Actress Hayley Mills sprinkles stardust at Richmond panto
PUBLISHED: 14:59 16 December 2015 | UPDATED: 15:30 16 December 2015
Craig Sugden Photography
Magic wand at the ready, Golden Globe and BAFTA- winning actress Hayley Mills is sprinkling the stardust as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella at Richmond Theatre this Christmas. And living just a stone's throw away from the town, she couldn't be more excited…
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine December 2015
For someone who is a self-confessed panto debutante, Hayley Mills appears remarkably relaxed at the challenge that lies ahead. While many of us might be slightly fazed by the thought of signing up to a gruelling five-and-a-half week schedule performing in Cinderella at Richmond Theatre, up to twice daily during the festive season, she’s displaying little sign of nerves.
“I can’t think of a more Christmassy thing to do than pantomime,” says Hayley, who has been a regular at the theatre for years, living just a few minutes away. “It’s a magical pantomime and, having such a lot of children in the audience, it will be a joy.”
Yet perhaps this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Hayley is, after all, the youngest daughter of Sir John Mills, one of the greatest English actors of all time, and can also name Sir Laurence Olivier and Noël Coward amongst her godfathers. And you don’t come from such theatrical aristocracy without being prepared to take a few professional risks every now and again.
Indeed, this is an actress who fell under Hollywood’s spotlight at the age of just 13 and was cast by Walt Disney for the box office hits Pollyanna and The Parent Trap. She’s also remembered as a young starlet alongside Alan Bates in Whistle Down the Wind, the film based on the novel by her mother Mary Hayley Bell, and for acting alongside her father in Tiger Bay, and then later The Family Way.
Still radiating a youthful enthusiasm at the age of 69 (her looks belie her years), and sporting those familiar flowing locks, this new opportunity to play the Fairy Godmother opposite Matthew Kelly’s Ugly Sister routine is for Hayley something of a homecoming.
“This is where my roots are in England,” she says. “We first moved to Richmond as a family when I was six. And although we then moved away five years later, my parents bought the house back when I was 15 because they loved it so much and wanted to return.
“As for me, I have always lived within a stone’s throw of the town. It’s obviously got a lot busier now, but I still love Richmond Green, the river and Richmond Hill. And we’ve got some lovely restaurants here as well.
“So, being able to perform in my local theatre, which I love dearly, is fabulous.”
Since first treading the boards in the 1966 West End revival of Peter Pan (which, as she’s quick to point out, wasn’t strictly speaking a panto), Hayley has performed on several occasions in Richmond itself. But this time, as she observes, there’s an element of the unknown.
“It’s another world – another part of the theatre that I haven’t ventured into until now. I like the fact that pantomime is such an ancient, honourable tradition that goes back hundreds of years; you can even trace it back to Greek theatre when they wore masks. And it’s full of iconic characters with something relevant to say about today, but who say it in a funny way.
“Doing this show does mean that you’ve got to be disciplined though; you definitely can’t have too many glasses of wine after the curtain comes down,” she laughs. “I don’t know how people who have their own children at home do it. Mine have grown up and flown, and now they’ve got children too.
“And that was another reason why I leapt at it – my grandsons, who are aged seven, three, and nine months. It will be such fun having them in the audience and for them to see something like this because you know they are going to adore it.”
What will make the occasion extra-special is that they’ve not witnessed their granny on stage before. And (spoiler alert) Hayley can’t wait to hear of their reaction when the Fairy Godmother only has to wave her magic wand to make real Shetland ponies appear – while as Cinderella twirls around, in front of your eyes her raggedy dress becomes a glittering ball gown. “They will be very impressed that it’s all my own work,” she laughs.
Giving children the chance to experience live theatre from a young age is something she is clearly passionate about. Hayley’s own sons – Crispian, who was born during her former marriage to the film director Roy Boulting, and Jason, whose father is the actor Leigh Lawson – grew up with it in their DNA. And early outings alongside her older sister Juliet and younger brother Jonathan are still vividly recalled.
“I remember as a very little girl, we were always being taken to the theatre to see things that my father did and often made comments in loud voices, usually at inappropriate moments.
“On one particular occasion, Dad was in a play at The Haymarket Theatre in London, and we were in the Royal Box because there was more room so as small kids we could get up and down and wander about. Jonathan, who was about three at the time, kept disappearing and found himself in the Royal loo and kept flushing it all the way through the performance!
“It’s a wonderful thing for children to do, to go to the theatre for the first time and feel comfortable there. For your first experience to be a gorgeous, beautiful, funny and quite romantic pantomime such as Cinderella is lovely.”
So with Matthew Kelly the undisputed panto pro, reprising his critically acclaimed performance at the New Wimbledon Theatre last Christmas, has he passed on any tips to help to keep up her stamina (of double importance when you consider that she overcame breast cancer in 2008)?
