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

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‘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

It’s thanks to IVF on the NHS that I have my boy

Katy Pearson, scan photo, seven week scan, Sonny Jim, #whatkatydidUK

As a seven-week fetus – our first look at Sonny Jim

TWO years ago today I was sat clutching my husband’s hand at Bart’s Hospital in London.

After nine years of trying for a baby, five years of fertility treatments and a round of IVF, it seemed I’d finally fallen pregnant.

And two days before my 31st birthday we were waiting for a scan to confirm that it was definitely true, for a first look at our baby, to see its teeny little heart beating.

When Sonny Jim’s flickering heart flashed up on the grainy screen, I cried. He looked a bit like a prawn. Or maybe a crocodile. And it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Continue reading