Family-friendly Halloween has us under its spell

pumpkin picking, Sonny Jim

Pumpkin picking: My Sonny-Jim

Hands up if you’ve taken your child pumpkin picking this half-term?

I feel like everyone I know with a child under about 14 (and plenty without kids at all) has gone mad for this Halloween-themed past-time.

We certainly have. Sonny Jim had a blast with his little buddy Emily at Hurleys Farm Pumpkin Forest, in Battlesbridge.

We came home with three that are currently being pulled all over the house by tiny hands. And we’re likely to take another trip back before the big day on Wednesday.

But the arrival (and popularity) of pumpkin farms here (the Pumpkin Patch, in Wash Road, Basildon, is another) marks a real transition in attitudes to All Hallow’s Eve from just a generation ago.

I didn’t have my first jack o’-lantern till I was 21 (when my then-boyfriend made me one.) Admittedly, my mum is a priest, so Halloween was never really going to be a thing in our house. But I wasn’t alone in not having a childhood of carving pumpkins. Continue reading

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My chat with… Max Whitlock

Max Whitlock, BTEC, #whatkatydidUK

Basildon hero: Max Whitlock

With eleven medals and four titles in Olympic and world championships, Max Whitlock, who trains in Basildon, is the UK’s most successful ever gymnast. He here chats marriage, burgers and BTECs…

Where’s your favourite place in Essex?

I can’t not pick the gym. Obviously I train in Basildon and I have done for 12 years. So it’s been a long time that I’ve been there [Basildon Sporting Village, Carnes Farm Road] and it’s literally like my second home. I love being in that gym with all my teammates because there’s a great atmosphere and it’s a very rare situation where you get two year olds and three year olds training alongside our elite group.

What is your earliest memory?

I remember doing a lot of handstand competitions in the gym! I was always literally walking on my hands everywhere. But the first competition, I think this really spurred me on and the one that really stands out to me, must have been when I was about nine years old–ish. I came back with seven medals and that really pushed me as a youngster to want some more. Continue reading

‘We’re waiting to help those suffering from domestic abuse’

Bridgette Smith, Vicky Harrington, by Katy Pearson, #whatkatydidUK

Here to help: Bridgette Smith and Vicky Harrington

TWO women who each escaped an abusive partner – and have gone on to help others like them – are speaking out for domestic violence awareness week.

Bridgette Smith and Vicky Harrington are both counsellors at Billericay’s Wolf Urban, and will be offering free advice for women at their drop-in service in the town for the week – which started yesterday, November 20.

The pair have both worked in Essex’s refuges and are passionate about helping the thousands of women – and men – living in an abusive relationship.

Mum-of-one, Vicky, who now lives in Westcliff, said: “We are both survivors of domestic abuse which is the driving force behind our passion to support, inspire and empower women and children to live free from fear and violence. Continue reading

My chat with… Jai McDowall

Jai McDowall, #whatkatydidUK

A journey through musicals: Jai McDowall

Since winning Britain’s Got Talent in 2011, Jai McDowall has more than kept himself busy.

Performing for royalty at the Queen’s Jubilee, releasing an album, headlining his own tour and travelling the world singing on cruise ships are just some of the things this Scottish lad has been up to.

Now he’s staring in Mad About Musicals with musical theatre’s Michael Courtney. The show, which comes to the Towngate Theatre tonight takes audiences on a whistlestop tour from the heart of London’s theatreland to the glitz of Broadway.

But what can we expect from Jai?

“There’s honestly something for everyone,” the 31-year-old singer says. Continue reading

My chat with… Maureen Nolan

Maureen Nolan, Footloose, Katy Pearson, Essex, #whatkatydidUK

Footloose: Maureen Nolan as Vi Moore (c) Matt Martin

THIS tour of Footloose the Musical has been more than a little bit emotional for Maureen Nolan.

The 63-year-old, who found fame as part of Irish sister band the Nolans, has had rather a lot on her plate while playing Vi Moore, in the musical coming to Basildon next month.

Indeed, it was actually mid-show that she realised her marriage to Ritchie Hoyle was over. Yet she’s not missed a single performance.

“Oh yeh, that was difficult,” she sighed, in her soft Irish burr.

“I didn’t miss a day because of it [the tour] though. I was very tempted…you know when you’re just so low, and our family, we’ve been through a lot recently with cancer and illness.

“But you’re either going to pull the covers over your head and never get out of bed or just get up and get on with it. Continue reading

My chat with… Gareth Gates

Gareth Gates, Katy Pearson, Footloose, #whatkatydidUK

Footloose – Gareth Gates as Willard (c) Matt Martin

WHEN I chat to Gareth Gates – star of Footloose – the Musical coming to Basildon’s Towngate Theatre on August 21 – he is fulsome in his praise of our county.

“I love Essex,” he confesses. “It’s a great place, fun. My best friend in the world, Matt, he lives in Essex. He lives in Southend, so I’ll be staying with him probably while I’m performing.”

In fact, it transpires he even owns a house here.

Six students at Rayleigh’s Masters Performing Arts College actually have the Pop Idol’s runner-up as their landlord.

“I own a house in Leigh-on-Sea – a student house,” he explains.

“Matt [Plummer] is the principle of Masters – the performing arts college – and I bought a house literally down the road from there in Leigh for the students.

“I’ve got six students living there.”

So, he’s no stranger to Southend or even Basildon – where he has performed before. Continue reading

My chat with… Milkshake’s Derek Moran

Derek Moran, Milkshake, Essex, Katy Pearson, #whatkatydidUK

From pop star to kid’s TV star: Milkshake’s Derek Moran

A DECADE ago, Derek Moran – one fifth of a popular boyband D-Side- blagged his way into a screen test for a children’s TV presenting job.

“A friend of mine said there’s this TV audition tomorrow for Milkshake,” he recalls, his enthusiastic Irish accent unmistakable to anyone with a child under six.

“And I was like what’s Milkshake, you know? So, I just phoned up. They asked me if I had a show reel and I said it was on VHS – which was a little white lie. And they said, ‘oh alright just come in tomorrow and screen test.’

“So, I went in the next day, which was Friday and they put me on the TV on the Monday. It was scary. But it was great.” Continue reading