Arts

Sam Bailey on why new musical Fat Friends will resonate with dieters everywhere

Ahead of new musical Fat Friends opening in Belfast, one of its stars, former X Factor winner, Sam Bailey, tells Gail Bell that stepping on to the scales is one big laugh

Sam Bailey, right, pictured with Jodie Prenger in the new Fat Friends musical

ANYONE who has ever been a member of a slimming club – or who has even been on a diet – will relate to hilarious new musical, Fat Friends, which opens in Belfast's Grand Opera House next month.

At least, that is the confident opinion of one of its stars, Sam Bailey – X Factor winner from 2013 – who is performing in the touring production alongside Jodie Prenger (BBC's I'd Do Anything), Natasha Hamilton (Atomic Kitten), Natalie Anderson (Wicked and Emmerdale) and Kevin Kennedy (Coronation Street).

Based on the hit television show from the noughties, the all-new show has been written by Kay Mellor, with original music – described as "sensational" by Bailey – composed by Nick Lloyd Webber, son of musical genius, Andrew.

The singer, now aged 40, plays the part of 'Betty', made famous in the original TV series by Alison Steadman, whom she met at the press night of the show when it premiered in Leeds (where the television series was set) last November.

Not that she was seeking tips on how to be a carbon copy of Steadman's character, as Bailey had made a point of not watching any re-runs, so she could make the part her own.

"I think Alison Steadman is amazing and I was delighted to meet her when she came to the press night of Fat Friends in Leeds," she says. "I know Fat Friends was a really popular and funny series on television, but when it aired in 2,000, I was working on a cruise ship at the time and didn't really get to follow it.

"Not being too familiar with the TV version, though, meant I could put my own stamp on Betty's character."

Fat Friends follows the antics of a number of members of a fictional Leeds slimming club and how their battle with increasing waistlines effects their lives in a variety of ways – often with laugh-out-loud results.

"The show is very, very funny, packed full of hope, love and weight loss," says Bailey whose character is put through her zumba paces at the local branch of Super Slimmers, while stage daughter Kelly (Jodie Prenger) can only fantasise about fitting into her wedding dress.

"I think it is a very relatable show because many members of the audience will have been on a diet at some point in their lives. I went to a slimming club myself about 10 years ago and I know how it feels to step forward and take your turn on the scales..."

Her favourite scene is the opening one featuring 'Kelly' who sees the wedding dress of her dreams but, unfortunately, it is "about two sizes too small".

It's a bitter-sweet moment, but "very funny" recounts Bailey, who recalls her own wedding dress had to be quite "simple" in comparison. After she had tied the knot with husband Craig in Las Vegas 14 years ago, she was whisked off for a flight over the Hoover Dam – and a 'meringue' type dress would not have fitted into the helicopter.

The couple now live in Leicester with their three children, Brooke, Tommy and Miley – but only the eldest, 12 year-old Brooke, "who loves musicals" has been allowed to see her mum on stage.

"Some of it is a bit near the knuckle and there's some swearing, but Brooke is very mature for her age," Bailey says. "My son, on the other hand, would rather be on his lap top than in the theatre and Miley is only little, so the show was never really going to be suitable for a family outing."

Before winning the 10th series of The X Factor four and-a-half years ago, Bailey, a former footballer who played professionally for a number of clubs, including West Ham, Crystal Palace and London Women, worked as a prison officer when she wasn't singing her heart out on cruise ships and in clubs.

And while the X Factor win undoubtedly gave her an enviable platform, it has been talent that has sustained her at the top of a notoriously fickle industry, leading to a chart-topping debut album (The Power of Love) in 2014 and a sell-out headline tour in 2015.

She also enjoyed a successful run as the fearsome Mama Morton in a 2016 UK tour of the musical, Chicago – a role Bailey took great delight in playing, telling everyone she was back at work, in her prison uniform again.

"I have to pinch myself at times and I can't wait to come to Belfast and see a little bit more of the city, especially Titanic Belfast," she says. "It is exhausting being Betty and I have been running around like a headless chicken, but it's such a great part to play.

"I love the comedy element and I would definitely love to do more comedy. I am a huge fan of Catherine Tate and I love Mrs Brown's Boys. The live comedy of that show really excites me; I would love to be a Mrs Brown girl some day – whether I got to sing or not."

:: Fat Friends opens at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, on May 8 and runs until Saturday, May 12. For tickets, visit goh.co.uk

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