The 109th of my list of 120 “challenges” to try and raise mental health awareness was “to meet a current or former soap actor”; and latest tick was duly added when I had the chance to spend a few minutes with Cheryl Fergison last night.
As most of you will already know, Cheryl played the role of Heather Trott in Eastenders, a great character, wonderfully brought to life (before her untimely demise courtesy of a photo frame of all things). What some may not realise though is that Cheryl has also appeared in my all-time favourite programme Doctor Who (as Mrs Lloyd in the 2005 episodes “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances”). Instant and permanent credibility in my eyes!
Anyway, Cheryl was starring in “Menopause the Musical” at the Billingham Forum; I had been in touch with her agent a few weeks in advance to explain the reasons behind the challenges, and to ask if it might be possible to meet Cheryl after the show. A short while later, I received a lovely message from the lady herself to confirm the time and place…
Totally by chance, I had ordered tickets for the musical on the very day they were released, and in my infinite wisdom, I picket seats A3 and A4 … front row centre. What could possibly go wrong?
Well I had an inkling after my boss from work went to see the show in Doncaster a few weeks earlier. She told me it had been a great night; but where was I sitting, because the nearest bloke to the front was, let’s say, “picked on”.
I checked my tickets again … oh dear.
When we arrived at the theatre, it was glaringly obvious that there was a distinct lack of males – one lady said I was “brave” as I took my seat … another simply smiled that knowing smile…
For the record, the show was amazing. The four ladies on stage, Cheryl, Maureen Nolan, Rebecca Wheatley and Hilary O’Neil were fantastic; there were laughs galore (I laughed even when I didn’t understand what they were talking about…), and their singing, both individually and collectively was superb.
Was I picked on? Oh you bet I was!
My reactions ranged from amusement, via slight embarrassment, to genuine fear … but I sat and took it like a man (not that I had much choice…). Actually, in all seriousness, the interaction actually made the evening even more enjoyable.
A thoroughly deserved standing ovation greeted the end of the show, and Elaine and I made our way to the stage door. The cast were due to leave almost straightaway to head north to their next location (Newcastle upon Tyne), but we arrived just a couple of minutes before Cheryl appeared.
Obviously, there are quite a few “soaps” on television, and by definition a lot of people who have appeared in one (or quite often several), but I’m so glad it was Cheryl who I asked to help me with this particular task. She not only recognised me, but had taken the time to find out about what I was doing – and why – and she could not have been nicer. We were able to have a quick chat and a couple of photos, and Cheryl even encouraged the other audience members gathered by the stage door to find out more about my efforts to raise mental health awareness, which was such a kind thing to do.
So many of the challenges have involved asking someone I didn’t know for some kind of help (just as I did when I first visited my doctor to try and explain that I was struggling…); and it’s amazing how many of those people I’ve approached have been willing to give their time to support someone they’ve never met before. So thank you Cheryl; it was just brilliant to meet you…
As a brief postscript, over the past four-and-a-half years I have been incredibly lucky to meet a number of people like Cheryl who are talented (in their chosen field), generous and inspiring – but until last night, I’d never met one of my teenage crushes before; and on the basis she’s unlikely to ever read this…
I met Maureen Nolan!!
The passage of time hasn’t been all that kind to me, but I have to say that Maureen remains a stunningly attractive woman. It was lovely to briefly meet her, and I’m glad (and relieved) that I kept my composure and didn’t blurt out something totally embarrassing along the lines of: “I fancied you when I was 15…”!
Anyway, 109 challenges down, 11 to go before this five-year adventure draws to a close. There are more plans in the pipeline, but for now … that was the story of the evening when Walford and a series of hot flushes converged on Teesside. Thanks for taking the time to read the blog, and please always remember that it’s fine to talk about mental health … and to ask for help if you’re struggling.