Kay Mellor: I joined a diet club to research Fat Friends
- Credit: Kyte Photography
Writer Kay Mellor has brought us some memorable TV series such as Band of Gold and recent ITV drama Girlfriends and now a musical version of her hit show Fat Friends is visiting the East
Kay Mellor is a lot like her writing – complex and multi-layered with a definite heart of gold.
As she chats about her latest project Fat Friends The Musical, you can tell she is genuinely enthused about breathing new life into a story beloved by TV audiences.
Small-screen work has made up a large part of Kay's career but now she is getting the chance to reboot and rediscover those characters all over again with one main aim of making an audience smile. She admitted: 'I try and get to see the show as much as I can and the audiences are just laughing and having a good time, and that is what good theatre should be about. People should be enjoying themselves and not be lectured to. Without a doubt, there is a message in this piece but I am not going to be bashing people over the head with it. You are going to be laughing and singing the songs as you leave the theatre. Then maybe the next day, you will think 'what am I singing?!''
And that longevity of character and memory is something that has characterised her work. Although Kay has enjoyed a successful acting career, she had always had a strong interest in how scripts were written, studying different techniques and finally taking the plunge while starring in All Creatures Great and Small. 'I saw a television script and thought I can do that. I started a theatre company when I finished studying at Bretton Hall and we toured shows that I wrote and was in,' she recalled.
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But it was meeting Paul Abbott, best known for Shameless, while they were colleagues in the Coronation Street story-lining office that her name started to be known as a writer. They created the ITV tea-time hit Children's Ward which ran for around a dozen series which she credits as a great way of learning her craft. As well as honing her writing techniques, it was also an opportunity to learn the importance of research.
From there, her next major project was the iconic drama Band of Gold. Kay recalled: 'I wanted to bring that story to TV so much. I was sick of watching stuff that was all about men. I wanted to get a group of women together. I watched Boys From The Blackstuff and thought it was fantastic but I thought, wouldn't it be better if it was about women?
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'Independently to that I was working for an NCH Careline and I knew what was going on in terms of young people and young women in particular. I drove up Lumb Lane, which was a known red-light district in Bradford, one day as we were going to a party and this young girl bopped down and looked in the car. It punched me in the stomach that she was so young as I had daughters that age and I thought what on earth is she doing. It was November and her legs were blue with the cold.
'We got to the party and I couldn't stop thinking about her so we turned round and we went back to Lumb Lane to try and find her. Someone said 'that was Tracey'. She had pimp problems and she has gone back to work in Birmingham. I went all over trying to find her and never did succeed her so I wrote about an imaginary Tracey instead who was played by Samantha Morton.'
This was the show that arguably cemented Kay as one of the UK's top TV writers and her versatility is demonstrated by the fact she came up with something very different in the shape (if you will excuse the pun) of Fat Friends. While there are urban myths that it was inspired by her own battles with her weight, Kay is happy to put the record straight that she was inspired to write it because so many people she knew were on a diet.
'I was thinking why are people obsessed with their weight? I became interested so I thought I would join a slimming club near where I live. I went to a meeting wearing heavy shoes and filled my pockets with stuff and thought I would get in and find out what was going in,' she said.
'I stood in the queue, paid my fee and got my starter pack, and the woman taking the session asked me to stand on the scales and then said I was two stone overweight, and I needed to lose half a stone first. My target weight was apparently nine stone, which I haven't weighed since I was 17.
'For a small time, I became fixated on losing weight. You become fearful of going to the slimming club and you haven't lost weight or you put weight on and you are told you are a failure. You are in this system of trying to please the slimming guru and feeling bad about yourself.'
But this was countered with the bond between those taking part in the classes and it became a huge hit running for four seasons and proving to be a big hit for ITV.
Now it is enjoying new life as the first stage musical Kay has written and it features an incredible cast. It includes Jodie Prenger who shot to fame on TV's I'd Do Anything and is also a top stage star recently being taken to audience's hearts for playing Shirley Valentine in a successful stage tour.
'Jodie is amazing. She is an absolute star but at the same time, she is the girl next door. She is unique in that way,' said Kay.
She will star alongside former Coronation Street favourite turned theatre stalwart Kevin Kennedy who, as Kay says, boasts stage gravitas plus a great stage presence, alongside former X Factor star Sam Bailey, theatre favourite and former Atomic Kitten member Natasha Hamilton and Emmerdale favourite Natalie Anderson.
It will also be the first chance to enjoy Kay's song-writing prowess having created those alongside Nicholas Lloyd-Webber (son of Andrew) who has wowed her by the way he has set her words to his music.
And the show is winning rave reviews on its tour around the country with visits to the likes of Southend Cliffs Pavilion, Milton Keynes Theatre, Norwich Theatre Royal from March 12 to 17, Manchester Opera House, Nottingham Theatre Royal and The New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham to come.
It seems no doubt that Fat Friends is top of Kay's to-do list at the moment. 'Right now I have no space in my brain for anything else. I had two TV shows back-to-back and now I am focused on Fat Friends because I get so much joy from it. I am still refining it though. I didn't know if it would be a success but they went wild in Bromley when they say it and that's something you can't often say,' she joked.
So could this be yet another string to the writing bow of Kay Mellor? If enthusiasm for this latest project is anything to go by, it could be.