My Christmas: panto legend Billy Pearce

Billy Pearce in blue suit with hands outstretched

Billy has never missed a show at the Alhambra in over 20 years and can't wait to return for the first time since the pandemic - Credit: David Charles Tierney

Starting out as a red coat at Butlins, Billy Pearce has appeared on the Royal Variety Performance, joined forces with some of the biggest household names in comedy,  starred in numerous TV shows, and even met the Queen. Leeds-born Billy is loved for his 20 plus years on stage at the Alhambra Theatre where he is the star of panto. At home in Tingley with his wife Kerry, son Jack and dog Freddie, the actor tells Beth Windsor just how excited he is to return to stage.

Something in Yorkshire that makes you smile at Christmas time  

Christmas is the busiest time of the year for me where I spend most of my time at The Alahambra Theatre. Even after 20 years of doing panto there, I still love coming home afterwards to see the house all decorated for Christmas and covered in lights. My wife Kerry does such an amazing job every year, it’s such a special sight.  

 A place you love to go for a family feast 

Sadly, my mum passed away last November due to Covid, so we’re quite a small family. But when we do go out, myself, Kerry, her mum and dad, and our son, Jack, love going to Capri just round the corner from us  – it's great there and they look after us so well.  

A festive childhood memory  

This probably isn’t the warm, fuzzy Christmas memory you were looking for, but it’s stuck with me all these years and always makes me laugh. One year, my mum got a turkey for Christmas and it smelt lovely while cooking in the oven. We all sat down to have Christmas dinner and as my dad started carving the turkey something didn't seem quite right . . she'd only gone and left the giblets in! So that Christmas all we ate was vegetables, but we didn't half-laugh. I have lots of heartwarming memories of my son at Christmas time - it's such a precious time.  
 

A place you love to take friends 

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Kirkstall Abbey at sunset - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I love to host people at my home and we're really known for our parties. I've made a point through the years that if any of the cast or crew are on their own during Christmas, that they come and spend it at ours. I also love taking friends to beautiful places around Yorkshire such as Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield and over towards the coast.


A festive cultural go-to 

There's no place like home for Billy - the bright lights of The Alhambra - Credit: Richard Barlow

Over the years I've come to realise just how special coming to the Alhambra to watch the panto is to people and is such a big part of their festivities. I receive so many letters from people telling me how it's made their Christmas. There was one family where the grandmother used to always arrange for all eleven of them to go and watch it every year, but then she passed away. They wrote to me to say how they decided to still go and even bought a seat for her. They said it felt like she was there with them and was the first time they had laughed since she passed. The theatre at Christmas is such a special place. 

A place for Christmas indulgence  

I think I'm the one person that actually loses weight over the festive period as the panto season is so intense, but we will always go to the pub next door for drinks after the show. There's nothing quite like sitting in Wetherspoons in the middle of Bradford having a few pints with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs! I do tend to go all out on NYE though and throw a massive party at my house. 

A festive Yorkshire view that inspires 

Billy loves the far-reaching view up at the Cow and Calf Rocks in Ilkley - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Seeing the Alhambra Theatre with all its bright lights and how it twinkles at night is just beautiful - it's such an impressive building and is a sight that never gets old. In the daytime, I love going to the Cow and Calf Rocks at Ilkley, but also the view you can see from Otley Chevin is marvellous. 

I'm never happier at Christmas when . . . 

The first show is over on opening night. The panto can be so intense with rehearsals and learning lines etc, it’s always a worry knowing when something will be funny or not. If you walk into the bar afterwards and people stop you to ask what you'd like to drink, you know it's gone well. That really is the best feeling as I know that the show is good and I've done my job properly - it's a wonderful feeling. 

Three words that sum up your best Yorkshire life at Christmas 

Family. Panto. Food. 


See Billy in Sleeping Beauty at The Alhambra Theatre from 11th December 2021 to 16th January 2022. Book tickets at bradford-theatres.co.uk