People Have Slagged Off My Clothes, But My Style Reflects My Personality:

Starring in Annie in Belfast This Week, Su Pollard Tells Maureen Coleman Her Eccentric Fashion Secrets and Why She'll Never Play That Chalet Girl Again

It's not everybody who could handle coming second to a singing Jack Russell dog in a television talent search. But then Su Pollard's not exactly the type to throw a diva tantrum or let a music-loving mutt hold her back from pursuing her dreams.

From the age of six, when she played an angel in the school nativity play, Su knew she wanted to act. Even when she fell through a cardboard box while announcing the arrival of the Angel Gabriel, the laughter of the audience didn't put her off. Quite the opposite - - she loved the attention and was certain she'd found her calling.

Some 10 years later, she began singing in charity shows and working men's clubs, before landing an apprenticeship with the Arts Theatre in her home town of Nottingham. Then came her now-infamous appearance on Opportunity Knocks, when her rendition of I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No was upstaged by a certain pup.

Undeterred, Su went on to make a name for herself on both stage and screen. Her first comedy role was in a BBC series called Two Up, Two Down, which in turn, led to the role for which she is best known -- chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw in Hi De Hi!

Su has fond memories of her time on that show and doesn't mind that the public still confuses her with her scatty alter-ego.

"Oh, I still get called Peggy to this day," she says cheerily.

"In fact, I was just outside WH Smith yesterday and someone called out 'Hey, Peggy'. It happens all the time.

"I get some of the young ones who've maybe just watched the show for the first time on repeats, calling to my house. They've found out where I live and they want to meet Peggy. It's hilarious. They come up to my door, ring the bell and when I answer they'll ask me 'Is Peggy in?'.

"I tell them Peggy's away cleaning the chalets. Then they start to tell me 'I'm six and three quarters, you know'. Isn't it funny the way they are always something and three quarters? Then they'll ask me to let them know when Peggy comes home. Ah, bless them."

When Su finally comes up for air, she tells me that it's the 30th anniversary of Hi De Hi! this year and the cast are planning a big reunion.

"It was lovely being part of the show," she says. "And we're going to have a big bash in Dovercourt, where Hi De Hi! was filmed.

"I keep in touch with quite a few of the cast," she tells me. "I spoke to Jeff Holland (Spike Dixon) and Barry Howard (Barry Stuart Hargreaves) just recently and I saw Ruth Madoc (Gladys Pugh) about a month ago and Paul Shane (Ted Bovis) about two months ago. So yeah, we still see each other quite a bit."

It's easy to see why some people confuse the real Su Pollard with the likeable, excitable Peggy Ollerenshaw. The chances that they'll find similarities with the current character she's playing are much slimmer.

For the next few months Su will tour with Annie, appearing at Belfast's Grand Opera House this week.

"I'm on my second tour with this musical, playing orphanage matron Miss Hannigan," she says.

"Everyone thinks she's an evil old bag, but it's when the drink is in that she turns evil. And she drinks because she's had a difficult life.

"She's in charge of some terribly wayward girls, who are awful to her. They tease her, they torment her, they wake her up in the middle of the night, they scream and shout at her. And Annie is the worst of them all.

"The poor woman. She tries to blot it out with drink. She's on the Jack Daniels constantly. She just about manages to keep it together. And she desperately wants a boyfriend.

"Annie manages to run away one night -- well, she escapes in a laundry basket. The police have to bring her home. Miss Hannigan's been on the drink again and she tries to seduce the policeman.

"But after all the trials and tribulations, it has a happy ending. It's not just a sentimental show, it also has great music. And it's a fantastic night out for both kids and adults."

Su's thrilled to get the chance to sing in this show. No stranger to musicals, she relishes the opportunity to perform Little Girls on her own, and Easy Street with two other cast members.

"All the songs are very uplifting," she says. "Nothing is mimed, everyone has great voices. The scenery is lovely, there's the 'aw' factor and all the cast work really hard. A lot of the little girls come along to the shows dressed as Annie. I know I'm biased, but it is a very good family show."

While Su enjoyed much television success in shows such as Hi De Hi!, You Rang M'Lord and Oh Dr Beeching, it's theatre where her heart really belongs.

"I love the immediacy of a theatre audience," she says. "You take them on a journey with you, from curtain up to the show's ending.

