I started acting when I was five years old. It was this Honey Nut Cheerios advert with Kelsey Grammer (although I never met him) and while lots of people ask whether I knew what was going on or whether it was my parents who put me forward I always tell them, my parents had no choice in the matter. It was 100% my decision – my brother [McFly’s Tom Fletcher] was at Sylvia Young Theatre School and loved performing, and I was a stroppy, seven-years-younger sister who envied how much fun he seemed to be having! I knew I wanted to do the same thing.
I found my first agent through Sylvia Young. There was an agency attached to the school and my parents were fine with me going on auditions and doing odd jobs here and there for fun. Back then none of us took it too seriously – as long as I was happy, so were they. It didn’t feel like a lifelong commitment at the time. I suppose things changed when I got my first job in the West End as young Éponine in the London production of Les Misérables.
Getting that role meant a lot to me. It wasn’t the biggest part, and my parents didn’t want me to get my hopes up, but I auditioned with hundreds of other children, and was one of just six to be chosen (three Cosettes and three Éponines). Child labour laws are very strict, so I only worked for two days before having the next four off. We also weren’t allowed in the building beyond a certain time – as that would constitute ‘working’ – but I never felt under pressure or that it was a ‘job’. I loved every minute.
As a teen, I also had roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins. By this point, it was becoming clear that I wasn’t good at anything else. It made the choice to pursue acting full-time kind of moot. I was never more comfortable than when I was on stage. It was Mary Poppins that marked a real turning point in terms of school, too. The show kicked off in Bristol, which meant missing the first three months of secondary school. They sent a tutor up there to be with us and my teachers emailed homework to my parents to make sure my education didn’t suffer.
I got my first book deal when I was 22. I had a blog which explored all the things I thought I knew between the ages of about 11 to 16. I was a very cocky teenager who thought she knew best, but by the time I got to 21, I realised how much I didn’t know. The blog was about that reckoning and publishers approached me to put it in book form. Luckily, the book did well, and led to my fiction deals afterwards. Everything I do – whether that’s writing, acting, vlogging on YouTube – it’s all just a form of storytelling, which is what I enjoy most. Stories are very important in our family, which is probably why Tom’s been so successful at writing, too.
It was around this time when I started getting some big roles on stage. I can’t say there was ever a moment or part which felt like my ‘big break’ – I’m never going to be someone who thinks I’ve made it – but being given the role of Éponine as an adult in 2013 was really special. I couldn’t believe my luck – it’s one of the most sought-after roles in the West End and Les Mis is definitely my favourite musical. In many ways, it was a role that opened so many doors to me.
There’s an online rumour that says I played Éponine for the longest run on the London stage. I don’t know if that’s actually true – so many incredible women have played the part – but I definitely stayed for a long time, three years in fact. I loved it and after the first year I didn’t feel ready to go. It’s typical for the production company to ask you if you’d be interested in staying after a year’s run. Depending on what you say, it’s up to them to offer you the chance to stay longer. At the end of the second year, I still didn’t want to leave. I stayed for another eight months to take part in the 30th anniversary celebrations, which was such an honour.
To this day, I still get stage fright. There hasn’t been a single opening night when I haven’t felt absolutely terrified to be honest – especially when there’s someone I know in the audience. I’m a bit of a worrier, and I’m always thinking about how I might be perceived. Making a fool of yourself in front of someone you care about is infinitely more terrifying than doing so in front of a bunch of strangers!
There are definitely some dream roles on my bucket list. Mrs Lovett from Sweeny Todd is my most coveted role – I’m a bit young at the moment, but I’ll get there one day hopefully!
Conversations about Cinderella started around the beginning 2019. At the time, I didn’t know it was going to be Cinderella – I was simply told Andrew Lloyd Webber had a new show in the works and that he needed a female voice to sing on some demos. It’s quite a normal thing as an actress to be called in to do that sort of thing. Andrew had co-produced Heathers, which I’d been in the year before, so he knew my voice and asked my agents to send me in. I had no idea he was going to be there, but he was, as was Emerald Fennell who wrote the book for Cinderella. They told me what the project was and that they’d like me to sing as the titular character on three songs. I didn’t think much of it – this sort of thing doesn’t necessarily lead anywhere – so I focused on enjoying the experience above everything else.
A Cinderella workshop then took place in May 2019. About a week after the workshop ended, my agent told me the show was going into the West End and that Andrew said the part was mine if I wanted in. I burst into tears, as happens with most conversations that go that way!
In early 2020, I came out of Les Mis to prepare for Cinderella. By that point I was actually playing Fantine at the Sondheim Theatre, but it had been arranged for me to leave early to go into workshop rehearsals for Cinderella, which was due to open later that year. We got one day into the workshop before lockdown happened. The scariest thing was the uncertainty – we just didn’t know what was going to happen next, how dangerous the virus was or how long the pandemic would last. It was devastating to see our industry close down overnight.
I got the call in late 2020 to go back into Les Mis and play Fantine. I jumped at the chance to be back on stage again – even though we only got through ten shows before London went into Tier 3 and everything closed down before Christmas. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to be back in a theatre and part of the industry getting back on its feet again.
Cinderella remained on the backburner into early 2021. There was so much work to do on the show, and the three-month lockdown at the start of the year meant it wouldn’t realistically be ready to open until the end of 2021. We needed to be in the same room, with close contact, so it just kept being pushed back until it was safe enough for us to be in rehearsals.
All of that made opening night last December extra emotional. It had been two years in the making and to see the curtain finally go up was very moving. We hit a stumbling block with Omicron – it wasn’t feasible to run a show with people going down ill every few days. We’re now a couple of weeks in since re-opening and hopefully we won’t be affected by Covid again.
Right now, I do six shows a week. My days are a bit topsy turvy compared to most. I get up and start my day around 11am and don’t stop until 11pm that night. I try to write first thing and head to the theatre around 4pm. We do a warm-up at 6pm, start the show at 7:30pm and it’s curtain down by 10:30pm. Downtime is so important, though – theatre life can be exhausting!