Anne Hailes: Rose-Marie's Genie to come out of the bottle at Crescent Arts Centre

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Co Down-born singing star Rose-Marie with broadcaster, DJ and panto co-star Robin Elliott
Co Down-born singing star Rose-Marie with broadcaster, DJ and panto co-star Robin Elliott

IF EVER there was a ‘head-liner’ it’s Rose-Marie, singer, comedian, actor, entertainer.

Her story is one of celebrity, filling the London Palladium with her ‘one girl’ show three times and on a fourth occasion playing to the late Princess Diana.

From the townland of Clough just outside Newry, as a young woman she moved to Blackpool, then London, on to California and Hollywood. She sang in Las Vegas with Tony Curtis and Johnny Cash, becoming a special friend of John Travolta and the amazing Tom Jones.

She used to introduce herself as 'Terry Wogan in drag', she’s been called the Irish Bette Midler and she can boast of gold and platinum albums and 15 million viewers on the TV show Search for a Star.

Now she’s come home for Christmas to play the Genie in the story of Aladdin in the Crescent Arts Centre and her biggest thrill of all is the joy of having her 84-year-old mum, Ann, in the audience.

Although Rose-Marie is an international star, her heart is very much at home with her family and around the farm where she and her sisters were born. Although her head, with her tumbling red hair, is firmly in showbiz, her heart is at home in Co Down where she is close to the people she cares for most and they certainly care for her, delighting in her love of life and her infectious laugh.

“Only my second pantomime here at home," she says. "The first time was in the Grand Opera House with Frank Carson who taught me the ropes, stage craft and timing. He was so generous in every way, took me under his wing. It was a wonderful time.

"He’d love to know I was back home being a Genie and, as he would say, I’m going to make a go of it.”

There’s no doubt she will. Already she has lots of little ideas up her sleeve and the children are going to love this mischievous spirit of the lamp.

Rehearsals are well under way for the Crescent Arts Centre pantomime which opens on December 17. This is the unlikely story of Aladdin as you’ve never heard it before – that’s the promise of Robin Elliott, television and radio broadcaster.

He’s used to working with the stars and has an enviable list of interviewees on his NVTV programmes, The Big Musical Show and The Big Interview, singers Susan McCann and Brian Kennedy, actress Kerri Quinn and comedian William Caulfield among them.

For Robin this panto means completing a full circle as he started training to be an actor at the Metropolitan College as a teenager and then moved to graduate from the drama department in Queen's.

“However, when I was 20 I realised there was more money to be made in radio and television and I became one of the youngest DJs on City Beat and now I play my own particular brand of music on Belfast 89 and I interview celebrities on NVTV."

And that’s only the half of it. Recently the acting bug re-emerged when he was invited to play the part of a barman in the West End production of Living the Dream with English star Diane Keen in The Other Palace theatre and now he’s turning his hand to being Abanazar, the real baddy in this Christmas pantomime.

“I can’t wait to be booed,” he admits, adding, “although some years ago round the City Hall Christmas Tree, Stewart Robinson of Young Star Search radio programme introduced me as the judge for the Northern Ireland-wide competition. I always told it like it is so I was pretty unpopular with people who didn’t get through!

"So immediately I walked onto the platform I was booed by 25,000 people. I loved it and that record will be hard to beat.”

The show is in rehearsal at the moment and I bet it’s a lot of fun – bound to be when singer and entertainer Rose-Marie is involved.

She is an incredible woman with an amazing little black book of contacts. I remember spending the day with her in London almost 20 years ago. Her apartment in Maida Vale was palatial, her front room as big as a ballroom, white marble floor, long white dining table, pale brocade settees and armchairs and her grand piano. Chandeliers, long, tall windows...

This is where she rehearsed with her dancers before a show and where she entertained her many top-drawer guests – and she made me feel like one of them.

Some of them came calling and we all went out on the razzle and when she waved me off later that day a few yards down the road the taxi driver asked: “Was that Rose-Marie?” I said it was. He turned round to take a good look at me: “And you actually know Rose-Marie?!” That’s star quality.

Rose-Marie is a much loved entertainer who started in the working men’s clubs and who still makes her way round the world selling out where ever she goes – concerts, plays, overseas tours and charity events, famous for her voice which Les Dawson said could warn shipping in the Solent.

But she can sing the most delicate ballad as well as the most raucous rock and roll. And singing she will be as she brings the powers of the Genie to the stage.

She and Robin are a pair made in panto land, loving the colour and the costumes and the fun of making people laugh.

:: Aladdin runs in the Crescent Arts Centre from December 17-22. More at Booking office 028 9024 2338.