Kay Mellor can hardly contain her excitement. The scriptwriter and director who was behind such gripping television dramas as Band of Gold, Playing the Field and The Syndicate has come up with her first musical which will visit Nottingham on a huge tour – and she can barely stop herself from attending every night.
She’s teamed up with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s son Nick to write Fat Friends the Musical. The popular characters from her TV series Fat Friends, which aired for five years from 2000 are back, but are now living in a world of mobile phones and social media.
Kay says the themes featured in the work are even more relevant now.
“The diet industry is absolutely booming and people are feeling really bad about their body image. Magazines are showing super-skinny people and saying ‘you need to look like this to be of any worth to anybody’. And I’m trying to challenge that.”
The cast includes Jodie Prenger as Kelly Stevenson, a bride-to-be who works in her father’s fish and chip shop; former cricketer Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff as her fiancé Kevin; The X Factor winner Sam Bailey as Kelly’s mother Betty; former Coronation Street actor Kevin Kennedy as Kelly’s dad Fergus; and ex-Atomic Kitten singer Natasha Hamilton as slimming guru Julia Fleshman.
Originally Flintoff was not going to take to the stage in Nottingham because of other commitments. Now he will be in the show from Monday until Thursday, with Joel Montague sharing the role on Friday and Saturday.
“Freddie loves this musical. You can see when he’s on stage how much he loves it,” says Kay.
“Joel is fantastic so nobody’s seeing something second best if they come at the end of the week. He’s amazing and has the voice of an angel.”
Kay says everyone she approached to be in Fat Friends the Musical agreed straight away.
“I’ve got a dream cast. I didn’t know whether Sam Bailey could act. She came to audition for me and I knew within five seconds of her saying her lines that she could play this part – she’s amazing.”
She pays tribute to composer Nick Lloyd Webber for being very careful about who he chose for the ensemble.
“He had a sound in his head that he wanted for the chorus. Sometimes I’d say about a singer ‘they’ve got a lovely voice’ and he’d say ‘it’s not quite what I want’. When the ensemble sing it’s incredible. It just fills the auditorium.”
Lloyd Webber also wrote the music for Loves, Lies and Records, Kay’s 2017 TV series which was set in a register office.
“He gets my work and that’s not always easy. You could turn it into a dirge or it could be too poppy. But Nick understands it. He’s got an understanding of character. I think he’s a really smart man.”
So what’s the difference between writing a stage play and writing a musical?
“It’s different inasmuch as you have to think where the songs will come in. A song has to tell you something different from what the dialogue says – it either needs to let you in on a thought that you’re not privy to or it needs to move the plot on.
“It was very difficult because I didn’t know the language of musical theatre. I’d sat in many auditoriums watching musicals and loving them but I didn’t know how to go about it.
“A song’s a poem with a melody going on in my head. And Nick would say ‘well, just sing it’. I’ve got the most terrible singing voice to be honest with you, so I croaked down the phone what would be in my head. I’m sure he had a good few laughs but it gave us an idea. And then he’d come up with something absolutely stunning.”
Kay Mellor OBE was born Kay Daniel on 11 May 1951 in Leeds to a Catholic father George and a Jewish mother Dinah. She has an older brother, Robert. Her parents divorced when she was young and she was brought up by her mother.
She trained as an actress and secured parts in the soap opera Albion Market and the TV series All Creatures Great and Small.
Her writing career began in the 1980s with Granada Television. She worked on Coronation Street and also wrote for Albion Market. She then penned seven episodes of the Channel 4 drama Brookside.
Bosses at Granada spotted her talent and broadcast her first major series, Band of Gold. Starring Geraldine James, Cathy Tyson, Barbara Dickson and Samantha Morton, the programme revolved around the lives of a group of sex workers in Bradford’s red-light district.
She also branched out into theatre. Her play A Passionate Woman featuring Derby-born Gwen Taylor had a run at the old Derby Playhouse in 1995 and a later version was seen in Nottingham.
“I missed it in Derby but I did see it in Nottingham,” says Kay. “It went down so well there. Sometimes people immediately get my work and it seemed that the Nottingham audience did.
“Gwen is a fabulous actress and I love her to bits. She’s a wonderful woman.”
Kay was awarded the BAFTA Dennis Potter Award in 1997 for outstanding writing for television. She was appointed an OBE in the 2009 birthday honours and in 2014 she was awarded the Writers’ Guild Award for outstanding contribution to writing.
Kay is hoping to have a holiday after Fat Friends the Musical finishes its tour. She has had a really busy time, penning two television series as well as the musical.
After Loves, Lies and Records, she wrote and directed Girlfriends, a series about three middle-aged women. They have been friends since their teenage years and get into all sorts of scrapes. It starred Miranda Richardson, Phyllis Logan and Zoë Wanamaker. Kay says she couldn’t believe her luck to get such great actresses for the six-part series.
Girlfriends also featured Rachel Dale who trained at the University of Derby and used to be a member of Darley Abbey-based Marlowe Players. She also appeared in Kay Mellor’s In The Club, a TV series following six pregnant women and their partners who go to a parenting class.
“I would have loved to have given Rachel a bigger part (in Girlfriends). I’ve got my eye on her. I think she’s a wonderful actress.”
Kay still lives in Leeds with her husband Anthony Mellor. Last year they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. They have two daughters: the actress Gaynor Faye, who played Judy Mallett in Coronation Street and has appeared as a panellist on the TV show Loose Women; and Yvonne Francas, an actor who also produced one series of the detective series Scott and Bailey as well as Loves, Lies and Records.
Casting directors chose Gaynor to play Lauren in Fat Friends and Holly in Playing the Field. But because of a backlash from the press she made a conscious decision not to appear in any more of her mum’s work.
“It’s really sad because she’s a fantastic actress,” says Kay. People say to me ‘do you write with anybody in mind?’ Sometimes I’m writing about a woman of Gaynor’s age and Gaynor will be in my mind. But she won’t be in my work any more which is a real shame.”
So what’s the best thing Kay’s ever done? “That’s hard to say. It’s like saying ‘which is your favourite child?’ Right now I’m loving Fat Friends because that’s challenged me in every direction and I get the opportunity to work on it each time I see it whereas television happens one night and it’s gone.
“What I love about Fat Friends the Musical is that it’s a living, breathing thing and it changes every time I see it. And it’s nourishing me.
“People have loved it so far and that gives the cast energy to move it forward. The audience come out smiling, they’re on their feet and I think that’s energising the cast.
“I love being in the auditorium. It’s hard to not go. It’s hard to keep away. I know that come Nottingham I’ll definitely be there!”
Fat Friends the Musical is at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham from 26 until 31 March.