"And we are very lucky that we get applause for what we do. I'm very respectful of that. Not everybody gets immediate applause for what they do. Take the man who works at Gregg's Bakers. Does he get that type of immediate response for his doughnuts? I don't think so. That's why I always tell the younger ones to give a show their very best."

Having made her television debut on Opportunity Knocks, Su says she understands the need for reality television programmes such as The X Factor -- even if she does think they are too long and drawn out. "Opportunity Knocks was more like the Britain's Got Talent of its day, with the number of novelty acts taking part," she says.

"I guess there has to be some way of finding new talent and Simon Cowell certainly knows what he is doing. But I sometimes think The X Factor has just a bit too much padding -- I don't think there's a need for all those preliminary rounds. And I don't like that humiliation of the contestants that goes on. It's like throwing someone into a Roman colosseum for the amusement of the jeering, booing crowds.

"It's a bit too much like the Jeremy Kyle Show meets American Idol, with this new live audience format, but I suppose they have to keep reinventing the format to keep it fresh and interesting."

One show she is adamant won't be reinvented is Hi De Hi! Despite the plethora of hit television programmes that have been reworked or brought back to life on the big screen, Su says she would never reprise the role of Peggy Ollerenshaw.

"Absolutely not. I'd never do Hi De Hi! again. That show could never be replicated," she says.

"You can't resurrect characters like that, it just wouldn't work. Anytime they've tried to replicate sitcoms, they've always been a disaster. It was good to say goodbye when the show was still going strong."

After Belfast, Su is off to Bournemouth for a run of Snow White, yet Belfast has a special place in her heart. She tells me she always looks forward to visiting Northern Ireland.

"I've been over a few times. I did panto with the wonderful John Lenihan once and then I came over to see my friend Ray Meagher (Home And Away) in panto too," she says.

"And of course, I was over with Annie before as well, maybe five or six years ago.

"I love Belfast. I had one of the best meals ever in a restaurant that looked a bit like a library -- oh, Deanes, that's what it was called. Lovely. And I was amazed at how many Spars there were.

"The city has great art galleries and shops, too, and I'm looking forward to having a browse around your new shopping centre, Victoria Square.

"I know you probably hear this all the time, but Belfast is one of my favourite places to come to. The people are very stoical and great fun, too. I hear there have been a lot of changes in the last few years, but I hope it hasn't changed too much."

Su may be best known for her role as the loveable chalet maid, but there's another reason why she regularly features on the pages of newspapers and women's magazines -- her colourful and eclectic dress sense.

"I've had my fair share of criticism but I've had plenty of positive feedback, too," she says.

"So some people have slagged me off for wearing a mini-skirt or a fascinator, I don't care.

"I mean, look at Vivienne Westwood. She went to see the Queen with no knickers on! Fair play to her.

"I don't think style should be related to age. If you have a certain look and are happy with it, then why not stick with it?

"I'm not a huge fan of designer clothes really. I'm not big into, say, Dolce and Gabbana, but I do like Giles Deacon. I tend to wear clothes by people who aren't well known, like maybe a design student from Central St Martin's.

"I don't wear couture stuff. I'm really into buying basic stuff, something that might catch my eye in a shop window, then I add my own little touches, like a lovely fascinator to finish it off.

"I think my style reflects my personality. I haven't gone down the route many women have, so I guess my attitude to life is slightly different. I'm fortunate enough to have my freedom -- and to enjoy it. Maybe that's what keeps me young at heart."

Following Annie and Snow White, Su plans a few weeks off to recharge her batteries. But she has big plans for 2010.

"I'm looking at doing a stand- up singing tour in the new year," she reveals.

"There are no women doing that kind of thing anymore. Remember Marti Caine? She was great. I've written some material for it and hope to do the tour in spring. I'm also in talks to do the comedy show Benidorm, which is fantastic, because I'll get to go to Spain as well.

"I've a feeling next year will be a good one and hopefully, there'll be plenty going on to keep me busy."

The interview coming to an end, Su pauses to take a breath.

I ask her if she's ever come across that Jack Russell dog who stole the spotlight from her all those years ago.

"Oh, I hear the poor thing died," she says. "But he has a brother who's taken over from him, I've been told. I hope I don't come up against him."

Somehow, if she does, I don't think she'll have any cause for concern this time.

Belfast Telegraph
September 2009