Nelson's great love is put centre stage in show coming to Norwich
PUBLISHED: 10:55 24 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:28 24 February 2018
Comedian Shappi Khorsandi is heading to Nelson's County to put the great naval hero's love, Emma, Lady Hamilton, in the spotlight. She tells arts correspondent Emma Knights about her show Mistress and Misfit.
The great love of Admiral Lord Nelson’s life - Emma, Lady Hamilton - takes centre stage in comedian Shappi Khorsandi’s latest show which is heading to region over the next few months.
Mistress and Misfit - which was a sell-out success at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe - is coming to Norwich Playhouse on March 8-9 and The Apex, Bury St Edmunds on May 14, as part of its tour, and Shappi has said she cannot wait to perform it in Nelson’s County.
The popular comedian is extremely passionate about telling the story of the woman who - as well as being no stranger to scandal - hauled herself up from scullery maid to the position of Lady Hamilton. She lit up the life of Admiral Lord Nelson and contributed to the gaiety of nations during the Georgian era.
The great love story of Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton is widely known and far from conventional, with both already married and Lady Hamilton’s husband, Sir William Hamilton, sharing a great friendship with the pair until his death.
However Shappi - who starred in the 2017 series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here and has also appeared on shows including Live At The Apollo, Have I Got News For You and QI - explained she was determined to use her own unique style of comedy to raise Lady Hamilton’s profile in the modern age and show that she was more than just ‘Nelson’s mistress.’
“We have got this massive great big column to Nelson in Trafalgar Square,” she said.
“His success at the Battle of Trafalgar meant that Britannia could rule the waves.
“I learnt about Nelson at school but one thing I found out much later in life was that he wrote in his will, asking the state to look after Emma Hamilton and their daughter - and they didn’t.
“Emma Hamilton ended up derelict, penniless and alcoholic, a refugee in Calais, and before that she was in a debtor’s prison - and this is the love of Nelson’s life, the woman he loved, had a baby with.
“The state built him a column but they kept quiet that they ignored his last words.
“It has been 200 years now and I think more people should know about Emma’s story.”
And while there is obviously a serious side to the subject matter, Shappi is keen to stress her show is also all about entertainment.
“It’s a really fun show - it isn’t a history lecture,” she said.
“The subject might be serious but I handle it the way I do all my shows...in stand-up I never want people to come with an agenda other than to laugh.”
She said the show also draws parallel with past and present.
“The show is bringing Emma, who was a thoroughly modern woman of her time, bringing her into the here and now, making her relevant using my jokey style,” she said.
“I relate Emma’s life to modern women and, like all stand ups, I draw people into the world as I see it so it’s still a very personal show.”
Reflecting on parallels between Lady Hamilton and herself, Shappi said: “We were both artist’s models. She modelled for great artists, I modelled for GCSE students in Tower Hamlets. I have never worked in a brothel, but I have had moments that I would only tell you about on stage or when very drunk!”
And she said there were also parallels between the attitudes towards women then and now.
“Any woman who does anything seen as salacious is still demonised today. That’s a very modern theme. It’s not exclusive to Georgian times,” she said.
“In the show, I talk about Emma being married to a man 30 years older than her (Sir William Hamilton). If they were from a lower class, women had no financial independence and no options. That happened 200 years ago, but much more recently, my grandmother was married when she was 13 to a man in his 30s. So perhaps my gran was the Emma of her time!”
She added: “The term ‘gold-digger’ is still banded about willy-nilly, when we don’t know anything about that woman. Women who are viewed as marrying above their station are still derided. There are massive parallels with today.”
And when asked how she felt about bringing Mistress and Misfit to Nelson’s County, Shappi said: “I got a bit emotional touring at Bristol Old Vic because Emma and Nelson stayed at Bath and so I was thinking they may have come to that theatre. There are places all over the country linked to Nelson or Emma. It is quite fun travelling and finding little nuggests about Nelson. I’m excited to come to Norfolk and want to go and visit where he lived and all the different places linked to him.”
Mistress and Misfit is at Norwich Playhouse on March 8 and 9. To book, call 01603 598598 or visit www.norwichplayhouse.co.uk The show will also be at The Apex, in Bury St Edmunds, on May 14.