction right when he was trying to cash up. Trying to hurry everyone Chris said “ I’ve got to get to see my film.” Quick witted Louise, retorted to him sweetly (and cuttingly – in a manner that seemed to suggest superiority) “Well I’ve got a show to do” .. Chris finally succeeded in throwing the last of the Stars, Louise, and the last of the customers (one of that star’s fans) out of his shop, while The Guild’s staff finished packing their things up. By now it was actually 6:34. What an amazing day!
Overall there was one big improvement on last year, namely the business of giving each of the stars a yellow collecting tin to rattle. For stars such as Ian Talbot among others, it meant they had something definable that they were actually supposed to be doing. It also made it easier to know identify the stars were, even if one didn’t always know exactly who some of them were. Some of the Stars, such Alison Steadman and Lynda Bellingham, were very thoughtful and well organised in contributing a bunch of signed post-card sized photographs of themselves, which they would happily give to the customers in exchange for donations in their collecting tins, they would personalise the pictures too if the customers wanted. For some stars this was the most useful and appropriate thing they could contribute to the event. It would not necessarily have been right for all of them, every star who took part has their own thing they are best suited to doing to help the event, and for some of them that was a good and worthwhile way of contributing. Other stars contributed in other ways. Sam Kelly was excellent for helping to explain stuff to the press, while Philip Quast made himself tremendously useful whether giving press interviews, keeping the other stars up to speed on the event and generally being helpful to one and all. Liz Robertson of course is a good organiser and always seemed to know when to dive in and grab a star before they could get too mobbed, and place them in a sensible place. While Louise Gold gave a lot of energy and vivacity which was surely very encouraging to all concerned, even if she did get thrown out of the shop, twice! Having TotallyTheatre and Roy Tan there for a lot longer, helped to keep the atmosphere going for quite some time, after the majority of stars had departed for their matinees. Whereas last year the atmosphere had tended to go down immediately any particularly charismatic star departed. That said, this year there was far less happening once the stars had departed for the matinee, As apart from Gay Soper (and she couldn’t stay very long) there weren’t any stars available to cover the matinee time. Last year, Avenue Q (whose matinee didn’t start till later) had filled in, and we had also had several stars who weren’t at that time in anything (namely Liz Robertson, Louise Gold, and Robert Meadmore). This year that wasn’t possible, with Liz and Louise both employed this afternoon. Thank goodness Louise managed to drop in for the last hour.
Talk about saving the best
till last. Well OK having Jodie Prenger,