Lisburn CBeebies presenter Gyasi Sheppy puts broken bones behind him to tread the boards in Belfast panto with May McFettridge

Jenny Lee chats panto, dancing, broken bones and Graham Norton to Lisburn CBeebies presenter Gyasi Sheppy, who is currently starring in Cinderella at Belfast's Grand Opera House

CBeebies presenter Gyasi Sheppy is enjoying treading the boards at the Grand Opera House this Christmas in the panto Cinderella
CBeebies presenter Gyasi Sheppy is enjoying treading the boards at the Grand Opera House this Christmas in the panto Cinderella

"IT'S a dream come true to be on the Grand Opera House stage. I'm having an absolute ball," enthuses Lisburn television presenter Gyasi Sheppy, who is starring as Dandini in this year's pantomime, Cinderella.

Just four years ago the CBeebies star shattered his ankle in three places and was told he would never dance again.

Giving up on a future on stage, he found himself working as a medical secretary in Lagan Valley Hospital, before creating a bucket-list of '30 things to do before turning 30' and catapulting himself into children's television.

I caught up with the 32-year-old as he walked to "grab a quick burger", in-between panto performances.

"We can hardly hear ourselves speak on stage because of the kids screaming at you, but that's what panto is all about," said Gyasi, still on a high from a matinee performance in front of a packed auditorium of school kids.

He went on to tell me how only four years ago, he feared he would never set foot on stage again.

Having studied Btec level 2 and 3 performing arts at South Eastern Regional College, Gysai had played a number of stage roles, including his first panto experience as part of the ensemble at the Christmas show at Derry's Millennium Forum. But a freak accident in 2018 completely changed the direction of his life.

"I went over in a pothole I broke my ankle in three places. I had two operations and 11 pins and two plates, and it took me about 18 months to recover. I had a lot of physiotherapy and had to start with the basics of walking again," he recalls.

"At that time I thought I was done with theatre forever. I had to find a new path and, more immediately, a new job.

"I worked in a hospital as a medical secretary for two years when I was recovering, including during Covid, and then in the midst of that I asked myself 'what is my new dream?'.

"I think Covid forced a lot of people to think about their futures. I always had TV presenting in the back of my head, so I moved to London after the first lockdown."

He immediately undertook a presenting course, made some connections and put a showreel on YouTube. Within just three weeks Gyasi was contacted by the BBC asking him to audition for CBeebies, and he joined the team in summer 2021.

Like many children, some of Gyasi's earliest memories are of panto, first at Lisburn's Island Arts Centre and later on annual visits to the Grand Opera House, where he watched in awe as Dame May McFettridge entertained audiences.

"Watching panto is what excited me to get into theatre in the beginning. To be on the Belfast stage where I watched panto as a child is a real 'pinch me' moment.

"I got quite emotional in rehearsals, working with May, our national hero, " he adds sincerely.

This year's production of Cinderella is full of laugh-out-loud comedy, stunning scenery, outrageous costumes, popular songs and special effects.

Joining John Linehan, aka May McFettridge, in a record-breaking 32nd panto season is Paddy Jenkins as Baron Hardup, Adam C Booth as Buttons, Kia-Paris Walcott as Cinderella, Conor Headley as Prince Charming and Jo Donnelly and Jolene O'Hara, playing the vile Wicked Stepsisters.

Gyasi's character Dandini is the male servant of the Prince and he is enjoying playing the dapper role.

"Last year I played Dick Whittington in Norwich. He was straight-faced and serious; Dandini is the polar opposite. I'm having so much fun being this high-pitched, wacky, energetic character on stage," he says.

"May sits in the wings and we pass each other during our scenes. I can see her laughing whenever I'm coming off after I deliver my lines. If May McFettridge is laughing at me, I must be doing something right," he enthuses.

Young viewers can still see Gyasi in The CBeebies House, alongside Dodge T Dog over Christmas when he will adorn a multitude of Christmas jumpers.

And while he loves entertaining children and has his sights set on a role in next year's CBeebies panto and possibly his own kids' programme, Gyasi admits he would love to host his own chat show one day.

"Children's TV is a special place and I'm absolutely loving it right now. Many big presenters started in kids TV, and I guess all presenters dream of having a show with their own name on, that they can put a mark upon.

"I met Graham Norton a few weeks ago. He's an absolute idol of mine - one Irish boy to another.

"I pretty much asked him if I could have his job when he was finished with it - to which he replied 'absolutely'. I'm only in the business two years, so we will see where the future takes it..."

Whilst he's currently living his dream on screen and stage, Gyasi also hopes to tick another dream off his bucket list, by following his CBeebies co-star Hamza Yassin on to the Strictly Come Dancing dance floor.

"My ankle has got a lot more strength and flexibility now. I do a bit of dancing in this panto and I'm loving it. Maybe next year, or the year after, I could aim for the glitterball trophy," he gushes.

More immediately in 2023 he hopes to inspire young locals, through his role as an ambassador for South Eastern Regional College.

"Many young people are lost and directionless and don't know what they want to do. I'm hoping that I can inspire them to think about a pathway, network and connect because that's how it happened for me. That sometimes takes time. I've had my own problems and struggled with my mental health, but look where I am now."

:: Cinderella continues at Belfast's Grand Opera House until January 15. Goh.co.uk