Linda Lusardi bringing festive magic to Cinderella at Blackburn Empire
CHRISTMAS just wouldn’t be Christmas for Linda Lusardi if she didn’t have to leave the family home behind and prepare to spend the whole of the festive season at a theatre somewhere around the UK.
This year she’s playing the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at Blackburn’s Empire Theatre and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think I have done around 30 pantomimes. The first one I did was in the early 80s with Norman Wisdom,” she said. “More recently I have only missed two years of doing panto - one was when everyone missed out because of Covid and the other was when I was in Emmerdale and they wouldn’t let you out to do panto.
“But I just love it. Christmas wouldn’t seem like Christmas to me without pantomime.”
So what is it that makes this traditional piece of theatre so special?
“I just think it’s because you are nearly always playing to a full house of people who are in the Christmas spirit and happy,” said the actress, reality TV star and former glamour model. “They have all come to just switch off from their troubles, especially in this present time. Often it’s the children’s first experience of the theatre and hopefully they will carry on enjoying it as they become adults.”
In Blackburn, Linda is starring alongside her daughter Lucy Kane, who plays Cinderella and comedian and magician JezO.
“Lucy and I have been in four or five pantomimes together,” she said. “But I’m usually slapping her as I’ll be playing the Wicked Queen. She’s getting a good deal this time round.
“I’m normally playing the baddie and being horrible to her.
“But I like to work with Lucy. It’s more fun to have someone to live with be with on days off.”
With the pantomime running through to New Year’s Eve, Linda has become a temporary resident of East Lancashire and will be spending Christmas Day in her rented home.
“Christmas is about the people not where you are so we will have a lovely homely Christmas but in a different house,” she said.
Linda’s husband, the actor Sam Kane, and their son Jack will be joining mum and daughter for the festive season.
“I love Christmas,” said Linda. “My tree went up at home before we came up here to start rehearsals in November and I bought a small one as soon as we got here. When the kids were younger we always made Christmas a magical time for them - Father Christmas looked a bit like Sam my husband but he always arrived on Christmas Eve.”
As well as being a panto veteran, Linda has had a hugely successful career starting with her early days as a Page 3 model while still in her teens and moving on to stage and TV work.
She spent a year in Emmerdale and has also appeared in other top soaps including Hollyoaks and Brookside. On stage she has appeared in Pygmalion and national tours of comedies such as Funny Peculiar and Bedside Manner. But which does she prefer?
“I like the luxury of being able to do both stage and TV work,” she said. “With TV you don’t really get nervous because if you do it wrong you know can do it again if you fluff a line.
“With every show I’ve ever done theatre-wise I always stand in the wings on the opening night and think ‘why am I doing this? It’s taking years off my life’. I get so nervous. It’s that walking into the unknown feeling and you don’t know what your brain is going to do.
“By the third show the nerves have gone and it’s just adrenalin which is good as that keeps you on the ball. But I do find those initial nerves very disruptive. On stage I’m like a swan appearing all serene but underneath my brain’s mush.”
Linda is no stranger to reality TV shows having reached the final of Celebrity MasterChef and she also competed in Dancing on Ice.
“When I did Dancing on Ice those nerves topped anything I’ve ever done,” she said. “Going on to the ice for the first time to skate live in front of millions, it was an awful experience but I also loved every minute of it.”
So would Linda perhaps be up for a stay in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity?
“You couldn’t pay me enough to do that,” she said. “There’s no way I’d do it. It’s the eating trials, I can’t watch others doing them on the TV. Plus I have trouble sleeping in a different bed never mind a hammock. Oh no, the jungle’s not for me.”
But there is one hit show she’d love to be part of.
“Strictly is on my bucket list,” she said. “The problem is you have to accept panto so early so if they wanted me they’d have to come and ask early in the year but it would be my dream job - all those sparkles and glitter, I’d love it.”
For the next few weeks, Linda will have her own sparkles and glitter as the Fairy Godmother in Blackburn.
“Panto is very hard work,” she said. “I think I’m the only female who loses weight over Christmas. But it is just so enjoyable. The reaction you get from the audience at every show makes it so worthwhile. And we have such a lovely company. It’s going to be very special.”
Cinderella, Blackburn Empire Theatre until New Year’s Eve. Details from www.blackburnempire.com