Behind you: Clemmie Moodie
From disastrous interviews, to the occasion I spilled boeuf bourguignon over Simon Cowell – many, many times have I made a silly moo of myself in the name of work.
Alas, never quite so literally as now…
Invited to join the cast of Britain’s biggest pantomime, I readily agreed.
Much like the panto baddie, I assumed my days of professional embarrassment were long behind me.
Which is how, a few days later, I found myself “starring” in Jack and The Beanstalk… playing the cow. The back end of.
Picture the scene, if you will…
T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house – Birmingham Hippodrome – not a creature was stirring… except a giant, furry heifer, as a 33-year-old who should know better struggled into a pair of oversized udders.
Aided by wardrobe master Tony, and a bent-over-double-laughing Duncan James from Blue, who plays Jack, finally I manage to slip on my padded hooves and get introduced to Dale White, my front end.
Panto fun: Company manager Paul Bouchier, helping Clemmie in the cow with Dale White (front of the cow).
“I hope you’re flexible,” says an alarmingly lithe and nimble-looking Dale.
“The back end of the cow requires a lot of hamstring flexibility and lower back strength. There’s a lot of bending over and staying still in one place. It’s a pretty tough role.”
Having watched the show the previous evening – in order to “fully understand the light and shade of my character, Moo” – on the morning of rehearsals, I am feeling
Certain I’ve nailed the complex sensibilities of Moo, I watch as the ensemble go through an arduous-looking, one-hour warm-up routine led by dance captain Natasha Volley.
Music blares as the cast get put through their paces.
Former Coronation Street star Chris Gascoyne – who played Peter Barlow in the ITV soap – joins them on stage, and does a few vocal exercises.
“Do you want to join me?” he asks, as I struggle to negotiate my inflated cow hooves. I decline.
Playing the cow, back end of, is bad enough; I’m not letting them hear me “sing”, too.
At this point, Duncan bounds over.
“Yeah, Clem – you ought to be going through your vocal range,” he cackles. “We need to hear a few moo’s’.”
Inexplicably, I hear myself start moo-ing. This prompts more laughter.
It transpires Moo is on stage when Chicago’s If You Leave Me Now comes on. The lyrics have been changed to “If you leave me cow, you’ll take away the biggest part of Moo”.
Fair godmother: Clemmie with Jane McDonald.
Whenever I hear the word “Moo”, I am expected to waggle my tail excitedly, and kick out a back leg.
I really have hit a new, all-time career low.
Once inside the costume I can barely see a thing, bar Dale’s pert posterior, and within seconds am sweating… well, like
“Just follow my lead”, says my front end. “Always lead with your right foot, and go in time with the music.
“Follow my rhythm and if you see me thrusting up and down, do likewise.
“You’ve got a bit of freedom with your role, you can show some creativity and flair. Don’t be afraid to go for it – you want to make the audience laugh.”
After a practise run through, I emerge from my cow behind red-faced and dripping. My woollen jumper, it turns out, is a grave mistake.
I am given a white T-shirt and what look like surgical stockings to wear instead.
As Dale skips off, Chris – who plays panto villain Fleshcreep – returns to offer some advice. “Don’t worry, you’ll be great,” he smiles.
“What’s your bum like?”
Peering at my sizeable behind, he nods. “Yep, you’ll be absolutely fine.
“My only concern is about your partner – do you know what Dale ate last night, if you catch my drift?”
Like the elephant – or rather, cow – in the room, this has so far been the great unmentionable.
Too polite/mortified to raise the issue with Dale, who in the words of my photographer, “looks so delicate and clean, I doubt he’s ever farted in his life”, I don’t dare ask if he’s a fan of Birmingham’s signature dish, the balti.
Loose Women star Jane McDonald floats past in her glittering enchantress costume.
Once again I look down at my deeply unflattering, furry cow attire and feel aggrieved.
“It’s a key role you’ve got there,” Jane tells me. “Break a leg!”
Breaking a leg is the least of my worries; I’m still obsessing about Dale’s possible penchant for curry.
Rehearsals done, it’s now time to get myself stage-ready in Duncan’s dressing room.
Star chat: Clemmie chats with Chris Gascoyne from Coronation street.
Although panto pays famously well – unless you’re the cow, that is – the days are certainly long.
With two shows an afternoon, the cast arrive by 1.15pm and finish at 10.30pm. They have just 90 minutes off between performances before getting back on stage.
Unlike film and TV, they all do their own make-up.
Watching the handsome Blue singer, 36, slathering on the fake tan, guy-liner and blusher, I’m left wondering if he doesn’t, perhaps, enjoy it a little too much.
“God, no,” he laughs. “We get told to put way more make-up on than you think you need, because the people at the back of the theatre can’t make out your features otherwise.
“It’s something to do with all the lights. I know I look like a drag queen next to you.”
True – the cow’s bottom doesn’t really need a heavy coat of mascara, or a healthy glow.
Whilst we’re getting ready, cast, crew and company manager Phil Bouchier constantly pop in and out for a gossip. The atmosphere backstage really is wonderful.
“This is my first time doing panto,” Duncan adds, over a half-eaten Chinese takeaway. (Oh God, please let Dale have eaten the same thing.)
“I really am loving it. It’s incredibly high energy, and a lot more exhausting than I thought – every single show you have to be ‘on’, and performing. You can’t have an off day.
“I have to get my shirt off in the first half, so I’ve been going to the gym every day, and on a serious crash diet.