A defiantly different year, 2008 was dominated by my unexpected passion for West End theatre, and for one protagonist in particular.
In January, at the end of a run of 27 shows, my daughter appeared on stage in the 'Wizard of Oz' alongside Liam Neeson, Jimmy Nesbitt and one Rachel Tucker. This was certainly a proud moment, but I had absolutely no idea what it would lead to.
Rachel of course was one of 10000 who auditioned for the BBC 'I'd Do Anything' series, beginning shortly after Oz ended. I hadn't really watched any of the previous 'search for a West End star' shows, but given the Rachel connection, I thought I'd give this one a go. Not everything went to plan for the Belfast lass, but she managed to reach the semi-final, where she gave the performance of a lifetime. The judges were on their feet, ALW was raving and a place in the final seemed assured. But of course that wasn't counting the public vote, and Rachel was unceremoniously dumped.
I wanted to do something -- anything -- that would prevent Rachel slipping back into obscurity. Having 'met' Andy on a forum, we set up the 'Rachel Tucker Fan Blog', which immediately, much to our surprise, attracted a sizeable and faithful audience. Perhaps the most important audience member was Rachel herself, who has contributed several articles.
The blog itself can't take any of the credit for Rachel's subsequent West End success, but I like to think we've helped to build her fanbase, publicise her PAs and generally celebrate her phenomenal talent. I've noted with some alarm the actions and unwanted attentions of various fans of other theatrical celebrities, and have done my level best to make sure that this hasn't happened to Rachel, largely I hope successfully. The fan/star relationship can be a complex and difficult one, something which I intend to do a post on in the near future. I do hope we've got it right in this case.
Running Rachel's blog has had several excellent perks. I've got to meet some wonderful people, attended four West End shows and discovered London.
First to the people -- I initially met Karen, Rachel's close friend, when we went to see her perform in Killarney in August. Karen is a real gem -- disarmingly and delightfully honest, funny and hugely talented. As is hubby Richard and future star Matthew.
Then there was Rachel's WWRY opening night in September, where I met Andy, Rosie, Katie, Jackie, Hannah, Jo, Liv and some of Rachel's family, all for the first time.
Andy is a really great guy -- friendly, thoughtful, modest and a joy to work with. Rosie is a relentlessly upbeat person with an incredible sense of humour and an awesome knowledge of the West End.
Katie -- what can I say? Running Jessie's blog single-handedly is a tough job -- she has proved herself more than capable. She is single-minded and resilient, sensitive and thoughtful. She is a credit to her wonderful family, whom I have had the pleasure of meeting. Katie will go far and it is a priviledge to know her.
Jackie has been an absolute revelation -- we corresponded for some time -- same generation, Kate Bush fans, similar literary style and humour. We met at WWRY opening night and subsequently at ALNM. Jackie is charming, sincere, funny and just plain great.
And Rachel herself -- the whole package. Star quality, a heart of gold, wilfully ambitious and hard-working, she is simply an inspiration to everyone.
It's a testament to Rachel as a person that her fans on the blog have been literally queueing up to write virtual essays on how she influenced their year.
For everything Rachel has done and the people she has enabled me to meet, a big big thank you.
Also in showbiz, 2008 turned up an interesting bunch on X-Factor. The final may have been dull, but here are my two favourite acts, who came fourth and fifth. Meet Ruth and Diana, pictured here in my living room. Possibly.