Staying in shape
“Matthew said to me ‘get yourself a microwave’, because, you see, you can’t keep rushing round to Marks and Spencer when you’re hungry and you’ve got your full slap on and a big wig. The other things that he suggested would be useful are a small fridge and a pair of very comfortable slippers.
“I’m also trying to get fit; I go for a run every day, and do yoga and deep breathing. It’s the hours one is working that are the demanding bit, especially as on some days I shall need to be on stage at 11 o’clock in the morning.”
It comes as little surprise to learn that as Christmas Day dawns, while the rest of us will be rushing around the home, double-checking that the oven’s on, Hayley expects, instead, to be putting her feet up. “I’ll be prone I should think!” she laughs. “My sons and their families will be coming round and the girls are great in the kitchen – they are all good helpers – and my partner’s a really good cook too.”
Indian-American actor and writer Firdous Bamjii certainly knows how demanding performing can be; Hayley and he met 15 years ago on the set of The King and I. Now they currently divide their time between south-west London and New York; both a welcome retreat bearing in mind that over the course of five series of the ITV show Wild at Heart, Hayley spent six months at a time in the South African bush for her role as Caroline Du Plessis. And earlier this year, she upped sticks once more to tour Australia in her brother-in-law Max Caulfield’s comedy Legends.
But there’s the sense that for Hayley at least, it’s not about where the festive season is spent; far more important is who she is with.
“It’s about having everybody together,” she says. “One of the best times we had was on the Kenyan island of Lamu, which had no shops from where to buy Christmas presents. The boys were very small at the time and we gave them fishing rods – and then had a lovely meal on the roof terrace of our house. I think sometimes if you do something that’s a bit different, you experience Christmas afresh and in another way – and, funnily enough, appreciate it more.”
• Cinderella, starring Hayley Mills and Matthew Kelly, runs at Richmond Theatre, Little Green, Richmond TW9 1QJ from Friday December 4 to Sunday January 10. Tickets from £11.90. Box office: 0844 871 7651. Web: atgtickets.com/venues/richmond-theatre
Best pantos in Surrey
From family favourites to the altogether more risqué, Surrey’s pantos will be dazzling audiences this Christmas. Just remember: look behind you!
Camberley Theatre: Aladdin
Monday December 7 to Sunday January 3
Starring Mark Slowey. Tickets from £18.95. Tel: 01276 707600. Web: camberleytheatre.biz
Dorking Halls: Cinderella
Saturday December 19 to Monday December 28
Starring Jay Aston and Gabrielle Green. Tickets from £17. Tel: 01306 881717. Web: dorkinghalls.co.uk
Epsom Playhouse: Beauty and the Beast
Sunday December 13 to Sunday January 3
Starring Rav Wilding. Tickets from £14.50. Tel: 01372 742555. Web: epsomplayhouse.co.uk
Fairfield Halls, Croydon: Cinderella
Friday December 4 to Sunday January 3
Starring Stephen Mulhern. Tickets from £18. Tel: 0208 688 9291. Web: fairfield.co.uk
New Victoria Theatre, Woking: Sleeping Beauty
Friday December 11 to Sunday January 10
Starring Katie Price and Anita Dobson (shared role). Tickets from £14.40. Tel: 0844 871 7645. Web: atgtickets.com/venues/new-victoria-theatre
New Wimbledon Theatre: Peter Pan
Saturday December 5 to Sunday January 10
Starring Verne Troyer and Marcus Brigstocke. Tickets from £11.90. Tel: 0844 871 7646. Web: atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbledon-theatre
The Harlequin Theatre, Redhill: Aladdin
Friday December 11 to Sunday January 3
Starring Lee Latchford-Evans. Tickets from £15. Tel: 01737 276 500. Web: harlequintheatre.co.uk
The Leatherhead Theatre: Dick Whittington
Friday December 18 to Thursday December 24
Cast still to be announced at time of going to press. Tickets from £16.50. Tel: 01372 365141. Web: theleatherheadtheatre.org
Guildford Yvonne Arnaud: Jack and the Beanstalk
Friday December 4 to Sunday January 3
Starring Dillie Keane and Kit Hesketh-Harvey. Tickets from £19. Tel: 01483 440000. Web: yvonne-arnaud.co.uk
And for adults only...
The Star Inn, Guildford : Aladdin, Rub My Lamp
Tuesday December 1 to Thursday December 31
Starring Stuart Vincent, Samantha Hasting, Harry McLeod, Hilary Harwood and Alice Ferreira. Tickets from £13.50. Tel: 0333 666 3366. Web: guildfordfringe.com
* Cheapest adult ticket price given; concessions may be available. Check individual venues for booking fees.