Essex explorer

Vicki Michelle MBE

Vicki Michelle MBE - Credit: Archant

You can take the girl out of Essex but you can’t take Essex out of the girl. Holly Eells talks to Vicki Michelle MBE about her stint in the I’m a Celebrity jungle, 40 years in show business and her exciting plans for the future

VICKI MICHELLE MBE enjoys worldwide fame as waitress Yvette Carter in the award-winning British comedy series, ‘Allo ‘Allo. Since her theatrical success of the 1980s, Vicki has enjoyed an extensive and varied career in television, theatre, presenting and film.

‘I will always keep working, that’s how it is,’ says Vicki with a smile. ‘I have my own company, Trading Faces, which deals with celebrities and there is always something new and exciting to be working on too. I am a very positive person about the future because there will be things I still want to do with my life and lots of acting roles I still haven’t done yet. Maybe a chat show or perhaps Loose Women? I would be great at that because I am very opinionated and quite ballsy! Or maybe Strictly Come Dancing in the future. I think I would be perfect for that too!’

In November 2014, Vicki took on one of the biggest physical challenges in her career to date by participating in the reality TV show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. She was part of an intrepid line-up of celebrity contestants in an Australian jungle camp, where they complete Bushtucker trials in a bid to win votes from viewers.

She explains how it was an amazing experience to be apart of, but admits it was much harder than she ever contemplated it would be. ‘Before I agreed to do it, I spoke to some of my friends Christopher Biggins, Joe Pasquale and Tony Blackburn [all crowned King of the Jungle] who have done it in the past and they all said it was a fantastic experience. It was something I would have never done — living outside in the jungle — and it was really difficult at times because getting to the trials was a challenge in itself. This could be up to a mile-long walk up hill and down hill to reach these places. You are slipping down everywhere and climbing up 140 steps. By the time you get to do the trial you are exhausted!’

Vicki continues: ‘I thought I would be scared of the trials, but when I did them I was pretty good. None of them fazed me, but I got a little bit worried about the tomb. I tend not to worry about things until I am actually doing it.

‘The wonderful thing was I got to experience something not many people will ever get the opportunity to do in their lifetime and you realise you can do this. When we walked around the forest it was about a four or five-hour trek. I was not out of breath and I was one of the oldest ones in there. I was thinking to myself, you can do this. I was quite surprised at my stamina and putting up with cockroaches, rats, crabs and eels ? and all those other feared creatures.

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I thought these things would faze me, but until you are faced with them you don’t know. I just thought this is part of my life right now and I will just get on with it.’

Vicki was joined in the jungle by a wide range of celebrity contestants including Michael Buerk, Edwina Currie, Melanie Sykes and winner, Carl Fogarty MBE.

‘You wake up in the morning looking at the sky and living with people in a commune. It is a bit like going back in time and living, working and contributing in a community, I suppose. When people get tetchy and emotional about things, I felt I was fairly balanced and didn’t lose my rag, which is unusual for me!

I thought I would get angry about something, but everyone was worrying about stuff and I thought it was only three weeks, just get on with it.’

The family hit reality series recently celebrated another successful win at the National Television Awards for Best Entertainment Programme 2015. Beating off strong competition in the category, the jungle was given the prize at the glitzy ceremony, where Vicki joined Ant and Dec and a bunch of her camp mates to pick up the award.

‘It was lovely to all get together at the awards ceremony. We have kept in touch, which is lovely, and we do a lot of television together. I speak to at least two of them a week. You become very close with these people, even though it was only for three weeks, but you have to work together, so you become really close.’

Vicki continues: ‘You are really vulnerable as you don’t know when the camera is on you and I didn’t like not being able to have any make-up on. However, I did manage to use a bit of charcoal for my eyes! I’m used to dressing up and putting my make-up on and styling my hair, but you have nothing there. When you are watching it back, everyone is completely natural and that is quite bizarre. When I am on television I am acting and when I was in there I was me. It was a fantastic experience and it really makes you evaluate things around you more and realise what is important to you.’

The ‘Allo ‘Allo star has lived in Essex all of her life and shares her West Essex home with cameraman husband Graham Flower and stand-up comedian and presenter daughter, Louise.

Vicki explains: ‘It was great to have Louise out there. My husband has travelled the world with his job, so he encouraged her to come with me. He also had a bit of a rest from me when I was away! Louise had a fantastic time; she even got tweeted by ITV2, saying she should be doing some presenting as she was so good. She was also entertaining all the families with all her stand up. While I was eating beans, she was living it up at the Versace Hotel. I only got a couple of days to enjoy it and she got a couple of weeks!’

Despite her many work commitments, Vicki still dedicates a lot of her time to the various charities she is involved with, something that has continued to grow over the years. In 2010 she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Birthday Honours for services to charity.

‘I am working with several charities at the moment including AA Rescue (which saves dogs from being put down), Haven House and The Dream Factory, who supported me when I was in the jungle,’ says Vicki. ‘I am patron to a number of major UK charities, stage schools and local organisations in addition to being a member of The Grand Order of Lady Ratlings and president of The Lady Taverners’ Essex branch.’

And this love for Essex and the people of Essex is something that shines through as she talks, explaining why she has never moved out of the county. ‘I have lived in Essex all of my life and I know lots of people around here,’ Vicki adds. ‘People in Essex help each other and they have big hearts. Near Epping you also have the beautiful forest as opposed to pollution. Essex has so much to offer and I particularly love Loughton, Chigwell and Epping. There are so many lovely individual shops that haven’t been destroyed by big brands and I like visiting Debra Chigwell, a ladies boutique, and fantastic restaurants like Sheesh and Smiths.’

And after all of the Bushtucker trials, I am sure a visit to a local Essex eaterie was a very welcome relief.