Ruthie Henshall living the good life in Suffolk after stint in Billy Elliot
- Credit: Archant
West End star Ruthie Henshall admits that when she is in a show, it is all consuming. Last year she completed a gruelling 18 months playing Mrs Wilkinson in Billy Elliot – a role she doubled with being a real-life mother to her two girls Lily and Dolly.
Billy Elliot has now finished its West End run and Ruthie is enjoying quality time with her daughters - but on Sunday evening she will be back performing as she brings An Evening with Ruthie Henshall and her Band to Bury Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.
Referring to her most recent stint in the West End she said: “I love being in the West End but Billy Elliot nearly killed me. I was up at 6.30am every morning to get the girls ready for school, I needed to take the girls to school because it provided an element of normality and stability in our lives but I found it exhausting because I then needed to get to the theatre for either a matinee or rehearsals with one of the three Billy’s and after the evening performance I didn’t get back to Suffolk until 1am and really didn’t get to bed until 2am.
“I love performing and I love my family but it is difficult making sure you are not short-changing one or the other.”
Currently Ruthie is relishing having some quality time with one of her daughters at least. “I am now back home and what does Lily do? She’s on a six-week school exchange trip to Australia. I’m here at home and she’s half way round the world.”
Ruthie admits her complaints are not serious in fact she is delighted that her eldest daughter is launching herself out into the world. “It’s giving her a tremendous sense of independence. We talk on Skype and I see that all ready. She’s loving it out there and has grown in confidence.
“I sometimes think we over-protect our youngsters. I am just as guilty of that as anyone. We drive them here and we drive them there and they don’t get to make their own mistakes or learn how to deal with situations.
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“When I look at my own childhood we were out and about on our bikes, playing down the end of the road, we had a freedom which today’s kids just don’t have. With my own kids I watch them like a hawk and yet when I was young we had to be independent because mum and dad were both working. I got in from school, had to get myself something to eat and get myself to ballet class. I had to have that discipline, that drive because no-one was going to chase me if I didn’t go. I worry if today’s kids are going to have the drive to get ahead in the profession because they haven’t had that time to develop the resourcefulness necessary.”
But, being at home more brings other joys and other worries. The joys are to be found in Ruthie developing a career as a producer. Her production company, Three Pin Productions, which she founded before she was cast in Billy Elliot, has now gone into overdrive producing 50 minute West End-quality shows for cruise ships.
But, not everything in the garden is rosy. Ruthie’s mother Gloria has just been diagnosed with dementia and although there is never a good time to get such news, she is pleased she is about to be able to help her father shoulder the burden.
“Dad is 87. Normally you would never know it but there are days when I see him and he looks exhausted just looking after Mum. She gets up at all times of the night and of course Dad can’t let her wander off by herself and so has to get up as well and that means he’s never getting a full night’s sleep. So I am really pleased to be close, so I can at least help out – give him a bit of respite.”
She said that the diagnosis has underlined what a cruel condition dementia is. “Mum has always been very active. She’s always kept herself fit. She’s bright and intelligent. Been an inspirational teacher all her life and then suddenly, out of nowhere, comes this awful disease. It’s hard to reconcile. Life seems so unfair at times.
“It seems a really random condition as well. It’s hard to make sense of it. There are times when her long-term memory seems absolutely razor sharp but she can’t remember what you said to her five minutes ago or what she did yesterday. It’s such a cruel disease.”
Whatever the trials and tribulations of daily life Ruthie still has the desire to perform and loves the opportunity to stage one-off concerts like the one this weekend.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to really connect with an audience to revisit some favourite songs from the past – I’m very proud of my career Cats, Les Mis, Crazy For You, Oliver, Chicago, Miss Saigon – and to sing a few new songs. I have a lovely band which I love working with. Kerry Ellis, another Suffolk musical star, is our guest and we will be singing some duets and we also have the guys who played Morecambe and Wise in the West End coming along to do their stuff. They are hilarious and without doing an impersonation, you will think you are watching the real pair. They are brilliant. So it’s going to be a really varied and full evening and I love it because it’s a different feel to being in a West End show but it gives me the freedom to be a mother and a daughter.”